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Buck Woody

Carpe Datum!

Your Next IT Job

Some data professionals have worked (and plan to work) in the same place for a long time. In organizations large and small, the turnover rate just isn’t that high.

This has not been my experience. About every 3-5 years I’ve changed either roles or companies. That might be due to the IT environment or my personality (or a mix of the two), but the point is that I’ve had many roles and worked for many companies large and small throughout my 27+ years in IT.

At one point this might have been a detriment – a prospective employer looks at the resume and says “it seems you’ve moved around quite a bit.” But I haven’t found that to be the case all the time –in fact, in some cases the variety of jobs I’ve held has been an asset because I’ve seen what works (and doesn’t) in other environments, which can save time and money.

So if you’re in the first camp – great! Stay where you are, and continue doing the work you love. but if you’re in the second, then this post might be useful.

If you are planning on making a change, or perhaps you’ve hit a wall at your current location, you might start looking around for a better paying job – and there’s nothing wrong with that. We all try to make our lives better, and for some that involves more money. Money, however, isn’t always the primary motivator. I’ve gone to another job that doesn’t have as many benefits or has the same salary as the current job I’m working to gain more experience, get a better work/life balance and so on. It’s a mix of factors that only you know about.

So I thought I would lay out a few advantages and disadvantages in the shops I’ve worked at. This post isn’t aimed at a single employer, but represents a mix of what I’ve experienced, and of course the opinions here are my own. You will most certainly have a different take – if so, please post a response!

I also won’t mention a specific industry – I’ve worked everywhere from medical firms, legal offices, retail, billing centers, manufacturing, government, even to NASA. I’m focusing here mostly on size and composition. And I’m making some very broad generalizations here – I am fully aware that a small company might have great benefits and a large company might allow a lot of role flexibility.  your mileage may vary – and again, post those comments!

Small Company
To me a “small company” means around 100 people or less – sometimes a lot less. These can be really fun, frustrating places to to work.

Advantages: a great deal of flexibility, a wide range of roles (often at the same time), a large degree of responsibility, immediate feedback, close relationships with co-workers, work directly with your customer.

Disadvantages: Too much responsibility, little work/life balance, immature political structure, few (if any) benefits. If the business is family-owned, they can easily violate work/life boundaries.

Medium Size company
In my experience the next size company I would work for involves from a few hundred people to around five thousand.

Advantages: Good mobility – fairly easy to get promoted, acceptable benefits, more defined responsibilities, better work/life balance, balanced load for expertise, but still the organizational structure is fairly simple to understand.

Disadvantages: Pay is not always highest, rapid changes in structure as the organization grows, transient workforce. You may not be given the opportunity to work with another technology if someone already “owns” it. Politics are painful at this level as people try to learn how to do it.

Large Company
When you get into the tens of thousands of folks employed around the world, you’re in a large company.

Advantages: Lots of room to move around – sometimes you can work (as I have) multiple jobs through the years and yet stay at the same company, building time for benefits, very defined roles, trained managers (yes, I know some of them are still awful – trust me – I DO know that), higher-end benefits, long careers possible, discounts at retailers and other “soft” benefits, prestige. For some, a higher level of politics (done professionally) is a good thing.

Disadvantages: You could become another faceless name in the crowd, might not allow a great deal of flexibility,  large organizational changes might take away any control you have of your career. I’ve also seen large layoffs happen, and good people get let go while “dead weight” is retained. For some, a higher level of politics is distasteful.

So what are your experiences? Share with the group!

Published Monday, April 5, 2010 8:40 AM by BuckWoody
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Sankar Reddy said:

I work for a small company and you nailed it on the Pros & Cons. Works out best if you are looking to gain experience in a wide variety of roles and willing to take on additional responsibility. It can be extremely rewarding and really entertaining as long as the company is moving upwards and your work is appreciated. But there is always the downside that lot of your work goes unnoticed and have to answer to many people and all of the work you haven't done yet was supposed to be done yesterday. Sometimes frustrating is not the right word.

April 5, 2010 1:20 PM

dmmaxwell said:

Good points.  Another thing to consider is what type or size of technical environment you want to work in.  Following the (general) example, and based on my own experience:

Small Company: 1 - 5 servers, 50GB total data, standalone servers, Workgroup or Standard edition, far more general SQL duties, usually a solo position.

Medium Company: 10 - 25 servers, 100 - 500 GB data size, maybe some SAN or network-based management, replication or maybe log shipping, more defined roles, maybe working in a small team.

Large Company 30+ servers, terabytes of data, Enterprise editions, virtualization, heavy use of SAN, clustering / mirroring, load balancing, clearly divided roles (hopefully with some cross-training).

Funny aside: During my last search, I encountered all three of the above situations. Each prospective employer described themselves has having a 'large SQL environment'.  Go figure.  :-)

April 5, 2010 1:23 PM

Adam Machanic said:

dmmaxwell, I don't think there's a strong correlation between company size and data size on the low end. Larger companies will tend to have bigger enterprise databases, but I've done work for several micro companies that have huge databases because they're in the data business.

I think if possible everyone should try working for a small company, as long as there is a lot of activity (e.g. the company is in the data or internet business). It is a really fantastic experience. You will be forced to learn a hell of a lot and think on your feet. You may be forced to learn how to make an application or database scream on very little hardware budget. And you will have to be and do everything at some point.

I spent the first five years of my career working for companies ranging from micro (2 employees) to small (50 employees) and I feel that I'm a lot more nimble now as a result, even though these days I mostly do work for larger firms and have gotten a bit lazier (expensive SANs + Enterprise SQL Server licenses will do that to you).

April 5, 2010 2:27 PM

Sankar Reddy said:

I also echo Adam's comment above. Even though we consider ourselves a small shop with 20+ employees we have many servers than maxwell's general numbers and we also have Tera Byte database and also log-shipping etc...

April 5, 2010 3:19 PM

Ted S said:

I agree with Adam on dmmaxwell's comment.  I work at a "Small" company by employees, but we have 2 SQL 2008 clusters, with replication and log shipping and over 500GB of data.... yet we have less than 100 people.

April 5, 2010 4:05 PM

dmmaxwell said:

Well, I did say it was a generalization, and based on my experience.  I'm aware that there are, and will always be, exceptions, but 10 years and several contracts down the road, this is what I've seen so far.

April 6, 2010 6:06 AM
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