Working at big vs. small companies & finding your tribe w/ Bobby Burden
I talk with Bobby Burden about the differences between working at large companies vs small ones, and how to connect with local developers even though we can't go to meetups right now.
Glenn Stovall: [00:00:00] hey everyone. I'm here with Bobby Burden. Who's a software engineer at ups and a board member of Devanooga the local dev meet up here in Chattanooga, Tennessee. How you doing today, Bobby?
Bobby Burden: [00:00:09] I'm doing great. Thanks for having me.
Glenn Stovall: [00:00:10] Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for coming on. So me and Bobby were talking to the devotee to Slack a bit about, the differences between working at smaller and larger companies and pros and cons of each, when you might want to work with one versus the other.
So yeah. About the, you work for UPS, right? Yeah. Yeah. And I've worked mostly for actually looking back on it. I've exclusively worked for smaller companies, my entire career. And by smaller, I'm saying like 50 or fewer employees. Sure. So what's your experience been like? Have you mostly been at bigger companies or.
Bobby Burden: [00:00:42] yeah. Yeah. most of the experiences is like your smaller companies. I think the biggest company I worked at before ups had about a hundred employees. so mostly my experiences in smaller companies, ups is really the first large corporation that I've worked for. Okay.
Glenn Stovall: [00:01:03] When you started at ups or now that you've worked there for a bit, what are some of the biggest differences you've noticed between working there and other companies?
Bobby Burden: [00:01:11] Sure. Yeah. so smaller companies, you have more of a direct line to, steering the company, if you're working at a startup, you might. W walked past the CEO's desk on occasion and be able to grab his ear and that sort of thing. a company like UPS, that's so far removed from you.
but most large companies that I've interacted with, they tend to work as a bunch of small pieces, so in my experience, UPS, the. Is it, the business unit that I worked in yeah. Initially was pretty small. Yeah. and so it worked like a small company, but there's a, so much about us that you have to get through.
if you want to make a change to something, there's a lot of people involved in that and a lot of people have a stake, that doesn't really happen in a small company the same way.
Glenn Stovall: [00:02:05] Yeah. That's definitely been my experience too. There's more of like a freedom versus structure,
Bobby Burden: [00:02:09] so yeah, a hundred percent, but sorry, go ahead.
Glenn Stovall: [00:02:15] Yeah. that can swing both ways too. Cause having a lack of process can be a bad thing too, if it's, things are to Willy nilly and unorganized.
Bobby Burden: [00:02:23] Yeah. And small companies, there really tends to not be much of a structure. Of a process. if you want to present some new projects, some of it is just going and grabbing the right person and talking to them for a few minutes, and getting the ball rolling.
but at a large company, it's a process of planning out this project, getting architects involves getting business involved, getting, all of the different parts. Understanding who it impacts getting their feedback. So there is a much bigger process and more, more ceremony I would say, involved in bigger confidence.
Glenn Stovall: [00:03:01] Yeah. And you were talking a bit about like impact middle talk directly to the CEO. That's something I've also thought like cuts both ways because. On the one hand. Yeah. If you were to, I guess you could have more impact at the company level when it's a small company. Cause you can, like you said, you can have a direct line to the CEO, but you can also have more impact at a larger company like ups just on the sheer size of it.
you could ship features that affect tens of thousands of people.
Bobby Burden: [00:03:26] Yeah. A hundred percent. and in my experience, if you're working in a, an, a business unit in a large company, you do have some autonomy there just inside your group to do things and you can make a large impact.
that's not, as direct as. launching a new product and a small company, or it's not as direct as, getting the CEO on board of your next change, but you can still launch features, or you can fix problems that affect a much larger customer base. even though it's not as dramatic of a change.
Glenn Stovall: [00:04:05] Yeah, that tracks with what I've heard from other people. I've have some friends who work for Amazon and I applied there years and years ago, but yeah, it's very much the same thing where they have the small teams, like it's the way they run AWS is how they run their infrastructure. Every team is like very separate and talks to each other, like through very well-defined interfaces.
But yeah, the experience of working with Amazon just under a few people is so wildly different. Some teams are the kind of places where you're expected to work 60, 70 hours a week and some were way more lax. So yeah. You never know.
Bobby Burden: [00:04:38] Yeah. So when I started at ups, I was, I started remote and I've been remote since I've been there.
And then talking to other people at ups, other teams, they had never heard of anyone being remote. They thought I was crazy. so you can very much see that same stuff, individ, usual groups working differently, but yeah, you do have that interface. it's like a, it's like a large software system, honestly, where all of these pieces are independent, but they have to talk to each other and keeps the ball rolling.
