Programmer Jobs: What to Expect in a Large or Small Company

You’re a recent graduate armed with your degree, looking for what likely will be your first of a few programmer jobs.

Are you ready for what lies ahead? It’s important to be strategic about your initial choices. As the old saying goes, “Time is money.” Here’s what you can expect from entry-level programmer jobs:

Typical responsibilities in programmer jobs

Your duties in entry-level programmer jobs will depend on whether you choose to work for a large or small company. In general, entry-level programmers work closely with software developers to turn software designs into instructions that computers can follow. Typical responsibilities can include:

  • Updating and expanding existing systems
  • Writing programs in a variety of computer languages
  • Using code libraries
  • Debugging errors
  • Building computer-assisted software engineering tools

Programmer jobs at larger companies

While you’re eager to show your stuff and hammer out some amazing code, if you decide to work for a large company, you may want to rein in your enthusiasm a bit. Most entry-level programmer jobs involve spending time — anywhere from months to years — focused on quality assurance (QA). What does this mean? Basically, you’ll be a tester. Your team will have various checkpoints to finish a certain amount of coding. When all the checkpoints are complete, someone above you will put them all together for a “build.” Your job will be to run tests on this build. And you will not likely get to test them arbitrarily; you will run their scripts. These tests consist of choosing an option, logging the results and repeating the process.

Programmer jobs at smaller companies

If you accept a role at a smaller company, you may be able to reduce your time as a QA tester and be more of a combo coder. You may get to work on some code and then also do the testing. However, the coding likely will be rather tedious. For example, you may be asked to go through a 20-year-old program with 25,000 lines of code and find one line that needs to be changed. (No really, this could happen.)

Does size really matter?

The real truth about programmer jobs is that the majority of work involves maintenance and bug fixing. If you’re hoping to write the next great operating system, you’ll likely need to spend a few years working your way up to that point, no matter what size company you join. The overall consensus among programmers who share ideas on Programmers Stack Exchange is that it’s more difficult to get into a small company than a large one because there are fewer open positions to begin with. If you can break into a small firm, it could help you later if you want to join a large company that may be looking for someone with small company experience to bring new ideas into the fold. People at smaller firms are often able to get their hands dirtier quicker than those at larger firms, and large firms can often benefit from this acquired knowledge. Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether to work in programmer jobs at small or large firms:

  • Small companies tend to have stronger personalities while larger companies have a more smoothed-out culture.
  • Small start-up companies tend to be less economically stable. If long-term stability is what you are after, a larger company may be a better choice. However, if you’re more of a risk-taker and ready to roll up your sleeves, helping a startup grow might be the better choice for you.
  • Small companies offer a wider set of opportunities because you’ll be expected to shoulder more work on your own.

There really is no wrong or right when it comes to choosing your first programmer job. There are many people with long and stable careers in programmer jobs at both small and large companies. It comes down to what your preference is when it comes to company culture, risk taking and level of responsibility.