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Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

  • 1.  Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 17 days ago

    The pros and cons of working for big companies vs smaller companies should probably have footnotes associated with an individual's personality. What I consider a "PRO" or a "CON" is the exact opposite to several engineers I know. My personality, method of learning and contributing, and social development are all filters through which I view "pros" and "cons". Whether coming straight from college or from another company, my work history and experience also serves as a basis for comparison.

    Personally, my personality and experienced matched quite well with the large company I started my career with; there were a variety of projects and the project type, complexity and length of project assignments grew with my experience; and plenty of opportunities for social growth. From a large company to a smaller consulting firm to self-employment, when it comes to resources and time usage the differences are quite significant.

    These are a few areas where I noticed differences:
    1. Frequency of and type of training
    2. Project Type, Complexity and Length
    3. Resources
      • Financial
      • Computer Hardware & Software
      • Technical & Non-technical
      • Human Resources
    4. Project Management Styles and Tools
    5. Pressures/Stresses of Billable vs. Non-Billable Hours
    6. Document Management, Quality Assurance and Quality Control
    7. Benefits: Healthcare Plans, Scheduling Time off and Flex Time, Discounted Services
    8. Professional Development and Advancement, Promotions, Bonuses and Raises
    9. Work sponsored or supported social activities

    What are your thoughts? Based on personal or conveyed experiences, what are some of your pros and cons?



    ------------------------------
    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal/Owner
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 17 days ago
    Hey James,

    Regarding "pros", I've found that larger companies usually offer better tangible and documented benefits, while smaller companies may offer more of these "unofficially." An easy example would be time off. I know of large companies who are now using the "unlimited PTO" benefit for their staff, but it still needs to be requested in advance. On the other end, I can think of some small companies that still only offer a few weeks of vacation, but wouldn't look at you odd if you had to work a work week with non-standard hours last minute.

    In the same vein, a larger company may have a more diverse set of projects under their management, but streamline the process such that many of their staff are pigeonholed into only doing one thing. A smaller company may end up giving their staff more diverse experience simply because they need all hands involved on every project. Of course this can also go the other way as well. I've yet to find a true standard to separate a large company vs a small company in this regard. It seems to vary case by case.

    One thing I can say with a little more confidence is that bigger companies almost always have better hardware and software and better defined career paths for their staff.

    ------------------------------
    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    ------------------------------



  • 3.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 15 days ago
    Christopher,
    Yes, the hardware and software was so "technically" more advanced but I will not necessarily say better. Hardware specifically geared towards running the software with what seemed to be unlimited memory for larger than life models. Most of the differences lay in the pre- and post processing and the training associated with it. At the large company, they could send you off-site (in-house or out of state) for training for two (2) weeks. With the smaller companies, I brought a lot of experience with me when it came to structural analyses programming and times had changed to the point where the "how-to" was available online. However, it does not replace being able to focus on nothing but training.

    The other was the availability of technical materials and specifications. When I was with the larger company, I took for granted the ability to simply jump on the computer and search for any needed technical document until I joined a much smaller company. What took minutes with the larger company took hours, if not days, for me to obtain a copy of a material spec. I was taken aback by having to call around before purchasing a material specification.


    ------------------------------
    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal/Owner
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA
    ------------------------------



  • 4.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 11 days ago
    Great questions.  Over a 40+ year career, I've been privileged to work for companies ranging in size from 1, to 60, to 6, to 16,000.  All of them have pros and cons.  The least stress, highest paying, and most hours and most flexibility has been the one person firm.

    I thrive on collaboration.  So why a one person firm?  Even when working for an international company with 16,000 people, the type of work meant that we'd cherry pick whomever we needed - both from within the organization and outside - to accomplish our goals.

    And a mentor's comments stuck with me:  "You can find extremely good talent in large companies, and in small companies.  And you can find incompetency in large companies, and in small companies."

    Very true.

    ------------------------------
    Paul Currier P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal
    Water Resource Cons., L.L.C.
    Rifle CO
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 10 days ago
    Excellent points Paul.