Glenn Stovall: [00:05:16] yeah. And so we saw how the different teams work. This is something else I've had some people ask about and we were talking about number of hours. Do you think that larger companies tend to expect more or less work from people? Because I don't know if I don't know. What do you think?
Bobby Burden: [00:05:33] yeah, in my experience, I felt I felt that smaller companies wanted more out of me than large companies.
when you're at a startup and you have a deadline coming up, it doesn't, it there's all, everything else is still happening. we might have this deadline coming up at the end of the month, but we're also trying to make a sale and I have to be involved in that sale. as a developer, that's going to be implementing it or, there's some maintenance for some other tasks that's going on.
There's not enough resources to keep up with the pace. So you're expected to work more to manage that and and a lot of small companies, whereas a larger company, it can, it has the benefit of having more resources available, and tends to manage people's time better. that's not always the case, obviously, The circumstances might mean that you work a lot more one week than another, but for the most part I've found that startups are much worse at respecting your time than large companies.
Glenn Stovall: [00:06:38] Oh yeah, for sure. and it's something else. in my experience, it was like, I draw a line between smaller companies and startups. Cause there's a lot of small companies that aren't startups. They're just small by nature. Like I.
Bobby Burden: [00:06:50] Yeah, that's a good point.
Glenn Stovall: [00:06:51] Yeah. I've talked to a few, I think a lot of especially people who are just getting into software development, they don't realize how much like invisible line of business software is.
There is in the world. Like I said, I worked for a smaller company that serves small trucking companies. I think me and Ryan talked about this a bit too, how, like how trucking companies process their addresses, you don't ever see that. Company on hacker news, but
Bobby Burden: [00:07:17] yeah. Yeah. there's a silent majority of these midsize companies, that are making a very comfortable market for themselves that aren't on hacker news or aren't glamorous, but it's still a huge market.
Glenn Stovall: [00:07:35] Yeah. I think it was on Twitter. I saw Austin all red from Lambda Academy. It was talking about. A huge chunk of the developers out of his code school were getting hired by companies that were less than 50 employees and probably less than 10 million ARR, but there's just thousands of those. It's wild.
Bobby Burden: [00:07:53] Yeah. And sometimes the goal of those companies is to be acquired and move into these large corporations, but often it's not, so many of those, Really exist to fill this niche market and they're doing it great. And they're going to continue to, the, probably the biggest small company I worked for, like about a hundred employees and that's what they did as well.
it was a market that was yup. Point of sale system, top market. And. that kind of expanded into e-commerce and that piece of business they had, wasn't going away. Wasn't going to get eaten up by a large company, because it was just too small. but it was, plenty, big enough for them to have to make a very profitable business out of.
Glenn Stovall: [00:08:48] Yeah. And yeah. Started talking about all these businesses that newer devs might not even realize are out there. if the listener was, say like a junior dev or they're new in the field and they were trying to decide, should they try to get a job at a bigger company, like at ups or maybe even like one of the thing, companies, or try to get a job at one of these smaller type businesses, what would you tell them?
Bobby Burden: [00:09:10] I would tell them. To focus on small companies. you can get so much more experience, the cliche of wear many hats, that really does net you a lot of experience and many different things. Pretty rapidly, at a big company, you're going to be filling out a specific role.
and it's much harder to move up or make, lateral changes in what you're doing, at a big company. if the smaller the company, the more you can shift around and make a. A rapid reputation for yourself, to get those opportunities. Yeah.
Glenn Stovall: [00:09:51] that's interesting. Cause that's something I've thought about too, is you talk about how it's harder to move up at a bigger company, but I thought it'd be the opposite.
Cause I feel like bigger companies have more of an up to move into so to speak.
Bobby Burden: [00:10:04] Yeah. there's the, I think it's the. Peter principle. Is that what it's called it? RA's to the,
Glenn Stovall: [00:10:14] you rise to your level of confidence? I think that's okay. That's it?
Bobby Burden: [00:10:17] Exactly. Thank you. and so you end up with, you end up with, a lot of people that are in a comfortable position and you do have kind of a push to move up often and.
I mean in my current situation, I could try to move into management. but that's not really where I want to be. and so I may have that opportunity, but it, I'm an engineer. I want to be writing code for the majority of my, my day and in a smaller company, I would have that opportunity.
there's more projects, more. or rather there's less resources development resources, so I can fill that role, at a larger company though. It tends to be in my experience that Okay. You're your upward progression? It's it's kept early and then you have to shift out to something else it's shifted over to management or.
