Pros and Cons of Being a Software Engineer at a Big Company

Jul 5, 2021

6 Min Read

Looking at the world of tech today, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (FAANG) are some of the biggest top-tier tech companies worldwide. Working at any of the FAANG companies has many advantages. If you’re an employee at any of these companies, you’re most likely to earn a huge salary and have full access to an elite developer team network where you can learn. You might feel a little fear of missing out if you don’t work at a FAANG company but not all software engineering roles are the same.

As a software engineer, most of your tasks will vary with environments, projects you work on, and people you meet. We’re here to give you a detailed breakdown of the roots of the differences. We are also going to share an experience that deals with working on both sides of the fence. Let’s compare the skill you might have as a software engineer in a FAANG company to working at a big non-FAANG company.

The role of engineers in building products

The most obvious difference for software engineering roles at FAANG companies is the product they build. Software is the central part of every FAANG company’s product or platform, which requires every company to have enough engineers. 

With that, you’ve got thousands of engineers working on your specific project or product. You will have access to a robust infrastructure designed for your success as a software engineer. You will get to know the expectations clearly with a well-structured protocol.

There is a very straightforward and efficient process for everything – if there isn’t, it’s likely a work in progress. There will always be someone available to review and debug your code. If you have any issues, there are in-depth internal wikis for your reference.

To understand how a FAANG company operates at scale, Google is a perfect example. When you visit Google for an online interview, a few Googlers will walk you through the company’s development infrastructure during the interview.

Among the infrastructure they introduce you to is seamless code reviews. It has an internal tool where developers can ask other developers for code reviews. When it comes to equipment, Google engineers can reach out to IT whenever they need additional resources. Most of the time and equipment available are free. The policy of having tools and equipment easy and accessible helps employees stay efficient and produce their best work.

At FAANG companies, you feel like you’re in an environment of high caliber. You get to know many adept software developers who know their way around code. Software is the key for most FAANG companies, and all employees must understand how to operate effectively with it.

Though non-technical employees won’t need to code, they’ll have to understand software at a conceptual level. The company won’t be able to afford non-technical managers that can’t ideate realistic features. The company focuses on building effective products and communication within the community of its engineers and everyone else.

At Facebook, you’ll meet a lot of non-technical employees who know how to code. To become a product manager on Facebook, you need to complete a six-week coding boot camp.

Though the primary aim of the raised knowledge standard is to ensure that managers understand technical specifications, it has also helped the company in other ways. Managers could come up with innovative and realistic features that engineers can execute. With that, programmers won’t get rushed to wrap projects due to ignorance by non-technical managers. There is effective communication between stakeholders and teammates have an understanding of what is needed to get done.

FAANG companies hire a large number of engineers and compete with one another for the best talent. However, many software engineering roles have been affected in various ways through this competition. FAANG companies will offer you a great work environment, which goes beyond a robust development infrastructure. They also offer work perks such as paid off-sites, celebrity events, and free daily meals.

On the other hand, competition among FAANG companies isn’t always good for you. The competition includes bringing in the best of the best engineers who will hold you accountable to deliver the best job in all possible ways. FAANG will weigh you against their internal performance standards which can be a lot of pressure. The standards are set up for all engineers to produce great work. This also means that you’re being compared to others and maybe at risk of losing your job if you can’t keep up.

At Facebook, you’ll find employees who had worked at other FAANG companies. Recruiters from Facebook often reach out to employees from other FAANG companies as they know the candidates have gone through rigorous work environments. Software engineers will have experience shipping the highest quality work at a high intensity. They’ll also have a high quality of quality testing and validation processes. 

Kind of how higher education degrees and brand name schools are seen as a signal to employers that some individuals have good self-discipline, the same philosophy is seen from ex-FAANG employees. This is why you may see people list ex-Google on their LinkedIn profile to signal to others that they have made it to one of the big companies before.

What to Expect with non-FAANG Companies

In most FAANG companies, products and platforms get driven by software. Your code becomes the lifeblood of the FAANG company, where you work as a software engineer. However, what about being a software engineer in a large non-FAANG company?

As a software engineer in a non-FAANG company, you have more opportunities to add value. There may not be as many developers in the company so there are more roles to fill or opportunities to take on varying types of work. You can bring fresh ideas to your company – maybe one that could alter the company’s direction. There may be opportunities to automate tasks to add value to the company. The truth is most larger companies have many inefficiencies so if you join a larger company, you can figure out quickly how to suggest ways to optimize processes.

Once you prove your ability by adding value to the company through software, others will recognize you. Since you’re working among a smaller pool of software engineers at non-FAANG companies, the chances to stand out or get recognition for your ideas and work may be higher.

If you check most construction companies, you’ll find a few developers – possibly 4-5 programmers in the entire office. Though the scarcity can be discouraging, there’s an opening to add massive value. Especially in older industries, your manager or executives may not know the full potential of what software engineering could do to benefit their company. You could develop software to overhaul their financial models to better predict costs and revenues. Or, you could automate older processes that used to take place over the phone or paper mail. The opportunities to update legacy industries are plentiful.

One downside of working with older industries or a non-FAANG company is that your leadership may provide less support or resources to their software engineering teams. They may not know what tools are necessary or helpful to be more efficient. It could be an uphill battle but that’s why there are pros and cons.

Another distinct difference for software engineers is that non-FAANG industries view you as a liability, while FAANG companies see you as an asset. Because you contribute to the bottom line at a FAANG company, you’re valuable. But this isn’t always the case in non-FAANG companies. Instead, they view you like every other business function. You may be viewed more like an expense that needs to prove itself yearly, sometimes quarterly.

In this sense, you’re likely to get less pay from a company outside the software industry. The company would first pay its direct contributors, such as managers, auditors, and account executives. So don’t hope to earn a big salary if your software isn’t a key driver for revenue.

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