JobFilter: help me choose
December 4, 2013 5:51 PM   Subscribe

Choice 1. Tech startup - smart people, legitimate prospects, lots of autonomy, good upside, exciting work. Choice 2. Young but growing company - #5 with a bullet in their industry, much lower risk, 15% higher pay, potentially boring work

I'm a computer programmer and I've found myself in the enviable position of having to choose between 2 nice job offers. It's a classic dilemma of high risk v. high reward or corporate work for higher pay.

I am married with a child and my wife does not work. If I choose to work for the startup I will essentially be unable to save for the next 4 or 5 yrs (or until we learn to appropriately adjust our lifestyle). The corporate gig represents a modest pay bump (and the ability to save) and a more traditional path for career advancement (i'm not 100% sure that matters to me).

Everything about this choice is a conflict.

If I think about my life goals in terms of non-work life then the higher pay, the slow & steady nature of the corp. job, and an office (with a door!) are appealing.

If I think about my life goals in terms of work life then the startup is more appealing - I will have more autonomy, using more exciting tech, solving bigger problems, working with movers & shakers, and generally more of a challenge.

Please help me decide
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Higher risk + lower pay + no office door = much much lower reward. Calling those things perks is some real headfuckery.

Choose #2.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:01 PM on December 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

If you're married with a child and your wife does not work, take choice number two. The first job is better for you, the second job is better for your family, and as you and your family age, odds are your family and your traditional advancement opportunities will become more important to you.
posted by davejay at 6:02 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Answers that you may hear:

1) Flip a coin. Assign a choice to heads and a choice to tails. Are you happy with the result that you get? That's your answer.

2) Talk to your wife.
posted by sciolisticfelix at 6:03 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually, the first job is better for you if you are young and hungry and have low living expenses, but not automatically better for you otherwise, so choice number two still gets a bump there.
posted by davejay at 6:03 PM on December 4, 2013

If you do the start-up thing, make sure they have a healthy respect for work/life balance. I've seen friends' lives get eaten by the startup bug, and that environment is just not good for marriages or child-rearing.
posted by justalisteningman at 6:10 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Personally, the results of using "exciting tech" always seem ephemeral at best and painful at worst. "Bigger problems" tend to be smaller than imagined or impossible to actually solve.

Stable work, your own office, a 15% pay bump from #2?

I say #2 by a mile.
posted by ndfine at 6:18 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

If I think about my life goals in terms of non-work life then the higher pay, the slow & steady nature of the corp. job, and an office (with a door!) are appealing.

If I think about my life goals in terms of work life then the startup is more appealing - I will have more autonomy, using more exciting tech, solving bigger problems, working with movers & shakers, and generally more of a challenge.

There is a lot more to life than work, especially with a child. Job #2 is the no brainer.
posted by ish__ at 6:20 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

My job is pretty unexciting, but has many other excellent qualities. I get fulfillment from outside my job, and I don't have a kid to support. Pick door #2 and do cool projects on the side.
posted by rtha at 6:20 PM on December 4, 2013

Also, how competitive is your local market and just how real is this startup? I ask because you might negotiate at least a matching salary offer at #1. If they can't play ball like that (15% higher than initial offer), I would question their long term viability.
posted by ndfine at 6:27 PM on December 4, 2013

#2 seems obviously so much better. High risk high reward gets increasingly stressful as your responsibilities grow. And it's 15% more now, but it sounds like that will grow due to the advancement opportunities. I'd get your adrenaline rush in other ways. Maybe you can use some fraction of that 15% to do a side startup project or play the stock market or something.
posted by salvia at 6:29 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

#1 is not better. Startups virtually never pay off for anyone but the founders, and the odds for them aren't great either. Initially the startup culture seems better for a coder for all the reasons you mention, but sooner or later the documentation needs to get written, the unit tests need to all pass... sooner or later, if the startup is a success, #1 becomes #2 and you're there anyway but years later after many long nights with low pay. And that's all with significant odds of it failing. And over time, maturing as a developer tends to mean appreciating the less exciting aspects of #2 that make it a better software shop.