So like an architecture or something like that, or honestly, move to other teams. and so it, it, from that like junior developer mindset, I think that you're going to get more experience. You're going to get more, more understanding, staying at a smaller company as long as you can.
that said, I, I kinda am opposed to most startups. the startup mentality in general, you mentioned like the, the 60 hour week, when you're in a startup like that, and you do have limited resources, there is that expectation of you and that work life balance is hard to maintain.
and it's just not good for you from a mental health perspective, in general. So I'm opposed to that and that mentality that you tend to see it startups, which is a generalization. But I think it's relatively fair. And, so I try not to, I try not to push people towards startups, but like you said, that distinction between startup and small company, like small company for a junior developer really is a, kind of the sweet spot.
Glenn Stovall: [00:12:36] Yeah. I think it makes sense. something in my personal experience, some of my first jobs, both my starting as a freelance, it was working through agencies and I thought that was another. Good way to get a lot of experience, because you tend to have clients that are, at least the ones I worked at would be some small to medium business.
And then, but you have a lot of clients that you have a lot of projects and you can churn through that. It's very easy to get stuck when you have one product you're working on for say two years versus, Oh, you just have a new product every two or three months.
Bobby Burden: [00:13:05] yeah. A hundred percent. I worked in agencies before and.
Being able to work with a company and, like an eCommerce, like retail space one week, and then, work on data recovery for a law firm the next week. Like being able to work on these different projects and see these different businesses and how they operate, that really does give you a lot of insight.
That's really hard to get and other places.
Glenn Stovall: [00:13:36] Yeah, for sure. I think the only other thing I'd worry about too, just also thinking about my small businesses, you can learn a lot, but I also feel like early in a career, you definitely want to find a job or you can work under a senior. And it's almost more about who you work with.
And sometimes a lot of smaller companies, like you said, they don't have the resources. They don't have as much of that. Like their engineers might need to. keep engineering. So we don't have a ton of time to put it into like mentorship and like investing in junior.
Bobby Burden: [00:14:04] Yeah. I think that's like developer groups are really important.
joining a local group that can help you and answer your questions, in a more personalized way than something like stack overflow can. I think that really fills that void for a lot of people. especially if they're in a situation like you described where you don't have a lot of opportunity for a mentorship.
and another point there is like the people are the most important part in all of this. Is it the teams, the companies I've worked at, the things that always remember about all of them are the people on the teams I worked on. the. my first manager and when I was first a junior developer, like I still remember so much of what he taught me and being able to learn so much in that first year, because he was a very good teacher.
and in moving to, Hey, my manager today, like I knew, I know him really well and I'm able to learn from him. and. Get advice from him regularly. And that's for that hypothetical junior developer out there, that's the most important thing is grabbing onto the smart people and trying to learn as much as you can from them while you have them.
Glenn Stovall: [00:15:22] Oh yeah, totally. A hundred percent agree. So I'm trying to think. Are there any other sort of factors that would play into the decision of. like deciding what kind of company you want to work for? the one everyone thinks about is compensation and benefits, which I don't know about your experience.
It seems, another issue with startups is that, especially if they're early stage, not only are you expected to work more, but they're probably expecting you to work for less because they just don't have a ton of revenue in the early stages. If any, at all.
Bobby Burden: [00:15:52] Yeah. that's something, I have to weigh against the experience you'll gain.
and a lot of, our industry has this, just tendency of 18 months to two years. And you're like back on the job market trying to go somewhere else quickly. and I think that's kinda, that's born from these. Like startup low compensation. You're trying to move on to the next thing as quickly as possible.
And that's certainly valid, to a point, but, a larger company is going to have better benefits in general, just because they have a lot more weight to swing around, and can generally develop better benefits, but at the same time, like a startup, you might have. you might be easier to get like work from home.
in any other time that would be like a huge benefit, or you might have things like, parties and stuff. That seems to be a common thing with startups. I beer on tap in the break room, Yeah. And that appeals to a certain top of younger developer. really you want to hang your hat on compensation and actually benefits.
and I think that a lot of times. The more junior you are, the more you get swept up in, Hey, we got a ping pong table or, what have you,
Glenn Stovall: [00:17:15] yeah.
Bobby Burden: [00:17:16] I was just going to say that, it's, that sounds like really cool and everything at first, when you're a few months into it, you're ready to get back on the job market.
those kinds of things can only hold you so long.
Glenn Stovall: [00:17:28] Yeah, I've never really liked the ping pong thing. And I've seen so many companies that have that, and it's I saw one company that had an arcade machine in the break room, but then no one's on it because it still looks bad.
Bobby Burden: [00:17:40] Yeah.
Glenn Stovall: [00:17:41] I don't know. I maybe it's just me.
