Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Big Company vs. Small Company

Recently a bunch of new trainees joined Tieto in India, fresh out of college. They go through a three month training period where they get to experience a variety of technologies (.NET, Java, etc), tools and software development roles (programmer, QA, etc.). Towards the end of the three month period this time someone must've had them all write a post in a company blog. This one caught my interest:

I joined Tieto on 15 Dec 2009. I always dreamed to work in a big company like Tieto. The most important thing I had seen here is respect for all employess, all the senior level people are really supportive and helpful. One more thing I like most is the open culture concept which I never seen before. We enjoyed the first month of training which is most interactive with the seniors. They shared their experience and thoughts. They gave us the confidence that you are lucky because you are at right place at right time. In Tieto sky is the limit to our growth….

Not long before reading that we had some training on the new HR tool for annual performance reviews and personal goal setting and what-not and that had me thinking about my own career growth, and how I'm glad I spent my younger, junior years in smaller companies before joining a big company, like Tieto.

Tieto has around 16,000-17,000 employees, and more employees alone in the Weikfield office here in Pune than all my previous employers put together. My first company, Maynard Rigby & Associates had as many as 8 people when I worked there, followed by PC-Kwik that had around 60-70 when I first started and shrank down to around 10 before going out of business and then my previous employer, First Insight, which had 13 or 14 when I started and up to 150 at the height of the dot-com boom (and I never knew what all the people did, I think some were just filling job titles to satisfy the venture capitalists).

At the smaller companies I had a lot more opportunities to try different job roles, different responsibilities and to learn more about what I enjoyed, what I was good at and what I was terrible at. Whereas at a bigger company I don't see as much chance for skipping all around to explore.

At Maynard Rigby, I was a junior software engineer, and I worked on C and BASIC coding, I talked to customers almost every day. As the youngest, least experienced programmer, I was doing the least critical programming tasks so that meant I was also given responsibility for most of the IT work, I maintained the Novell Netware network, I ran the fax computer, I fixed everyone else's computers when they didn't work right, wrote documentation for our customers and got to experiment with any new technology to evaluate if we could use it.

MRA also gave me a chance to be a receptionist and answer the phone, take packages to a nearby post office, meet whoever came in the door, sign for packages and write big checks for C.O.D. deliveries (the biggest was for an expensive software suite at over $100,000).

On the really downside, though, at Maynard Rigby we had a strict dress code. The guys all had to wear suits and ties on a daily basis. The loophole I found was the dress code didn't specify shoes, so I wore my Converse high-tops with my suit (although I did keep dress shoes in the office so the others wouldn't be too terribly embarrassed if we all went out for lunch...). The boss said "you can't write accounting software unless you look like an accountant." The only one who didn't have a dress code was Angie, and that was because the boss said he didn't need to tell her how to dress, she knew better than the rest of us.

Then at PC-Kwik I was hired as a technical support guy for our system software. It didn't take long for QA tasks to be given to the tech support team to do "between calls". And as we shrank I picked up responsibility for the Novell Netware network (including getting filthy and covered in fiberglass insulation carrying cables through the ceiling...) and maintaining almost all of the office's computers. That includes physically carrying them wherever they needed to go, instead of a laborer to do that.

Shrinking further I picked up more formal QA and started doing development on non-core parts of our products, mainly based on my directly talking to customers and knowing what their main problems were. Eventually when we came out with a new product, the ill-fated CD-ROM Express, I also got involved with writing the manual.

After PC-Kwik went out of business I joined First Insight, also as a technical support specialist. And it didn't take long before I was doing custom programming for customers and doing development on the product that was mostly what the engineers said couldn't be done, editing technical manuals and documents and naturally, network administration before finally burning out with tech support and moving full-time to the engineering department and volunteering to pick up the data modeling and SQL development. Over the ten years at First Insight I got to work on many, many modules and almost all of the products we made, with a variety of tools and languages (well, ok, I used C and C# when I was told over and over again to use the company standard Visual Basic, but hey, that's some of the variety).

