Do you like being a SMALL FISH in a big pond, or would you prefer to be a BIG FISH in a small pond

Mark Gilbert - President, EDA Carrers

So here is a question...Do you like being a SMALL FISH in a big pond, or would you prefer to be a BIG FISH in a small pond....ORRRR  Vice Versa????  Or a great white shark in a...OK , I am getting carried away and umm actually losing my point.  (By the way, you don't have to be a fishermen or like fish to answer this question).  If you like eating fish though, it might help!  ;) And those that do not get bad American humor, which could be many of you, on!

First I must give credit where credit is due...The BIG FISH metaphor was a famous expression of my former partner Bob, and it still rings even more true today. Some people are comfortable being employee # 3759376592302, others prefer to be with a company (like the old show CHEERS use to say) "where everybody knows your name".  (I do hope I am not the only one old enough to remember that great show). Working for start-ups or the big boys each have advantages and disadvantages. I want to talk about just a few things to think about.

We all know who the big guys are in EDA, as well as the peripheral companies that use EDA trained personnel.  If you have been around long enough, you have either witnessed or heard about much of what has happened in EDA, by both the big and small guys. The layoffs...the structure changes...changes in direction...the M&A's...the failures...the struggles to persevere, to name just a few..  So the choice of where to go, public or start-up is not an easy choice, as both have advantages and frailties.

The best way to talk about the advantages and disadvantages is to pit one against the other, item per item, (with my own little special twist). One consideration that I always feel is especially nice is walking into a room where you "kinda" know what everybody is doing and even more important, what role everybody plays. There is something special about knowing the President (VP's etc.) on a first name basis, and them knowing your name right back. Even more important, they know what contribution you are making to the company. There is a special camaraderie when everyone knows everyone that is involved in the company. 

I remember my first tech start-up.  I was VP of Marketing, and it was my first real start-up tech position. My previous experience was all very corporate, running different companies.  So here I was in this new tech (mostly internet) world.  The guys were dressed in boxers eating pizza, programming their heads off in to the wee small hours of the night. (Of course they did not walk in until 11a).  There was a certain energy that permeated the rooms, like none I had ever experienced before.   It was magical, and we all felt the excitement of taking this little concept/company to success.  (Of course the millions we were to make on the stock options played JUST A LITTLE role as well).  I loved being there everyday, having the President come sit in my office, go to lunch with her, and in general have someone that I could actually present and execute my vision with.  That was the start-up world, and granted it has certainly matured through the years; much of that core still exists.

In the big companies, the layers of management are so deep that it is hard to know anyone personally, much past a level or two. Each group has there own assignments and management structure, and there are rules about the rules that make it a very impersonal atmosphere.  HOWEVER, and this is fundamental... the big attraction is that you know your paycheck will be there Friday, and all Fridays for years to come. (I must say that the same is true of start-ups, except the uncertainty of the years to come). So in choosing, you must realize that all of this collectively merits consideration, and like I said previous, plays a deep role in considering your options.  And, some might also consider it a benefit when few know your name and exactly what you do or can do...or CAN"T. (Not that I will ever understand how that could be a benefit). It is easier to get lost, to fill a cubicle and just be Employee# 3759376592302.  Only you know your individual goals, and only you know the role you want to play and how you want to be perceived internally.

It comes down to personal choice. In the case of the start-up, you need to decide if you want your contribution recognized by all, and have your input be a factor in the success of the day-to-day future of the company. Or, would you simply prefer to be a part of one group in a place of many groups

The bottom line is, you must choose wisely. When picking a start-up, make sure you ask the right questions.  This is where a good recruiter can guide you so that you make a smart choice.  Remember that big companies have layoffs, and not so in-frequently either.  Nothing has a guarantee, sometimes start-ups don't make it either Look at all the sides, go in with your eyes wide open. Talk openly to your hiring managers, and your recruiter, so that your questions GET ANSWERED before you accept.  If you handle your search and consider the aforementioned, your next move should be satisfying.

Review Article
  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'mark Gilbert'
    Thanks for the feedback,,,The article is to explain perhaps the obvious. The issue most presented to me in conversation is the decision to change from a big company to small. And while the information may seem obvious, for so many it is the turning point in thier decision to change. This is what I try to get people to consider most of all, afterall if being more meaningful can make someone leave the mothership, then I have presented a substantial point of view.

      3 of 4 found this review helpful.
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  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'Steve'
    I think you have only touched the tip of the iceberg. What draws some engineers to do startup after startup is so much more than just money. Money is important, but the whole lifestyle of a start up is completely different. The company becomes your life, you work because you love what you are doing, You work, eat and party with your coworkers.
    A large or even a medium size company is completely different. You work your 8 hours and go home, a few times a year you have group lunches, summer party or a christmas party. Work is then only a small part of your life style.
    Typically I see startups for younger and single engineers. A startup is really rough on a family.
    For me it was the hours and the trama of a failing business. After a few trys the big companies look so much better.

      3 of 3 found this review helpful.
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  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'Obey'
    I don't think many people reading this article will gain any knowledge about the issues regarding working for large organizations versus smaller startups that they didn't already have.
    Or maybe that's not the point of the article and I'm just disappointed because I was expecting too much.

      3 of 5 found this review helpful.
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