I want to go to work and then when I'm done, I just want to like, not be there. I can't, I don't know the scenario. I'm like, Hey, let's play ping pong at work,
Bobby Burden: [00:17:50] Yeah. it falls into that, Hey, we're family, you
Glenn Stovall: [00:17:53] think, Oh, I hate that crap.
Bobby Burden: [00:17:55] Yeah. It's under that same umbrella.
and it's deceptive. it feels gross and yeah, I agree. If someone says, we have beer on tap or we have being prime table for me, that's a giant red flag. just not something I'm interested in.
Glenn Stovall: [00:18:12] Yeah. I want things like health insurance and a good one. Okay. which I do understand, like I was talking to a friend of mine who does run a small business and I didn't realize how complicated and expensive it can be to set up something like a 401k.
Like I was gonna be in the order of like thousands of dollars just to get the program set up apparently. So he's I would like to do this, but. and you only have so much fun. It's like somebody finds it's do I want to put that much money into 401ks? And especially if it's simpler to just be like, Hey, I'll just give you a little bit more salary at least.
Bobby Burden: [00:18:45] Yeah. that's where the large company has weight to swing around. can do things like that. and maybe that's what you strive for, those smaller companies. you can really get a lot out of them. and you can really start a career at a small company like that.
I don't want to give the impression that compensation is everything or, far from it, but at the same time, you have to make a living. and you have to value your work.
Glenn Stovall: [00:19:14] I think that's it. It's I think people should be, like I said, just getting compensated for what they're worth and it's not necessarily bad, Do you have a ping pong table? But if it's, Hey, we have a ping pong table and free snacks. Cause we're trying to make you feel more at home and work more hours for less money. that's not a good thing.
Bobby Burden: [00:19:33] Yeah, that's it. That's a bad sign.
Glenn Stovall: [00:19:37] yeah. So I guess is there. Anything else that we could talk about? I, there was another one that came up when I was doing a bit of research, but I think this might be more of a like per company thing, but I guess what I'd call it, the tempo of the company. We talked about startups and now it's typically like work hard, move fast and break things.
companies I would as bigger companies, I think, some have a notion for being like, Oh, we're going to be a lot more slower. Like you said, there's more processes and checks and
Bobby Burden: [00:20:05] balances. Yeah,
Glenn Stovall: [00:20:08] but
Bobby Burden: [00:20:10] yeah, it's to that point, like I would say that there are definitely, there's definitely opportunity for faster tempo and in large companies.
it really depends on the company and it depends on the teams. the difference between one team in a large company and the next. It can be really different. and the way that they structure things and the way that they expect, Tom lawns to be, you, you kinda, you can seek that out in a larger the company and find it.
but at the same time, if you go to any startup, it's going to always be like hot tempo. Because they have to be right. So it's like a, it's the situation where, you can either be in the small company or startup, I should say you can be in a startup and work really fast and put a lot into it to hit these, these hard deadlines, or in a larger company, you can.
yeah, you have more stability. there's a lot, there's a lot on the line, so there's not as much of a push to get things done quick. It's better to get things done. and so it's a, it feels if you're an engineer and you're wanting to develop things. you want to build good software or you want to build fast software like theirs or build software fast, I should say you can go either way.
I would say that in all of that, like mental health, honestly, I would keep coming back to that. what's going to make you sane at the end of the day. and to me. Crazy deadlines does not make me happy. so being able to have some flexibility, some stability, to move deadlines around or, to work with a team that understands, that what we're building has to be, built.
Correct. rather than built right now. that's the trade off, I think.
Glenn Stovall: [00:22:19] Yeah, for sure. And that's something, some I've experienced as well too with, like I said, it'd have to be done. Which, and again, it can be, it can be both. I've seen it. Like I have a friend who works for get hub and he mentioned that they update production 60 times a day on average, which is just, maybe they're doing like fast, smaller, incremental improvements, but.
Yeah, I think that's another benefit you do get from the larger company is you can learn about working like that level of reliability and resiliency and scale.
Bobby Burden: [00:22:50] Yeah. to take, to get hub example, it sounds like they have an excellent deployment process. they have all this foundation that they can rely on.
so it may not be, yeah, I'm sure they're deploying 60 times a day, but if something breaks there, they have to have a process. they can roll back or they can patch it. Or they're only deploying to an, a small subset of users where they can found these bugs, before they affect everyone.
Yeah. there's have having a process. it's something having that contingency plan. If things do go wrong, that's something that's baked into to everything you do and a large company, like w what if this breaks what happens or, if we can't deliver this on time, Tom w what's the best backup plan.
and that's not really something that I've seen in smaller companies. It's more of. everything's relying on this. So we got to get it quick and get it done.