Of course, now at Tieto, within our own Origination Suite project we're all Agile, part of which involves all developers owning all parts of the application and all the code, which gives some variety. I really, really enjoy this project, but it's a big company, there's no way I could easily switch over to .NET if I wanted to try it, or get involved with the network administration without having to give up work on Origination. Very few people actually do multiple roles at once, everything is segmented.

And a big company has much more bureaucracy than small ones. Getting anything is a pain in the butt at Tieto. Our team determined the developers could be more productive with two computers each, and it took over a month to get the IT department to get them to us. Lots of paperwork, follow-ups with the IT department, with 20 digit ticket numbers, multiple managers having to sign off on it.

Compared with at First Insight when one day I told my boss, "Nitin, I could be more productive if I had a 17-inch monitor." After work he drove to a nearby computer store, bought one and the next morning I carried it up from his car to my desk.

Looking back on my career so far, I think PC-Kwik and the Origination Suite project at Tieto have been the most fun. First Insight might've been, except I stayed till I reached the burn-out point, which overshadowed the years I enjoyed. Working at Maynard Rigby was an experience I'm glad I had, but glad it's over and glad none of my other employers have been quite like that.

On the other hand, quite a number of the people I worked with in tech support at PC-Kwik are dead, from cancer and vehicular accidents. The odds don't look good for me.

As an aside... Of all the trainees' blog posts, the one that really stuck out the most was this one:
When I started playing the game it was just 6 plots of land with some strawberries and eggplant and 2 plots left unsowed…. Since then my farm has grow in all directions.With trees, buildings, animals, decorations spread all across my farm…
Not a single day goes by without visiting my farm…
Day and night logging in and out to check if there’s something posted on the wall,any animal to be adopted , any bonus shared , any help needed by the neighbours…(even though I don’t know that person in real life!!! :) )
Its all about reaching to the next level,earning XP’s,coins and staying ahead of all.The addiction reaches to the next level when there’s free access to the internet at work !!! :) .All I can say that i am loving it here!!!(“Its too goood :) ”)

Actually, I wrote back to that young woman and suggested that while I'm not suggesting she not play and enjoy FarmVille, and that I'm not her manager, this post might not be the best, the most professional way of "introducing" herself to the full 16,000+ people around the world who may be readers of the blog... And that in my opinion, the office internet isn't "free access" it's earned by getting work done.


  1. Even i started with my career with an small organization which had around 30 employees. I worked there for 1.5 years. The technical skill which i gained there in 1.5 years more than the skills which i gained in my rest 4 years. That was sort of one many army in any project overthere; I was developer, I was tester, I was DAB, hmmn everything :)

    But the problem with that small organization was that they didn't have solid HR policies, management, etc. However I feel that even Tieto is competating in this area :)

  2. I don't mind the more chaotic HR stuff that goes on with small companies. It fits the environment and the flexibility of taking on a lot of different roles.

    Besides, it's easier to get vacations approved... Instead of a big organization where you have to get two managers' approval before the third one will let you go, while each of the first two thinks the other has to be first, in a small company you just ask the boss, then let everyone else know...

  3. Before coming to Tieto I also worked for a small company(Sort of, 250-300 employees). There we used to do any kind of work that customer threw at us.. Cobol, shell scripting, pl-sql, batch scripts, vb.. whatever came to our customers mind.. even debugging third party applications. Writing user docs, testing. It was only after coming to Tieto that it dawned upon me how many profiles we were handling (Developer, tester, technical writer, sysadmin.. to name a few) :). If I started working on something I had to see that it works at the customer end, whatever it takes.

    Personally, I feel starting from a small company is the best thing. But a small company has its cons.. The biggest of them is that you can not challenge your manager, be it appraisals or anything... there is no way you can take it beyond your Boss. HR is only concerned about your salary and nothing else.. if you are satisfied its good if not then leave.. They do not have too many options that they can give you. And the risk of closing down always looms over.

    But I loved the work there which used to challenge my technical skills and made me learn new things. That's really what we love as software geeks :)