    When you have worked for yourself (and managed business well as you have), it can be a challenge going back to being another company's employee for a lot of reasons.

    At one point I considered going back to work in a larger consulting firm. During the interview process, they conveyed the expectation of bringing in so much work/hours per period. My first thought was, "I might as well continue working for myself."

    One of the pros of the one-man firm for me has been the flexibility of schedule. During a period when the well-being of family was critical, being able to work from home (practically the norm now) and set my own hours were important. Although the larger company provided flex time, this benefit did not prove to be a healthy one for me; little sleep and no sunshine.

    Years prior to the series of family urgencies noted above, having the one-man firm allowed me to remain a "Stay-at-Home" dad, one of the best, most rewarding and most challenging positions I have ever held. [Note: Despite a rise up the large company ladder, at the house I was still low person on the pay totem pole. Having a professional license provided the avenue by which to start my engineering consulting business.]

    ------------------------------
    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal/Owner
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 11 days ago
    I worked for a large company at the beginning of my career. I did not stay long, but long enough to understand the culture. Each employee, excepting the higher-ups, of course, worked in a limited area of design, contributing to only to a small part of the project. Going outside of your assigned scope was frowned upon. I have talked to others who have had similar experiences.

    So nearly all of my career I have worked for small companies. Even my years in municipal work was for small cities with very small engineering departments. For the last 36 years I have worked in private practice for small engineering firms, for the last 18 years a firm that I own. The biggest plus for me has been the wide variety of work experience I have gotten, and the huge amount of free rein I have been given. Even when I worked for at least one of the two cities. I would not trade this experience for anything.

    I would say the biggest minus for small companies is the poor or in some cases non-existent fringe benefits. For me that is probably the biggest plus for large companies.

    ------------------------------
    Martin Pinckney M.ASCE
    President
    American Engr. Consultants Marco Is.
    Marco Island FL
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 10 days ago
    James:
    I have read all the responses. My take on it is very straightforward. I prefer larger companies for the simple reason there is MORE OPPORTUNITY IN EVERYTHING.

    1. Size of projects
    2. Complexity
    3. International and domestic assignments
    4.Diversity of people. (Fellow teammates, Customers, Subcontracts, Suppliers, Organizational Design, Contractors, Types of Services and the list goes on)
    5. Advancement Opportunities. (One can be a design engineer, then a Project Engineer, then a Project Manager, then Program Manager, then a Director, then Vice President etc)
    Advancement will be based on your skill and appetite for leadership.
    6. Training
    7. Excellent Salary and Benefits
    8. One will hone all their skills. Problem-solving, negotiation, leading teams, thinking is welcome, if you are a problem solver. If you are really good, its not pleasing you immediate boss. Immediate boss does not want to promote high performers. Your boss's boss will promote you. Think about that. In any event it will be up to YOU.

    So, I will stop there.

    ------------------------------
    Vito Rotondi, (Retired)
    Arch. S.E. P.E. Life M ASCE
    Westmont Illinois
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 10 days ago
    Vito: Excellent points, too. I gather that you have worked for both large and small companies. Can you provide some insight into the difference in stress levels? Is it more rewarding or more peaceful being one of many vs. being one of a few?

    I must say that engineers in smaller firms were under the impression that engineers in larger companies all had larger projects with years to complete; which was quite the opposite; depending on the level of experience, project times ranged from a few hours to years. If someone had a long-term project, there were milestones and you were available for the smaller short term projects.

    Typically there are opportunities to diversify experience and develop skill sets when thrown into the fire of the smaller consulting company. Some would say that smaller companies provide many unexpected on-the-job training and more opportunities to wear many hats besides engineer (i.e., designer or CAD operator, janitor, admin staff). I know of some that loved the stress or pressure of having to simply "get it done" or the unexpected newness of the next project. They consider it stretching their engineering abilities.

