Types of IT companies

Types of IT companies

2020, Apr 25    

Today for everybody that just starts career in IT, or plans to switch positions, I’ve created a short list of basic types of IT companies, that might help you choose the next step.

So what are the basic types of companies?

I identified four - Lions, Hyenas, Vultures and Dung Beetles. Let me just say, that joining a Lion is not necessarily better than joining a Vulture - it all depends on what do you expect and how do you play the field.

Here are their common characteristics:

Lions

Usually huge organizations, well funded, strongly tech oriented. You know them when you see them. A lot of the times they are the first to introduce innovation, because they posses seemingly unlimited budgets and attract talent by offering competitive salaries. More often though, they buy out existing companies or adopt and extend existing standards (look up “embrace, extend, and extinguish”). The rest of the IT world lives in a mixed state of fear, envy and hate the towards the Lions.

Pros:

  • some of the projects are really groundbreaking
  • if something is feasible and good for business, then you can force your standard on the rest of the world
  • on average good salaries
  • you can find some really smart people in there

Cons:

  • most of the project are usually oriented on maintenance of whatever is bringing business value and not that interesting or revolutionary
  • you will see some great ideas extinguished just to avoid potential turbulence
  • if you get bought out by a Lion and are not on C-level then you are probably doomed
  • competition for the really good positions is fierce, brutal and barbaric
  • you can find a lot of people that are convinced that they are smart just because they belong to this company
  • politics is the new black
  • you will have to stick to the technology stack offered by your company

For a lot of grads straight out of college Lions seem like the Holy Grail of IT. They are known to offer relatively good conditions, so it’s a good choice if we really have no idea where to go. When interviewing pay extra attention to the project and people involved in it. There is a lot of wiring hidden under the facade and it might turn out that after 5 years you are without any useful experience, with border line PTSD and without career prospects inside the company.

Hyenas

Small to mid size, usually focused on single tech or domain, funds can be a problem. Most software houses, service companies and late startups belong to this category. They commonly poses some strong relation to Lions - symbiotic, parasitic or even predatory.

Pros:

  • most of the projects are no-nonsense - just the important stuff
  • you will be working on the edge of innovation in the given niche
  • key salaries can be much higher than for the Lions
  • less strict rules
  • no technology is off the shelf if it works
  • much larger ratio of smart to average people than for Lions

Cons:

  • smaller number of projects
  • a lot of ideas get scrapped because of lack of funding
  • average salary lower than for Lions
  • some of the Hyenas have to resort to longer working hours and/or crunches
  • be on top of the game or get out

I would highly recommend trying one of those at least once in your career. That being said, being in a Hyena you will often times observe your hard work giving no fruits. If you create a new standard then you are not able to force it on the rest of the IT world. You cannot exist without innovation, but each time you propose something that makes sense the Lions will come in for a kill. The best case scenario is that you will get bought out and you have some stock. The worst is, that for the rest of your life you will tell random stranger in the bar how you once “almost revolutionized the world”. May sound grim, but remember that you will also do it with some of the best people and the atmosphere tends to be very good.

Vultures

All sizes and shapes, but surprisingly most of them are rather large. Either not very technical, or they do not understand that their business is now based on technology. They constitute the majority of all IT companies.

Pros:

  • they use well known, standard stacks
  • a variety of different projects, you can find something for yourself
  • there is always a next company like this
  • you will understand Diblert strips, but still not be in a position like him
  • there tends to be a big employee turnover rate, which can be beneficial if you are “the last man standing”
  • you don’t need to be the smartest tool in the shed

Cons:

  • always few years behind the edge, but blissfully unaware
  • salary is usually so-so
  • projects appear and disappear without apparent reason
  • whatever you’re making won’t be innovative
  • possibly it won’t be useful at all
  • after few years of working with average people you will also be average

Being a Vulture is not that bad as it looks. You can have a steady career with not that much real competition. Some of those companies participate or organize various IT events. Most of the stuff that they present is far behind the edge, but if you are smart you can actually play this to your benefit and stand out from the crowd. There tends to be less stress and hours are often strongly regulated. One thing that I would avoid are the companies that have illusion of grandeur. Especially among the larger ones, you can sometimes find a Vulture that thinks that he is a Lion. It’s not a good place to find yourself in. Be prepared for huge expectations and general failure of everything.

Dung Beetles

Huge banks and investment companies, small service companies. Work mostly with legacy or dying out technology. Can pull out money from unexpected places.

Pros:

  • job security for key employees
  • little to no competition
  • investing in learning business domain can yield result for years
  • can have the least stressful environments of them all

Cons:

  • salaries among the lowest
  • often times they do not consider IT essential (although it can be core of their business)
  • you will never use this technology ever again, but you will spend a lot of time learning it
  • can have the most stressful environments of them all

In general I would avoid Dung Beetles at all costs, but you if you can find a good position, then you might be surprised how good it can get. Jut think about it as bringing modern technology to a XIX century company. Yes, you are a wizard. On the other hand, people that work for Dung Beetles are often disconnected from reality or just straight delusional. I’ve met some that were convinced that they work for Lions or Hyenas, a lot that tried to solve already solved problems, even people that I would consider computer illiterate working in IT departments.