Post recession, tech workers prefer working at midsize companies, survey finds

An IT professional's ideal work environment is influenced by their age and financial obligations, among other factors

Working for a startup may have lost its appeal to IT professionals who, after weathering the recent recession, are more interested in positions at medium-sized companies that offer a startup's innovative environment and a large company's stability.

According to a survey from IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology, 16 percent of respondents would work at a startup. The ideal work environment is a midsize company, where 60 percent of the 2,300 IT professionals polled would like to work. Working at a large company appealed to nearly a quarter (24 percent) of those surveyed.

"Coming out of the downturn a few years back, people really saw the danger of being with a smaller company or a startup," said John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology. "Knowing that there's some sort of long-term stronger viability is definitely very attractive to most people especially as you become older and get more financial obligations."

For younger employees just entering the workforce, though, their preference is the fast-moving and loose structure of a startup, Reed said, adding that the survey accounted for age.

"Generally speaking, the younger the professional the more open they were to a startup environment," he said. "As people progressed in their career they typically were more comfortable in an established company and were less excited about working for a startup."

Still, startups are now more widely accepted as a "legitimate career path," Reed said.

Work environments reflect personal preferences, so there isn't an ideal type of company, Reed said. When considering a position, IT professionals should think about the technology they like and the type of people they want to work with, in addition to a business' overall environment. Factoring in those points will help people find positions that best match their personalities, he said.

"There are different types of employment scenarios that appeal to different audiences so you have to say what's most important to me, what environment fits with my style, what are my motivations," Reed said. "There's no right or wrong answer. It's just which one is right for you."

Smaller companies and startups offer flexible and nimble environments where change is constant. Workers hold more responsibilities and encounter fewer management layers. Indeed, less structure and greater innovation (34 percent) was the most attractive quality to people who would work at a startup, followed by career growth (28 percent). The drawback is that some of these firms can lack stability and long-term viability.

Large businesses, by contrast, provide stability and a more professional environment, but come with more management hierarchy and a slower pace of change. An established firm's career opportunities (38 percent) and stability (26 percent) appealed the most to respondents who preferred working for a large company.

Medium-sized companies blend both scenarios, according to the survey. IT workers cited the chance to innovate in a stable environment (51 percent) and greater opportunity for career growth (26 percent) as the top two reasons for working at a midsize firm.

"You have more community, you have that stability, so it's a little less scary. However, they don't typically carry the layers of management. Many times you're working directly with the owner or president of the company," Reed said.

Being able to have a direct impact on a company's business strategy and products explains why a majority of those polled want to work at a medium-sized firm, Reed said.

"A lot of your self worth, a lot of your enjoyment in your profession is based on your ability to be creative at solving business problems, not just being a cog in the wheel, but having a voice," he said.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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Fred O'Connor

IDG News Service
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