    I developed my CAD skills as a co-operative education student with the larger company converting hard copies to 2-D, 3-D CAD and solid models (batch coding). There were no personal PCs on the desk, there were CAD stations. After graduating and becoming part of the engineering or tech group; 2-D & 3-D CAD and Solid modeling skills were not the typical engineering skill set. As we transition away from paper, other engineers required and often had to wait for assistance, I was able to operate without assistance. Engineers adapted. They always do.

    ------------------------------
    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal/Owner
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 9 days ago
    Hi James:
    I want to clarify that I have always worked for large multi-discipline companies. My comparison with small companies is that my engineering and architecture friends have worked for small companies and learned through them their frustrations in doing so. I got a very good view and understanding of small firms through their experiences.
    I always felt I was leaps ahead of them in my career development and they acknowledged that. I think many students want to graduate, get their licences and onday have the dream of owning their own firm. However, life places dreams on hold and financial realities set in. Working for large multinational firms exposed me to a career on a global scale. That is difficult to do in a small office environment.
    Looking back, I felt for me it was a great decision. For others, it depends on their personality and goals.In the end, one needs to love their work. If one does not, they are in the wrong business. Running projects is difficult. Leadership is very important to success. Again, large firms allow opportunities for the strong willed individuals. I always said that my job as a leader was always to work myself out of my current job by successfully completing it. Then this would allow me to go on to the next challenging project. 
    While typing this, I thought to myself, I must have been an "Adrenaline Junkie". It was at times Love Hate. But in the end I was a happy person after all. 


  • 10.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 9 days ago
    Vito:
    No clarification needed on your part given the initial post said "personal or conveyed". My response created the potential for confusion.

    You raise a very interesting topic question regarding graduating, obtaining a license, and the dream of firm ownership. As a student, I was focused on studying and graduating. At my school (thankfully), taking the E.I.T. (now known as the F.E.) exam was mandatory and not an optional requirement. [Note: The school's scoring average suffered because the requirement was to take not pass. Some would go to the exam, sign the attendance sheet, and leave.]

    I cannot remember when I was introduced to the idea of obtaining a PE license. I was a co-operative education student with ODOT for a summer working on a bridge project and worked under a P.E. However, now I am not sure when the idea of owing a firm entered the picture. The large company for which I worked was a licensure exempt company. I was blessed to have worked for and with individuals that had their PEs but not necessarily need them.

    Life may place dreams on hold, but I have discovered that it uses people, places and situations to place you every where you need to be. I have been blessed enough to have life happen and simply go with the flow with the knowledge that "Everything will be Alright!". If not for the influence & introduction of a single individual during two different periods six (6) years apart, I would not have obtained my Masters Degree nor my PE. Oddly, I viewed the individual as "adversarial" and a career hinderance that was not going to allow me to grow within the company. This touches on the topic recently discussed "Time for a Change?". [For the sake of anyone reading, I erased the majority of that rambling. LOL!]  Life later placed me in positions where having a PE, my own company and schedule flexibility were a necessity: stay-at-home dad and family care-giver. I did return to the company and moved to a management position out of need. I ran into the individual on the elevator. We did not speak. I wanted to and should have said "Thank you!", but I was afraid he would consider it sincere. The strange part of all it is, of all the individuals that have aided me and influence my career, the one that I considered the most negative of individuals was in fact, the most helpful, positive, influential and impactful. My family and I owe him (and life) our sincerest of regards and thanks.

    Be on the look out for a "Vito inspired" topic associated with when ,why and inspiration to become a PE and/or own a firm.  As someone that carries Arch, PE, and SE, your engineering love story as an "Adrenaline Junkie" is one to tell.  Thank you, Vito!!!!


    ------------------------------
    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal/Owner
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA
    ------------------------------



  • 11.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 8 days ago
    Thanks James.

