This year, we have finished restructuring our company dyve, and, among other things, have provided it with the underpinning of a legal framework that was required to fully articulate (and legally secure) our shared vision and purpose for ourselves and the company. We are now part of the Purpose Economy.
- A cog in the corporation (or SME)
- A freelancer fending for yourself
- The wild (startup) ride
- Small company with a purpose: an alternative
In this day and age, there is no shortage of professional opportunities for knowledge workers, especially in the field of information technology. For instance, being a (halfway decent) software engineer virtually guarantees you have made ample contact with recruiters and a wealth of job listings (local and/or remote). You may even have been subject to a company actively undertaking the efforts to hire you instead of you having to apply with them. Crazy times.
A growing number of startups, SMEs, corporations and states are among the options if you are keen on employment. In some areas of the world, entrepreneurship is actively fostered, sometimes supported with generous funding from private entities or governments. You may be able to work from home, fully or partially, or choose to spend your time working on campuses or in (comparatively) luxurious offices.
Given this depth and breadth of choices, it’s natural to wonder what works best for oneself in the long-term. Striving for the best possible financial compensation is one obvious goal for most of us, but other factors such as work-life balance, work environment and culture, alignment with one’s moral and ethical compass and preferences are becoming increasingly important to many.
In this blog post, I’d like to share some of my personal viewpoints and choices I have made over the past decade. Needless to say, my choices are my own and highly individual, and there’s no right and wrong - most of everything comes down to personal preference.
A cog in the corporation (or SME)
A natural choice when prioritizing secure, long-term employment coupled with extraordinary financial incentives is to work for a corporation, especially one of FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google). Setting aside the increasing outdatedness of that particular acronym, the case for this kind of work relationship has been proven and will likely remain viable in the foreseeable future: six digit dollar compensations have become more the norm than not and many IT workers have accrued considerable wealth in the past decades thanks to their choice in employer (and their invested efforts of getting a contract with one).
Despite having had the opportunity to become employed at Google, I chose not to go down this particular road for a number of reasons.
My most important reason is probably the low likelihood of making a considerable impact in a company of that size. Albeit comprised of a multitude of smaller (relatively independent) teams and working groups, it’s clear that the chances of your work being noticeable in the company’s bottom line (not to mention external recognition) are slim. It’s not even unlikely that the piece of software you have created or worked on may never see the light of day. Knowing this, I’d most likely be unable to derive the fulfillment and recognition I seek through my profession as a software engineer in such a position.
Furthermore, unless willing to climb the infamous career ladders, my choices on what to work on and how to work on it are relatively limited. Being a very autonomous and independent person myself, this arrangement simply would not suit me very well.
Lastly, I’d have trouble being able to identify myself with the company I work for. Due to their sheer sizes, they are naturally bound to be very diverse internally and eventually focus on things and act in manners I strongly disapprove of. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that of course, especially if you are capable of sufficiently distancing your “work-self” from the rest of your life.
A freelancer fending for yourself
One could consider working as a freelancer the crass opposite of the above: unlike being employed, you are picking clients of your choice to work with. You are setting your own hours and work environment. At the same time, you lose most of the security and stability an employment contract can give you. Making mistakes and losing clients can directly and sometimes severely impact your financial situation if not careful. At the end, you are on your own.
Unless loosely banding together with other freelancers, you have no network of co-workers that can support you when necessary, which I’d personally consider a vital asset for myself. It gives me a peace of mind that takes part in sustaining my own indvidiual productivity.
Being a freelancer also implies expanding your skill sets to include at least some sales, legal, marketing and negotiating competence, all of which I’m not particularly skilled at (and not very interested to improve on).
The wild (startup) ride
Working at a startup as an employee might be considered a decent tradeoff: a small and lean company most likely brings the autonomy and potential for impact to the table that I seek, especially in the early stages, while retaining a modicum of security (depending on the funding situation you find yourself in).
Having worked in a startup before (see my resume) I’ve experienced the above constellation first hand and to this day consider it a valuable experience. However, given the chance, it would be unlikely for me to join another for the following reasons.
Typically, startups (in their inception phases) struggle to establish a consistent work culture and identity on their own. This is certainly normal and can be considered a feature. It can express itself by unstable and wildly varying work conditions, major fluctuation of employees and managers, frequent changes of plans or even pivots. All of that can be exacerbated by investors when the startup is dependent on their funding. This makes for what I’d consider a “wild” (but also at times, positively exciting) position to be in, but not something that I’d like to experience in the long-term (or at all anymore, to be honest).
Depending on the regional location and/or the funding situation of the startup, compensation may vary wildly from handsome to miniscule. Countries that do not favor entrepreneurship (such as Germany) definitely skew to the latter.
Lastly - and of course, naturally - the chances of survival of a startup are slim in the mid to long term. Especially if you need to provide for a family or service a mortgage, the uncertainty of your financial situation may manifest itself as considerable mental stress.
Small company with a purpose: an alternative
Is there anything else if you find yourself reasonably unsatisified with the aforementioned arrangements? Let’s assume you consider the following criteria important (roughly in that order): autonomy, flexibility, identification, stability, financial compensation, potential for growth. Personally, I’ve figured that I do value those aspects the most, and presently find myself as an employee of a company that I’d consider a “sweet spot” compromise.
dyve is a fully remote agency for excellent digital projects. We are a team of about 10 software engineers, product developers, designers and entrepreneurs that serve clients all over the world. We are guided by a shared purpose and vision which we have articulated for ourselves and all agree on. This enables us to maintain a stable and attractive work environment. Clear principles lead us confidently into the future. Together, at the time of writing, we are looking back on a history of almost 10 years of a successful and (slowly, but sustainably) growing business.
This year, we have finished restructuring our company, and, among other things, have provided it with the underpinning of a legal framework that was required to fully articulate (and legally secure) all of the above.
How does working at dyve look like in practice?
- We are free to work from where and when we want
- We can choose our own clients
- We always have trusted co-workers to back each other up
- Everyone is individually incentivitized to contribute
- Everyone has the opportunity to pick up considerable responsibility
- Profit stays inside the company and with the employees
- Sustainable and growing client base as well as compensations
- Our clients benefit from a stable and long-term partnership with us