Start-ups and Small Businesses – A baptism of Fire

The primary objective of most job seeking engineers is to find a position that provides long term stability. They usually look for a well-established company with a proven track record and employ between 100 and 1000 individuals. These companies provide a structured environment where each person has their own specific job function based on their experience and training. Very rarely is an engineer required to step outside his area of expertise. There is a known path for advancement, with known expectations and mentoring that helps progress the engineer through the stages of their career. All in all, the pace is leisurely due to company processes and paperwork that must accompany every decision and task, resulting in the use of only well known and proven techniques.

For a young engineer with an entrepreneurial appetite who is ready to dive in and change the world, a mid to large company will likely only strangle the budding spirit of innovation. It’s not that large companies are bad; it’s just that as a company grows it becomes set in its ways with procedures and systems that often restrict rather than nurture innovation.For a large company, innovation is an expense that they cannot afford. It is cheaper for them to acquire the innovation through acquisitions rather than to actually produce it.

In order to prevent career stagnation, an engineer may want to consider a small business or a start-up as the next stop for their career.These entities tend to be very dynamic, energetic, tight nit groups of people that change direction with the wind at a moment’s notice.They have the advantage of being small which gives them an ability to respond to customer demands that leave large companies in the dust.This agility and speed allows a small company to try new ideas, products, and techniques and perform revisions in a less formal environment allowing them to quickly iterate to real solutions.

Engineers who work at a small business often experience a baptism of fire that continually molds and refines them until they either return to the safe confines of corporate America or become a “jack-of-all-trades”. Small businesses are often resource constrained both monetarily and with access to experts which requires the engineer to eagerly jump in and become the subject matter expert. The small business engineer will often be thrown into the fire and expected to put it out. The result is an engineer who is knowledgeable in a wider range of fields than the corporate engineer who is highly specialized. This exposure increases the worth of the engineer in addition to molding them into entrepreneurs and future business owners.

There are few career experiences that can compare to the dynamic and chaotic nature that often surrounds a small business.The road of these engineers is not for the faint of heart.It is filled with risk, uncertainty and the potential for rewards beyond imagination.They offer a calculated risk by being unproven, having a limited client reach and often lacking the ability to offer the same level of employee benefits as that of a large company.It’s hard work and it is not for everyone.Engineers at small businesses are highly motivated and passionate people who live on the border of being workaholics.They need to be able to look beyond procedure and think outside the box and on their feet.They need to be able to see beyond their own personal needs and look at the larger purpose of how they can serve society.

These engineers are thrown into situations which are beyond their level of skill and training. Situations which often affect the well-being and stability of the company they work for. The engineer must be able to rise to the opportunity and allow the fires to mold them into a better engineer. A small business not only expects but requires you to be more than you are, to exceed the sum of your parts, for survival or certain destruction is always a single decision away. So the next time you find yourself perusing the career ads, take a deep look inside yourself and see if you are ready for an adventure that will change your life.

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