    I hear you clearly. One thing that I somewhat did in order to communicate to my family regarding my career along with personal background. I married around 1977 (not real date. Privacy. First marriage had 1 and only child. We lived a good life. One has to place in perspective the times. Seems we forget chronology today. But chronology is important as reference. I am foreign born. my family worked hard to make ends meet. My parents made it happen so we could have a chance to educate ourselves. Family is important. But based on one income, my father was a construction laborer, my parents could feed us, cloth us etc. They wanted us to go to college. That was their dream. But no funds for higher education. I worked summers, Christmas breaks and any chance to fund myself so as not to place additional demands on my family. Only male. At that time, there were not grants obtainable as today. I was not exposed to that type of thinking. Highschool guidance was meager. There were not any safety nets as there are today for my dad. The only thing he could apply for was unemployment and I believe at that time 3 or 4 months. Thats it. If he did not find another job come spring, we all were out of luck. I am only trying to place things in perspective. Because I was exposed to the construction industry, I wanted to be a contractor. Not go to college. That thinking was a violation of my parents' dream. So, I applied to collage and accepted. So, contractor was out of the picture. At the times it did not take much to be a successful contractor. Primary school and motivation were enough. So now I was in academics. Turns out I loved it. So new dream. Get degrees, get married, raise family, study for certifications to improve my value overall etc. Try to learn everything about I could about the EPC Industry. Major in Architecture and Engineering and most important minor and learn everything regarding the EPC Industry. Open OPPORTUNITIES. Now back to what I communicated to my wife and daughter. "We are a one income family. My job is to provide for you. This requires lots of work and hours. That is the reality. I may need to work many ours, but I am available to you. I will never feel guilty. I will do what is necessary to earn Honest Salary to support our nice house, nice cars, nice clothes, nice social life and friends. But I will never ever feel guilty.". It was good enough for my daughter but not my wife. We divorced; I took over all responsibilities for my daughter, education helping here to achieve her dreams and today we have an excellent open relationship. Again communications win. I now have a fantastic wife who shares our mutual views.

    James, I believe background is important and needed to highlight why dreams need to change. Today I am retired, many people ask for my thoughts, and problem solving, and I am always happy to help whenever I can. It is 9:44Pm in Illinois. I find time to make time.

    ------------------------------
    Vito Rotondi, (Retired)
    Arch. S.E. P.E. Life M ASCE
    Westmont Illinois
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 7 days ago
    Vito:
    I respect and appreciate your story. As you noted previously, "Adrenaline Junkie". There are so many different aspects to your journey that are discussion worthy. From a parent in construction (and your early introduction), dual degrees to the family life of engineers.

    By the way, you were in architecture during the pen and ink on vellum days. In high school, I discard projects that had a pencil smudge from the misuse of my eraser shield which rounded a corner. I came to the realization that I could not make a living as a perfectionist in architecture. I entered college at the perfect time, programming via the use of cards was no longer a necessary.

    I will not speak for all engineers with spouses and families, but being able to communicate effectively and work together to develop common goals and a plans for life make it so much easier. Development of a family plan with individual or subplans that do not contradict the family plan. Funny how an engineer's logical path does not always equate to the logical or best path socially or emotionally.



    ------------------------------
    James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal/Owner
    POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC
    Yorktown, VA
    ------------------------------



  • 13.  RE: Big Companies/Firms vs. Small Companies/Firms: Subjective "Pros" and "Cons"

    Posted 3 days ago
    Q. "What are your thoughts?" i.e., Large Orgs vs Smaller Orgs?(?)

    A. It depends.
    What I mean by that is "Where am I in my progressive development of knowledge and skills in performing,
    and later supervising such work? Would I prefer to serve by doing or securing work for the firm?"

    What progressive new work, knowledge, and skills might I be introduced to by dedicated engineers. . .and the other disciplines
    who work with them? Might this other org bring me to accept challenges that were "Not made in America" to broaden my life perspectives?

    Might I learn new perspectives tangent to Civil Engineering but delivered with non-engineering methodologies?

    Everyday's an adventure waiting to be either ignored or accepted to broaden and deepen one's ability to serve the needs of others.

    Cheers,
    Bill







    ------------------------------
    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
    ------------------------------