That’s it, I’m done working for big companies

I’d like to say there was a particular moment in which I told myself ‘That’s it, I’m done working for big companies,’ but in reality it was death by a thousand cuts. I do remember the moment I read Ten4’s web developer job description and decided that this was the next job I would apply for – the words ‘free lunch’ didn’t exactly put me off. I was in my third ‘Big Company’ job at the time: working as a developer in the ecommerce team at a large high street retailer. To me, it wasn’t necessarily that the lunch was free that clinched the deal, but rather that they said they made it together and ate it together. No more sad boxed-lunches behind my desk? Sign me up!

Of course, this wasn’t the only benefit of moving from a bigger company to a smaller place like Ten4. That’s good, because I started in early 2020 and only had about a month to meet the team before world events necessitated we all work from home. I’ll get into that below.

Everything is more personal (in a good way)

In a Big Company it’s easy to feel like a cog in the machine. I knew my manager, and their manager (a little). I knew my team and some people in teams I directly worked with. But the only time the CEO and other C-suite types ever addressed me was at the yearly all hands meetings, when I was a part of the crowd. Decisions came from above, got made in meetings I wasn’t a part of, and were based on business decisions that went unexplained.

At Ten4 I communicate directly with senior management pretty much every day, and they communicate directly with me. They know exactly what it is I do, and I know what they do. Sure, there are decisions I’m not party to, but I’m kept in the loop more regularly and much earlier in the process. There is space for my input, because Ten4 understands that to be happy working in a close-knit team, everyone needs to have a voice and be heard.

You can leave your hat on (but you don’t have to)

Or better said, you can wear multiple hats. At my first Big Company job, I got hired to code emails, and that’s what I did. Every day. So while I had ideas on email strategy and how we could better use certain functionality in our CRM, there was no room for me to move out of my lane. Those decisions were made in other teams and that was that. When the actual coding and setting up of emails landed on my desk, it was pretty much the end of the journey. In my experience big companies tend to hire a person for every job, meaning that when you try to branch out, you tend to encroach on someone else’s space.

At Ten4, when anyone sees an opportunity to try something new, or improve a process, there’s plenty of room to do that. There are fewer of us. Our responsibilities are broader. And we can all help shape the products we deliver to our clients, and the way in which they are created. If you spot an opportunity to try out a different coding framework, or develop a new service offering, or just improve or diversify your own skills (want to become full-stack instead of just front-end?), at Ten4, you can make your case. And more often than not the answer will be “Go for it!”. Even if you don’t have the experience or skills to meet your vision, if it’s a benefit to Ten4 and to you, time and resources will be made available for you to learn. And of course because of the flatter structure of this small company, there are always multiple people you can come to for help, advice and guidance.

A small company is more agile and adaptable

Big companies can be slow to evolve, because changing something when it affects hundreds or even thousands of people requires a lot of effort. With less than 20 people in the team, change can happen fast. Switching to remote working, for instance, was a relatively painless experience. We all already had laptops, we were able to borrow office chairs and second screens from the studio, and we got a fixed sum to set up nice home working environments. To me it felt like Ten4 didn’t compromise on maintaining the close-knit team feeling. With the first lockdowns coming just a month into my tenure at Ten4, that was super important to me. From friends still at the big companies I had come from, I heard it was not nearly as easy.

This might not be true of all small companies, but during that uncertain first summer of the pandemic, when work slowed down, Ten4 didn’t panic and cut overheads or let the team stagnate in furlough. Instead we used our time productively by building and launching DonateFlow to lend charities a hand and keep the team active and engaged.

Pandemic aside, It’s nice to be in a small company like Ten4, because when a client comes up with an idea and asks ‘Can you do this thing?’ often the whole team gets a say in the response. We discuss the thing, we debate the thing, and if we think we have the right team for the thing, we do the thing. The thing might be an extended prototype for managing your pensions, built in Vue for a better user testing experience, or a custom ticketing system for a famous Soho jazz club that is so unique that nothing off-the-shelf fits its baked-in idiosyncrasies. The point is that we take on new challenges with both hands when we want to, not just because it makes sense for the company, but because it makes sense for the team, too.

Increased responsibility and accountability

As I mentioned before, working for a bigger company usually means the tasks that land in your lap often come from several levels above. It can be too late for meaningful input – the thing just needs to be done. At a smaller shop like Ten4, you can be more involved, and have a real impact on how things are done. There is room for your opinion and expertise, and there is room to share your expertise. For me this means I no longer feel like a cog in the machine. I feel valued and appreciated in ways that were always lacking before.

Working in a smaller company also means that you’re more autonomous. You’re directly responsible for the quality of your work, which affects the success of the company. It makes it feel more important to deliver top-notch projects. Of course, when the client comes back happy, with glowing feedback, it feels extra special because you did that.

A great work-life balance

At a Big Company sometimes it can feel like the only way to prove to the higher-ups that you’re working hard is to be at your desk early and leave late. I remember at my first job there was a junior designer — she would often work until 8pm or longer. Instead of getting a raise, or the respect of the Creative Director, it just led to the expectation that she would do that on call. (I was shielded from making those types of choices by my manager, but that was just luck of the draw!)

Ten4 fosters a supportive and inclusive work culture, and you can feel that. It has the kind of leadership that actually insists you keep a healthy work-life balance. If you log off late several days in a row, someone will flag that and make sure things are OK, ask if you need help with your workload or whether a deadline needs to be extended (not in a passive-negative way, but in a caring way). Hours are flexible: you can pick when you start and finish as long as you’re available during core hours, and you can take a few hours one day and give a few back the rest of the week if it suits. There’s room to accommodate your life. There’s room for your mental health and your own, individual needs.

15 people pose for an informal team photo under street lights on a tree lines walkway
Two laughing women smile with their arms around each other
12 people pose for an informal photo in a room that looks like a TV quiz show set


If you do vibe, like I did with Ten4, the good stuff gets amplified.

So is working at a small company better than working at a Big Company?

For me the answer is a resounding yes. But I’d like to make one last point: Very early in the interview process I got a good feeling about the company and about that team, and that feeling didn’t go away. If I had been unsure about whether I’d fit in – if I hadn’t been vibing – it would probably have been best to move on and keep looking. It’s hard to work closely with people that frustrate you, and that gets amplified when you’re in a small team and you have no way of avoiding them or to work around them.

However, if you do vibe, like I did with Ten4, the good stuff gets amplified instead. Things like the sense of community or the gratification I get after contributing to a project. If that’s the type of thing you’re looking for in your next career opportunity, then working at a small company may be better for you as well!