Startup vs. Big Company? An Intern’s Perspective.
This fall, I decided to take the semester off from school to juggle two internships. I’ve spent the past few months interning at Vyng, a venture-backed mobile app startup in Santa Monica and at Sony Pictures Entertainment, under their digital streaming platform Crackle. With internship hunting season in full swing, many of you college undergrads are having to face the choice of whether to go work for a startup or a large, more established company. Having spent some time working in both environments, I’ve experienced the advantages and shortcomings of each option. I’ll list the various factors involved in choosing a company and share personal anecdotes that will hopefully help you come to a decision.
As you’ve probably guessed, the dress code at Vyng is casual. I usually come to work in jeans, a t-shirt and bring a hoodie along since the office can get a little chilly. If I ever get confused on what to wear, I can always throw on an awesome Vyng t-shirt which the founders of the company often don. Startups are known to have very casual dress codes so if you’re someone who doesn’t necessarily like dressing up and lives in comfy clothes and beaten up sneakers then this might be a huge plus.
Although the dress code at Sony isn’t super formal, most of the interns do show up to work dressed in business casual attire — meaning slacks, khakis and a collared shirt or blouse at the very least. The rest of the office also tends to stick to the same wardrobe choice to not seem overly underdressed compared to the higher-ups who often come in a suit and tie. I’ve noticed that people come to work dressed more casually on Fridays, often wearing jeans, t-shirts and even occasionally rocking a multi-colored floral Hawaiian shirt.
Both Sony Pictures and Vyng come with pretty amazing perks. At Sony, all employees get free access to early screenings of films that the studios produce, and can even bring along a +1 to watch these screenings with on the lot. There are kitchens on every floor stocked with coffee, tea, fruits and small snacks. We also receive a special employee lunch discount for a reasonably sized meal at the commissary which comes out to approximately $5.
The perks at Vyng include free lunch, Philz Coffee, and a kitchen fully stocked with unlimited breakfast bars, gummy bears, La Croix, and kombucha. Parking is fully comped for those who drive a car to work while those who take public transport (like myself) receive a $10 Amazon gift card. We also have access to free hot yoga classes right down the street which we occasionally go to together. The team that sweats together stays together!
One of the coolest things about being at a startup is that you don’t necessarily have to watch your mouth. Throw as many shits, fucks, and other swear words out there and no one will bat an eyelash. This might have something to do with the preexisting “bro culture” that has permeated the tech industry (and possibly the fact that all my coworkers are male). Anyhow, I have heard the occasional f-bomb being dropped around the office at Sony but it was still kept pretty discreet. Interestingly enough, I stumbled upon the realization that a set of phrases were commonly used throughout the office at Sony. During meetings, conference calls, and daily coworker interactions, you name it, I would hear them being used again and again. These phrases include “moving forward, jump right into, touch base, loop him/her in, etc”. It didn’t take very long for me to pick up on this office jargon and start using it. For the most part, I think these phrases are primarily used to come off less forward by masking what you really mean (aka fluff).
Something you should carefully consider before choosing a company to work for is the type of work environment you succeed in. One major difference I noticed between interning at a startup and a big company was the layout of the office itself. At Vyng, we share a communal table where we sit and grind out the day on our laptops. There is continuous dialogue exchanged between us where we discuss things ranging from our weekend plans to how we should go about responding to google play store reviews. There is a certain level of transparency since everyone can listen to what you’re saying. On the other hand, the Sony offices are set up with individual desks and cubicles while the higher-ups have their own offices with doors. Striking up a conversation with coworkers is harder to do with roughly 50 people on each floor, so it tends to be pretty quiet. If you work and focus better without constant side chatter happening around you, then you might be better suited for a larger company. However, if you’re the type of person who thrives on constant stimulation and interaction with others then a startup might just be the place for you.
Another important aspect you should take into account is the culture a company has and the kind of relationship you want to have with your coworkers. At Sony, my relationship with my supervisors sits more on the conservative side. We share the occasional laugh or two when walking to meetings and grab coffee together sometimes but that’s about it. In addition, Sony Pictures has a very established internship program, with frequent events and activities being organized for us ranging from resume workshops and guest speakers, to watching a Jeopardy taping together and going on a scavenger hunt. This enables us to meet and get to know other interns from different departments.
At Vyng, I grew close to my coworkers and the founders of the company (that’s probably bound to happen when you sit on the same table elbow to elbow twice a week). We’re a small team of fewer than 10 people so I guess it’s easier to connect that way as well. Startups are known for putting an emphasis on building a strong company culture and this is apparent at Vyng. Throughout my internship, we’ve done several team building and social activities together including going to an Escape room, watching the lunar eclipse and grabbing ramen and drinks after work. Vyng’s office is dog-friendly with Ernie (our unofficial office dog) visiting us from time to time to take naps and receive belly rubs. Therefore, if you value meeting other interns as part of your experience and rather maintain a conventional relationship with your supervisors, then you’ll probably appreciate the traditional aspects of a large company. If you love dogs and enjoy socializing with coworkers after hours then joining a young, innovative startup may be a great option :)
(Note: the relationships you have will vary depending on the individuals involved and isn’t necessarily correlated with a particular type of company)
Sense of Purpose/Role Within the Company
Seeing that the main objective of an internship is to apply what you’ve learned in the classroom to real-life, you should also consider the role you’ll have at a company. As a Business Development intern at Sony, I work on projects that involve lead generation and identifying potential strategic partnerships that help support Crackle in achieving their long-term goals. People are divided into teams and have specific responsibilities at a larger company, hence they tend not to stray too far away from their job scope. As an intern, this is a great way to really focus and gain proficiency in your particular field of work.
Meanwhile, at Vyng I’m pretty much a jack of all trades even though I was initially hired as a Growth Hacking intern. Part of building an entire company from scratch is that you learn as you go, leaving you with a wide range of knowledge. Boundaries are less defined. If something needs to get done and you’re capable of doing it, you do it. End of story. As an intern, the work you do will have more of a direct impact at a startup. I’ve seen the content I’ve curated and things I’ve suggested appear in the app’s new build which is simply amazing. Hence, if you want to have a defined role within a company and really hone in on a particular skillset then a larger company will probably suit you better. If you prefer having room to experiment and want to gain a broader understanding of what goes into building a company from the bottom up then a startup would be a better choice.
My internships at Vyng and Sony Pictures have both been equally valuable to me. Regardless of which company you decide to work for, you’ll experience what being in an actual workplace setting is like and gain exposure to all sorts of people you can learn from. Remember that as you approach your graduation date, it’s important to choose the path in which you see most fitting. The main goal you should have when taking on internships and your first few jobs out of college is to absorb as much knowledge as you can and build a high-quality network that can support you in your future career endeavors.
Originally posted on https://www.unosusanto.com/blog/startup-vs-big-company-an-interns-perspective.