Working in Big Tech vs. at a Startup | Day in the Life

Case Studies
Stephen CognettaStephen CognettaLast updated

Trying to decide if you want to work at a big tech company like Google or Amazon, or if you'd be happier at a startup? I've worked at both Google and at startups and below I'll outline the pros and cons of both.

Scale: How Many People Will See Your Work?

When you're working at a company like Google or Amazon, your impact is enormous.

Every tweak or a button change has ripple effects across the entire organization. Moving a button or a call-to-action may impact search results, usability, or even reliability.

I used to work on the Google homepage. Any small tweaks would have millions of views within a few moments.

That can be really inspiring, engaging, and fun.!

At a startup, you're focused on a smaller set of users. But that means you're making more changes more frequently!

Instead of changing a small button over the course of a week at Google, you may be changing an entire page at a startup. That's because there are fewer users who will see the change.

When thinking about scale, think about the level of ownership that comes with both of them. Think about the type of work that you enjoy.

Do you like to make data-driven decisions based on analytics for your tweaks? Do you want to work with millions of users?

Or would you like to work in a more creative, flexible way? Make changes, break things, and fail quickly?

Pace: Move Fast and Break Things or Take it Slow

At Google, I remember that decisions would take a long time.

If you wanted to roll out a new feature, you'd have to talk with your manager first. Then your manager would meet with an executive. Then the executive may have to seek approval from other stakeholders. Then there was another two week waiting period before the code got pushed live...

At a startup, we commit our Github repos without giving it a second thought. There will always be bugs to iron out, but deploying features helps us to get feedback to grow. We're always learning from our technical debt and failures.

Do you enjoy working and collaborating with groups of people on large-scale projects? Do you prefer working in small groups, or even autonomously?

Community: How Do You Connect with Your Team?

I remember having an amazing network of mentors and ambitious, smart people that I worked with every day at Google.

It was easy to make friends and find like-minded people everywhere I went.

Working at Google felt a lot like being in college. The diversity of talent meant that there are people doing jobs in all sorts of fields.

Contrast that with a startup where mentorship is harder to find. There's also a much smaller community of people to work with on a daily basis.

However, working at a startup means I've developed much closer ties with the people I work with daily. Rather than transient cross-functional teams, I have a core team I rely on and grow with.

Often, it feels like it's us against the world when we're building new products!

Decide if you want to work with thousands of team members vs a smaller, more focused cohort.

Risk: The Numbers Don't Lie

Startups carry a lot more risk than a company like Google or Facebook.

I never worried whether or not the company wouldn't do well. I rarely wondered if a product launch would be successful to the company's bottom line.

Put simply, there was very little risk at working at Google.

That comes with a little less upside than at a startup.

You do have a lot of risk and you may have to worry about issues affecting the business. However, there's a lot more opportunity for growth.

Working a "high risk" role at a startup may also help you transition from business analyst roles to product management. You can show off more of your varied skills and grow into PM more easily.

I wish I could help you find your own risk tolerance! But understanding where you are in your life and what type of job security you need will help you weigh the difference between working at a big tech company and a smaller startup.

Do you want something more stable and secure? Or do you get really excited about risky opportunities and things that just might not work unless you put in enough effort and idea and thought and strategy.

I think that risk, community, scale, and the pace of work will help you to decide what kind of company you want to work for.

Obviously, I made the decision to focus on my own startup for a while, Exponent!

I encourage you to listen to your intuition and not be afraid to try working somewhere that challenges you.

Working at big and small companies has its ups and downs and over time, you'll find the right fit for you.

Tech Interview Prep with Exponent

Exponent has helped 50,000+ tech professionals prepare for their dream jobs.

Explore interview guides and courses, practice thousands of real-world interview questions, or pair with an expert interview coach to help you land the job.

Learn more on

Your Exponent membership awaits.

Exponent is the fastest-growing tech interview prep platform. Get free interview guides, insider tips, and courses.

Create your free account