Anyone move from a startup background to a big company background and feel like you’re missing valuable skills?

Dec 18, 2019 11 Comments

My first job out of college was at a hyper fastpaced startup with a very small team. I stayed there for a year and a half, worked 60 hours a week or so. I thought I had busted my ass, and my friends (engineers as well) were amazed at the speed at which I was producing work when we’d talk about what we’ve been working on.

I was encouraged and expected to build features in weeks by myself that the CTO himself had said would take months with large teams at his previous big N engineering role.

Give me a sketch design and a requirements doc, and Ill have a spec and a functioning feature in no time with some unit tests and Id like to think I write pretty elegant code for the speed at which I execute and I try and always use foresight for potential changes or pivots (which I learned to do from us pivoting so much and having to refactor hacky code). I was really proud of myself and thought of myself as a solid engineer.

I just joined a new company a few months back. Im working on a codebase that is in the same stack as my previous company. At first I was getting easy tickets and knocking them out QUICK. Like proposed to take the whole sprint, finished the first 2 days kind of quick.

But that didnt last long. Soon I started running into some bugs that required me to ask around because I didnt understand certain aspects of the codebase. And I quickly learned Im not an engineer, Im just a code monkey. Everyone on my team has a _DEEP_ understanding of the underlying technologies, they know how every library method we use works and exactly what its doing. As well as how every technology we use works. They could all probably rebuild our whole stack in C if they wanted to.

When they have a problem they dont go to stack overflow or google. They dig into the dependencies and trace out the code, then check the docs. When I have a bug they dont just tell me whats happening, they explain how the underlying technology works, and only after they explain that and make sure I understand, they start pointing me in the right direction.

It became apparent that all my startup experience did was teach me how to google, stack overflow, and make things work. It never allowed me to actually learn what this stuff is doing or why it works. I have to have explained to me the most simple concepts in the type of work we do, and I just expect everything to work exactly how it says.

Does anyone else who came from a startup share this sentiment? The only analogy I can come up with is I feel like a guy who has built a ton of houses, but has no idea why certain materials are used, or whether to use screws vs nails for what, or when to use indoor vs outdoor paint, etc. I just never had time to stop and learn, I was too busy just building.

YOE: 1.75
TC: 210k


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TOP 11 Comments
  • The fact that you are aware about your weaknesses in itself is commendable, very often a junior engineer who only cares about getting the job done would have already started complaining.
    I’m happy to see you got a great team and I’m sure you will get a lot better as the years pass.
    All the best 👍🏻
    Dec 18, 2019 0
  • Lockheed Martin Schz3
    Sounds like they’re willing to teach you, and even see it as part of their job. You also seem ready to learn. I wouldn’t worry about it. Just think of yourself as a new employee who is learning the ropes and poised to grow.

    You did not know what you didn’t know. Recognizing that (and probably realize this could happen again) is a big step in professional growth. Keep asking and learning and check in with your manager to see if there is anything they would like you to change or do if you feel uncertain about your status in their eyes .
    Dec 18, 2019 0
  • New / Eng

    New Eng

    500 Startups
    I have worked in two startups and i can relate to code monkeys in our team.
    In each startup there are few hires that are horses for the team. They're young n energetic and work 60hrs or more per week. Their understanding of whole infrastructure is weak but they are valuable for writing swift hacky code because product release needs to be pushed out asap

    Then there is a senior group who ensures that top level design and architecture is state of art and people like CTO are responsible for it. Learn for these guys who know end to end architecture
    Dec 18, 2019 0
  • I can definitely relate to this. I got a lot of great practical experience from my startup. I learned how to put things together with a really small amount of resources. My colleagues that have been in bigger engineering shops for their careers have skills that I'm really envious of. They all learned Docker and Kubernetes right as they were coming out. A lot of them hack on open source in their free time. These are people who love tech for the sake of tech.

    My advice, though you didn't ask it, is you should be conscious of your differences and look to make the best out of your combined talents. Expect to learn a lot from your peers and expect to bring them something too.
    Dec 18, 2019 0
  • Google / Consultant 1337 h4x0r
    This is normal. Not only your startup experience but you don’t have a ton of experience in general. We all start out just making things work, true understanding comes with time. You haven’t put in 10,000 hours professionally yet ;) that said since you recognize your blind spots you will do amazing in the future. Keep doing what you are doing try to read up and learn from your peers.

    Good Luck!
    Dec 19, 2019 0
  • PayPal kbDQ88
    Great story, like the other guy said, commendable you’re aware and willing to learn, also they’re willing to spend time to teach. That’s hard to come by sometimes.
    Dec 18, 2019 0
  • Curious, is ur current company google?
    Dec 19, 2019 2
    • New / Eng

      New Eng

      500 Startups
      Yeah as if Google has the only top engineering values and culture 🤦‍♂️
      Dec 19, 2019
    • PayPal kbDQ88
      Yea what company is this? One reason I like Paypal , people are generally happy to teach without ego
      Dec 19, 2019
  • Samsung / Eng abcd1235
    Thank you for this post! Until today I hadn’t thought of this because I never moved out of a start up to get this kind of exposure. This very deep and well thought analysis is exactly what I needed and I’m glad you realized this so early in your career.
    I think it’s no easy feat for you to have done what you did in the first 1 year. That’s a skill in itself. You can’t just say you aren’t an engineer. You are an evolving one so don’t be too hard on yourself! But you are definitely going to make it! Really loved this post! Wish you the very best!
    Feb 9 0
  • Uber WyqD28
    Same situation, Except I wasn’t lucky enough to get the same level of mentorship you did.
    Dec 19, 2019 0


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