The dirty little secret of Silicon Valley is that young people like you are cannon fodder. Most success in startups, in terms of founding successful companies or exiting with your shirt, are from guys in their late 30s or 40s with the experience to succeed and not be blinded by the shiny lights and Thinkgeek trinkets that satisfy 20 year olds. Take #2, build savings and a stable life, and then make a smarter decision with better odds to go the startup route if that's what you want.

Preparation is almost never wasted.
posted by fatbird at 6:29 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

Which one will look better on the resume five years from now?

Which technology is more likely to grow stale?

What kind of stock options is job one going to offer, and how soon do they vest?

Stability is attractive, but it can be an illusion. Think of Enron, Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers. Every job you have is preparation for the next one.

Good luck however it goes.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:34 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
I'm 40 y/o, married for 15 years and my son is 6 yrs old and in kindergarten. I'm well familiar with the industry and this is a very legitimate startup. There's no institutional money invested, but there are backers, customers and revenue. My superiors in the company (read the C-level execs) are my age or a bit older and the founders are younger but really bright and impressive.

The corporate job is similar in that the management team I'll be working with are also in my age range and in a similar point in life, while the founding team is a bit younger but seem quite solid.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:55 PM on December 4, 2013

This must be a really startup-y startup if they aren't coming close to matching a corporate salary. Which means very high risk. Even with legit backers, etc, most startup-y startups will fail. If they have legit revenue but are trying to sell you on a small salary... why are you taking it? What is the equity that they're offering? The competition for developers is fierce right now. You should not take a salary that wouldn't allow you to save for years.
If you love the idea of the work etc at the startup, ask for more money. You should be able to save a little bit, at least. Unless you truly believe the equity is worth a huge gamble, it's just not worth it.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:22 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would say that the new information actually makes #1 seem worse because the odds of any kind of beneficial payout to balance the risk, just went down. An established startup with backers and customers and revenue is just a weak corporate job that tries to compensate for a lack of salary by offering a lack of process. The good options are gone, no equity is on the table, and you're past the point in your earning years where you can shrug off building savings.

That said, I could be totally wrong, or I could be totally right but it's still worth it because you need what you need. In your position, I'd grab #2.
posted by fatbird at 7:25 PM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

What's in it for your kid to choose #1?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:48 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm with fatbird, the clarifications make #2 even more appealing. If #1 can't match salary and you're not getting founder level, non-dilutable equity, it just sounds like a bad offer to me.
posted by ndfine at 8:07 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

To counterbalance a little of what people are saying:

Having worked in both large corporations and start-ups, I no longer believe big corporate jobs to be "more secure." The mega-corps I worked for seem to lay people off periodically and arbitrarily- not because of any major loss or downturn- these days it's more like just a routine thing, sort of like a bodily function. "Job security" is, in general, not a thing that exists in 2013. I'm of the belief that, all other things being equal, a start-up job is *more* secure, providing you can make yourself essential. A megacorp doesn't mind losing a few people or a whole department every once in a while, since they can always replace them later. I've worked at four start-ups since 2006, several of them wildly ill-conceived, and they're all still in business. Unless it's super fly-by-night, the risk of them completely closing up shop isn't something to worry about compared to the risk of being laid off.

All that said, the start-up should be offering you more money than the mega-corp, not less.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:59 PM on December 4, 2013

I've been through 4 start-ups, all of them had a good story and good technology. I never made a penny on any of the options.

In today's market, they should be offering you at least a competitive salary.
posted by mr vino at 1:42 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why can't #1 match the salary offer? THAT'S the $64,000 question.

That says to me that they're underfunded.

Take #2. Never assume that any job you take is stabile, all it takes is an acquisition or merger to prove that a lie.

But given all the facts, the money is the reason you're taking #2.

There's a Chinese curse, "May you live in exciting times."

Personally, I don't WANT exciting work. I enjoy my home and family too much.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:57 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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