Why is it so hard to find programmers?

“Why is it so hard to find programmers? Are people afraid of joining a start-up?”

Let’s not overlook the big differences between working at most start-ups and working at most companies:

1. Every programmer, no matter how good, is at least a little insecure. Every one of us doesn’t know “something”. Is the something you don’t know going to make or break the next project? In a start-up, there’s rarely a safety net to catch you, but in a larger company, there’s probably a better chance that someone else can help you along.

2. It takes a special mentality to work in a less certain environment. This is more a matter of personality than skill. My mentor was fearless. He used to say, “I didn’t know I couldn’t do it, so I did it.” This attitude, as much as skill, determines how well one would thrive in a start-up.

3. What happens when things go wrong? (And they will go wrong.) The ability to recover from problems in a larger company is a great asset. In a startup, it’s a necessity. I’ve met many enterprise programmers who could crank out great code between 8 and 5, but melted under the pressure of an all night emergency. They would never survive in a startup.

4. What happens if you don’t feel well or if your mind is “someplace else”? In a larger company, you could coast for a day or two (maybe more). That’s rarely an option in a start-up; time lost is time lost forever.

5. In a larger company, you can do quite well whether you have deep domain knowledge or you’re a jack of all trades. In an early start-up, you better be both.

6. Ever wonder why waterfall development refuses to die, even though it’s not as effective? Because so many of us have to have a road map in order to function. “Road map” personalities don’t fare nearly as well in roadmapless environments (many start-ups).

7. A start-up programmer must have at least a little maverick blood. If you believe everything you hear and do everything everyone else is doing, how can you differentiate yourself? In a larger company, you may not have to. In a start-up, you probably do.

8. Is there something you simply have to do? Then you probably belong in a start-up environment. It’s tough (although not impossible) to get the same opportunity in a large company.

9. Do you think the work is really cool? I know lots of good enterprise programmers, but have trouble thinking of very many who think their work is cool. They like their jobs, but work is “just a paycheck”. Not the type of people who would thrive in a start-up.

10. Do you do a happy dance whenever something works for the first time? Then you may be more
comfortable in a start-up than in a big company.