Should I join a startup or take a regular dev job?


I am currently looking at job opportunities and the two most enticing are either a developer at a medium sized company or i have been offered a job at a new startup.

The money at the development company is much better but from an experience point of view im wondering if joining the startup will open up bigger oppertunities.

Up till now i have been freelancing websites and have a business degree with a major in computer science. So i havent worked as a full time developer at a company either so the experience there may also be beneficial.


Recruiting Decision Forecast

asked Nov 8 '09 at 20:13
31 points

11 Answers


Take a piece of paper (or a spreadsheet!) and write down the pros and cons for each. Weigh up which, on balance, is best for you.

Then sleep on it, and ask a friend the next day what they think. (The process of talking about it will help make up your mind. It seems that talking helps the decision making process.)

In the meantime, some things to ponder:

  • What do you need from a job? Yes, salary is important, but if the startup gives more perks and flexibility then that's important too.
  • What will you learn? If the startup has some good senior folks along for the ride you might learn much more there.
  • Where do you want to go? If you want to try the startup thing yourself, then you'll learn a great deal from watching from the inside.
  • When you wake up in the morning, where would you like to go? Some like a structure and direction, others don't.

Good luck, sounds like a great situation to be in.

answered Nov 8 '09 at 21:56
Jeremy Mc Gee
371 points
  • +1 for waking up in the morning point. Life is too short. – Anders Hansson 14 years ago


I would base the entire decision on how passionate you are about what the startup is doing. If it's not an idea you love, or if it fails, you'll be back on the job boards anyway and the stability of the other job may be a better fit.

answered Nov 9 '09 at 12:10
892 points
  • Why do you assume that the other job has more stability? Other than that your advice is good. – Tim J 14 years ago
  • Just because a mid-size company has proven itself to some degree and probably isn't relying on investment money to make payroll. No job is truly stable of course, but I know a lot of people that have joined a startup, to find that no one has a job 6 months later. If the startup has 24 months of runway, not such a big concern. – Justyn 14 years ago


Find out what the startup's business model is and let that help you decide. I've worked with (currently working for) a startup which is trying to do way too much, too fast, with too little resources and a desire to push junk out as quickly as possible. It's not a fun situation to be in.

answered Nov 12 '09 at 07:12
Wayne M
211 points
  • +1 - for the honesty. I have done some work with a startup that burned through cash too fast, expecting to get some funding that never materialized. – James Black 14 years ago


Mark Suster wrote an amazing article on this very question.

Is it time for you to Earn or to Learn.

I think your decision will become a lot clearer after reading it.

answered Nov 9 '09 at 01:00
Usman Sheikh
1,728 points
  • I call BS on that. There are plenty of people at growing companies who made lots of money in stock options. They were nowhere near being the first employees or founders or top levels of executives. That blog post is misleading. – Tim J 14 years ago


If the start-up fails and you suddenly find yourself without a job, will that cause you incredible hardship, or just a minor inconvenience?

When looking at the issues, you need to look clearly at the possible risks also.

It may help to look more carefully at the start-up and determine how feasible their business plan is, are they counting on some miracle to happen, or do they have the funding to last about twice as long as they expect it will take?

Even for a medium sized company it helps to look at how well they are doing, but you are less likely to find yourself unemployed without any severance than from a start-up, if they completely run out of funding.

You may want to look at the type of people you will be working with to determine where you may learn the most.

How involved are you going to be with the design or business side? How will your work be different at the startup than at the medium sized company? Is it basically that you are expected to work ridiculous hours for a nice salary, but in the end you are just developing software, for example?

A startup can be a great experience, or it can be a very painful lesson, which one is largely going to be based on you trying to understand the issues as much as you can, and then making the decision with your heart.

answered Nov 9 '09 at 10:38
James Black
2,642 points
  • I don't know why everyone is expecting the startup to be the one to fail. One could lose one's job just as easily at the other company. This recent economy should have made this abundantly clear. – Tim J 14 years ago
  • That is why I suggested looking at how well the medium sized company is doing, but the impact of being laid off from a company is lessened by severance pays. Startups have a high failure rate. – James Black 14 years ago
  • Not all companies pay severance... they certainly have no obligation to do so and there is no way to find out what sort of problems they are having if they don't feel like disclosing them – Tim J 14 years ago
  • So far in my experience of being laid off I have been paid a severance, and I believe it depends on how large the company is, and where, otherwise they can be sued. A medium sized company is most likely going to be paying one, as part of my accepting was that I wouldn't sue. – James Black 14 years ago
  • @Tim - I forgot, at least in TN, if you are over a certain size you need to give 60 days notice or, it seems they can pay a severance. I was with a company that gave notice, and continued to employ the people, hoping that they would find employment before that and leave on their own accord, saving the company money. – James Black 14 years ago


(In addition of what's already posted) I would consider the possibily of joining the startup but I'd take into consideration all possible outcomes. Of course you may learn a lot more in the startup but remeber that is important to know well the founders and their commitment to their project, trust is very important.
I once worked for a startup that failed and I moved to some more 'stable' position as a 'regular dev'. Sometimes is just the rational thing to do if things are not working for anyone.

answered Nov 9 '09 at 23:41
532 points


I may be wrong, but it sounds like you are too young to be chasing the money, instead of the experience. Getting paid a fair wage is definitely important, but shouldn't be the deciding factor.

First, I would suggest that you take a look at Joel Spolsky's blog, Joel on Software, and read all of his posts listed under the subheadings on the right hand side - there is some incredible advice.

Second, I would suggest that you read the amazing essays on Paul Graham's site, specifically - "What Startups are Really Like", "Startups in 13 Sentences", "You Weren't Meant to Have a Boss", and "A Student's Guide to Startups". Heck - read them all - really.

answered Nov 12 '09 at 06:02
Rs Holman
596 points


Go for startup Job. You will gain more knowledge in startup in less time. That knowledge will help you to go solo in future or you can get decent job in medium to large scale enterprise with that experience.

answered Nov 9 '09 at 06:08
Web Thinker
430 points


You are asking on a startup forum. Most of the people here are either involved in or thinking about becoming a startup. Most of this is NOT focused on being an EMPLOYEE of a startup. Bear that in mind when considering the responses.

What I would do is try to analyze

  • most interesting work
  • best team to work with
  • best manager to work for
  • quality of life
  • pay and benefits

In mostly that order

answered Nov 9 '09 at 07:52
Tim J
8,346 points


I was evaluating the same decision a couple of years ago before I joined the startup I work for now.

You need to make sure you can handle the risk/uncertainty of a startup job (if you're an above average developer, this means saving 2-3 months of expenses to handle finding a new job). If you haven't planned this out, start saving right now and invest in the freedom to make better choices.

Once you've done that, you should be thinking about your career long term and how you build the most value. Startups are exciting places where you can gain greater access to new technology, very smart/talented engineers, and skills outside of a narrow engineering job description (business, product management, support, qa, etc).

Project out a year for each company and compare your resume and skills at that point. Choose whichever one is more valuable.

answered Nov 10 '09 at 06:57
211 points


It depends on your long term plan and the kind of person you are! If you want to see your self owning your own IP or company i would say you should go for the startup. Of course a lot depends on the start up like the idea, people behind the idea, support from the investors etc. If the startup is strong, you should just go for it. Your journey will be much more challenging and thrilling compared to a well established company. In few words if you like challenges, ready to take risk and if you are looking for a long term benefit just go for the startup.


answered Nov 8 '09 at 23:27
88 points

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