Your next career step as a developer: a small start-up, a big company or go freelance?

As a software developer in a job market which is mostly working in your favour, you are in an enviable position to be able to determine your own fate, to a large extent. Knowing where you want to go in your career helps you understand which next step will get you there.

At various points in your career you will need to consider different options, the choice of which is largely dependent on one’s personal situation at that point in time.  However, it is important that you never lose sight of the big picture.

We have tried to make the decision a bit less complicated by identifying the factors you would need to consider when determining the next step in your career.

Risk

You can view the three options on a continuum, with working for a big company at the low-risk end and working freelance at the other. Working in a small start-up would be somewhere in between.

So, for example, freelance would be an option early in one’s career, if one’s personal situation allows for the risk of not getting a regular salary at the end of the month. It could also be an option at a later stage of one’s career if one’s bank account can handle the uncertainty for a number of months.

Regular pay check

If you need the comfort of knowing that you will receive a salary each and every month for the foreseeable future, then there is nothing like working for a big and established company.  Small start-ups can provide this comfort too, at least in the short to medium-term. The size of the pay check is another story.

Rewards

A successful freelance or contractor career can pay up to two to three times more than a regular job with an established company, even though this is not guaranteed and you will need to spend a lot of your time looking for the next project. In the case of start-ups, it is the promise of reaping large rewards in the future in the form of moving up the organisation faster or the promise of share options.

Typical Work Day

When working in a large and established organisation you would typically know what your work day will be like, day in day out. Within a small start-up, you will likely need to work on different things at the same time, with no one day like the next.

As a freelancer you do have a say in what you will be doing, even though you will need to be involved in many other aspects of the job; freelancers are a bit of a jack of all trades, managing their own taxes and other paper work.

 Working hours

While working freelance gives you the luxury of being able to set your own working hours, it is likely that you will work much longer hours. Long hours characterise working for a start-up too, although this will unlikely go on forever.

Work-life Balance

The ability to work from home, and setting your own hours can be the greatest reward when working freelance. However you need to be the type of person who can shut down after a day’s work, since your home is your office.

Order & organisation

More established companies would have been start-ups one day, and would have put in some order in the form of processes and formal job roles at some point in time. In start-ups, chaos could be the order of the day, and managing this chaos is probably the most important thing to survive.

Work Experience and new skills

Working for more established companies can lead to specialising in one or more areas, and resources will be devoted to help you train. You will also learn how to operate in larger projects. In a start-up it is likely that you will have to do all kinds of work, and this will help you understand the bigger picture. On the other hand as a freelancer you may at times have the luxury of being able to choose what you want to work on.

Working alone or in a group

You’ll spend much of your time alone, working as a freelancer, which could be something you want. If however, you need to have people around you then freelancing may not be the best option for you.

Motivation

If you re a self-starter and know how to keep yourself motivated, then you will make it in freelance. On the other hand, being employed comes with the added benefit of being motivated by your boss and co-workers.

Some life decisions are never easy, but knowing the factors on which such decisions should be based helps. Hopefully, we have helped you out with this.