Glenn Stovall: [00:23:51] Yeah. You just got to get to market, get some revenue, get more customers, keep on hustling. Yeah. So I guess, was there anything else you wanted to add?
Bobby Burden: [00:24:03] yeah, I would want to stress like the developer group thing. again, from a junior developer standpoint. Just L just networking with people is such a big part of career development. it doesn't, for me, someone that's naturally introverted, like networking sounds like a horrible thing that I would only want to ever do with Eastern at cable.
but when you have to it at some point, you have to do that. And, Just getting out and, and it doesn't have to be like getting out physically, but getting out yeah. To these developer groups online and making yourself known and helping people and getting help yourself. all of those things can help develop your career.
and just. apply the effort and you can really develop quickly, develop your skillset and, move along in your career.
Glenn Stovall: [00:25:00] yeah, no, I totally agree. It's I feel like the word networking, people get like a bad picture in their head, but it's, it is mostly, like you said, the best networking is like helping people.
Or even if you can't help them just being genuinely curious. I think the best piece of networking advice, I forgot. cause I'm lucky I'm introverted. But when I used to freelance, you have to,
Bobby Burden: [00:25:23] yeah.
Glenn Stovall: [00:25:24] Someone said, when you go to these events, he's Hey, everyone in the world knows something that you don't.
So when you go to those events, just try to see how many of those things you can learn.
Bobby Burden: [00:25:33] Yeah. just get someone talking about what they're interested in. And just being that ear to hear what they're interested in. can it, the next time that if you talk to someone and they're really interested in blockchain, a buzzwordy thing, right?
But that you may encounter some reason to want to know more about blockchain and you have that person you can talk to, or you can relate it to something you're interested in. Just being able to do that and keeps that, keep that momentum. probably two or three of the jobs I've had have been either because, I knew someone that was hiring or someone that was hiring, talk to someone that knew me.
so it's, sometimes it's not what you know to, and I think that's, it, knowing the right person can sometimes get you the job, but knowing how to actually do the job is what makes you keep it. So don't, I know a lot of people are down on using who they know to.
To get a job or to progress in that way. But it's a vital part of networking where you have to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack.
Glenn Stovall: [00:26:50] Yeah. It's so many jobs aren't ever put on job boards. Like it's through that. I'll just from personal experience. The last, my current job was from yeah, through a friend of a friend.
They didn't put anything out, but they just said, Hey. went to the engineers and just said, Hey, if you know anyone, or do you want to ask your friends? If they know anyone who might be a good fit here, then tell them to pass them along.
Bobby Burden: [00:27:14] Yeah. So much. Yeah. I get emails at work that are, saying, Hey, we're hiring in these groups.
If you know anybody, let us know. that happens in every SaaS company that I know of it, that sort of thing definitely happens. so yeah, just networking is so important and it's, for engineers, especially, it seems to be something that's over.
Glenn Stovall: [00:27:39] Yeah. yeah, for sure. If you're listening to this and you're in the Tennessee area, definitely check out, Devanooga.
is there a URL for that?
Bobby Burden: [00:27:47] Yeah, devanooga.com. we have a Slack group that you can join.
Glenn Stovall: [00:27:52] Yeah, we, it's like we have a shared snack time from playing a lot of robot legacy lately. So
Bobby Burden: [00:27:57] yeah, we have a lot of, memes, and in jokes, but we also have a lot of serious business, there's a lot of smart people there and there's a lot of cool stuff happening.
and if you're not in the area, there's great groups everywhere. you just have to go find it. there's groups and in the Atlanta area that are huge there's groups. and. I saw one like in North Carolina today that's massive. And to think that there's all these like little developer groups that are solid away, and independent, that's really the place to really network and learn and found a job.
Glenn Stovall: [00:28:37] Oh yeah. that's for sure. Like I was, I used to co-run the Athens Georgia one a few years back when I lived there. And it's the same kind of thing or especially places like you said, like Atlanta, or I know there's a Nashville group as well. Yeah. So yeah, I guess there's keeping my, the listener go, just Google around or ask people.
You'd be surprised what you can find. yeah. is there anything else you want to plug or share at this time?
Bobby Burden: [00:28:59] no, I would plug my SoundCloud, that seems to be the cool thing, but I'm thinking I'm good. Thank you.
Glenn Stovall: [00:29:05] All right. Cool. all right, Bobby . Thanks again for your time. It was great having you on.
Bobby Burden: [00:29:09] Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Join the conversation
Follow along as we explore the human side of software.