Navigating the Tech Job Market: Startups vs. Big Tech Companies

25 December 2023

Insights from a Software Engineer on Landing Your Dream Job

In the ever-evolving tech industry, securing a job at a reputable company can be a daunting task. The choices between startups and established Big Tech companies present distinct challenges and opportunities for aspiring software engineers. To shed light on this topic, we spoke with Sheldon Chi, a seasoned software engineer who has worked at startups, Amazon, and Google. In this article, Chi shares valuable insights on what it takes to land a job at both types of companies, highlighting the importance of building relationships, showcasing enthusiasm, adapting to different cultures, and mastering coding interview tests.

Building Relationships and Understanding Company Culture at Startups:

When it comes to startups, Chi emphasizes the significance of building a relationship with the founder. By reaching out through platforms like LinkedIn or email, candidates can express their interest and potentially arrange a meeting. This not only increases the chances of getting hired but also provides an opportunity to assess whether the founder’s vision aligns with their own. Additionally, Chi advises candidates to make an effort to get to know their potential coworkers and understand the company culture, as startups often foster close-knit teams.

Showing Extra Interest and Adaptability:

Demonstrating genuine interest and enthusiasm is crucial when applying to startups. Chi recounts his own experience of initially not performing well in an interview but following up with the company through email, expressing his passion for the role. This led to a one-day trial and eventual employment. At startups, candidates must be prepared to wear multiple hats, as limited resources often necessitate employees to take on various responsibilities. This adaptability can provide valuable learning experiences and help individuals discover their true interests within the field.

The Financial Realities of Startups:

While startups offer unique experiences, it’s important to acknowledge that they generally don’t offer the same financial benefits as Big Tech companies. Chi highlights that stock options at startups are typically not as lucrative, with few exceptions like unicorn startups. However, the exposure to the ups and downs of building a company can be invaluable for those aspiring to become founders themselves.

The Mechanics of Applying to Big Tech Companies:

Transitioning to Big Tech companies requires a different approach. Chi outlines the mechanical nature of the application process, which involves submitting applications alongside numerous other candidates. If selected, candidates undergo multiple rounds of interviews, including coding tests for junior engineers and additional system design tests for senior engineers.

Leveraging Connections and Company Culture at Big Tech:

Having a referral from someone within the company significantly boosts the chances of standing out among the competition. Chi suggests reaching out to former classmates or networking at tech forums and meetups to find potential referrals. Additionally, working for a unicorn startup and showcasing this experience on platforms like LinkedIn can attract the attention of Big Tech recruiters. Understanding and aligning with the company culture is also crucial, as Big Tech companies often assess candidates’ fit through specific interviews that evaluate their alignment with the company’s values.

Financial Considerations at Big Tech:

Contrary to popular belief, Big Tech companies don’t always offer higher salaries compared to startups. While they do provide better compensation packages and higher-value stock options, the stock value can remain stable. Chi shares anecdotes of individuals who left Big Tech companies for unicorn startups and reaped significant financial rewards through stock options.

Differentiating Factors Between Amazon and Google:

Chi draws a distinction between Amazon and Google, highlighting their contrasting hiring processes and company cultures. Amazon, known for its quick hiring and firing practices, tends to prioritize business aspects over technological aspects due to its MBA-run structure. On the other hand, Google, like most Big Tech companies, is engineer-led and values technological excellence. The cultural differences between the two companies manifest in their support for engineers and the perks they offer.

The Importance of Coding Interview Tests:

Regardless of whether one aims for a startup or Big Tech, Chi emphasizes the significance of coding interview tests. These tests serve as a crucial gateway into the industry and demand a structured learning approach. Chi advises candidates to identify common patterns, study them, and achieve mastery to increase their chances of success.


Securing a job in the tech industry requires careful consideration of the opportunities and challenges presented by startups and Big Tech companies. Building relationships, showcasing enthusiasm, adapting to different cultures, and mastering coding interview tests are key factors that can set candidates apart. Ultimately, aspiring software engineers must prioritize their own beliefs and aspirations, rather than succumbing to external hype. With the right approach and dedication, a rewarding career in the tech industry awaits.

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