The Technologists Dilemma

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about what the next 3-5 years should look like for me. There are a number of options available to technologists, each with their own positives and negatives. When facing problems like this I like to get quantitative; figure out a model, put my options into it and then have it inform my decision.

I’d broadly categorise the options available as:

  • A stable SME/larger corporation – the traditional option; becoming a small part of a large corporation. You’ll get a market rate salary, good benefits and career progression opportunities, but little in the way of equity. Depending on seniority you may not get much of an ability to control how you do your job, with things dictated from above, and you may find yourself working on the same things for an extended period of time.
  • Join an agency or consultancy – brought in by other companies for specific projects, they offer a wide variety of work, good benefits and market rate salaries.
  • Start your own consultancy / go freelance – Flexible and well paid, the market is currently hot but there’s no long term guarantee of work other than being good at what you do (and even then it could potentially dry up). Unless you grow it into an agency or large professional services company there’s little equity.
  • Company builders – these are companies that build and spin out new companies. You’ll get a lot of support from the host company, allowing you to focus on those bits unique to your business and you’ll have a decent amount of funding to ensure you can hire as you’ll need to. You won’t have as much autonomy as a pure startup.
  • Join / start a seed stage start-up – The chance to shape a company as you want to see it, the pace will be manic, the role fluid and you need to create / prove everything from scratch; the tech stack, business model, customer acquisition, sales process, admin processes, etc, but it gives you the opportunity to be a core part of a large idea. Incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces can all help to provide a support community around you. You’ll earn a lower salary, but will have a larger equity allocation giving you more of the potential upside.
  • Join a later stage start-up – These will have a proven biz model and traction, and now need to scale it up to more customers. Can be anything from a group of 5 with £1m to a team of hundreds with £100m+. You’ll be able to earn a salary close to market rate and will get equity, giving you a potential upside in-line with the stage at which you join.

In making the decision, I think about the attributes of the roles that I care about, giving each attribute a score out of 10. I then think about how each option fares for each attribute, noting my thoughts (so I can recall it in future), also giving this a score from 10. For this decision I care about:

  • Salary (score = 6) : How much will I be paid annually, including bonuses, commission, benefits, etc. This is moderately important to me.
  • 3-5 yr financial outcome (9) : A combination of the amount of equity offered, the potential value and the likelyhood of it happening. Very important to me.
  • Stability (5) : How long have they been around? If appropriate how long is their runway?
  • Role (7.5) : What will I be doing?
  • Tech stack (6) : What technology are they using? How much room for change is there?
  • Market (7) : Are they working in an area that interests me?
  • Team (9) : Who else will I be working with? How suitable are they for the business they’re building?
  • Vision (9) : Where do they want to get to?
  • Location (7) : Where are they based? How does that align to my agenda?

I then multiply these things together; so the score for each option by the importance of the option, adding them all together to give an overall score for the option – the higher the score the better the option. It was interesting to go through this exercise and the results support what I had been thinking qualitatively. It’s also easy now to plug in other options that arise and see how they compare.

You can see the result of my analysis in the attached spreadsheet here – I’ve removed any sensitive information, but feel free to clear it down and use it to model your own decisions.