Nikola Otasevic has pretty much done it all when it comes to software engineering.
He earned a BS in both electrical engineering and computer science and economics, as well as a master’s in engineering from MIT. He interned at Microsoft in college, and also worked at MIT as a research assistant. He spent a summer as a technology associate at Bridgewater. He gained experience at smaller firms like Room 77, which was acquired by Google in 2014. Until 2016, he worked at Google as a software engineer.
And then, last year, Otasevic co-founded Refdash, where he’s now CEO. Refdash is an interviewing platform geared towards tech workers. Having gone from working a tech giant to leading a team of four, Otasevic has plenty of career advice for engineers.
If you’re deciding what kind of tech company you want to work for, he says, make sure to ask yourself four questions during the job search:
1. ‘Do I want to eventually found my own tech startup?’
“I meet a lot of people who say, ‘Oh eventually I want to start my own company, but I’ll join Google now,'” he says. “My advice there is to always to just go and join a startup. That’s where you’ll actually learn how to start a new company. That’s where you will see a lot of mistakes made, and a lot of successes as well.”
A smaller company might provide you with a broader experience, which you’ll need if you plan to strike out on your own.
2. ‘What drives me?’
“If you are someone who gets a lot of ideas, like you’re showering in the morning and you just have an idea, in a startup, you can have that idea live and serving users by that afternoon,” Otasevic says. “In bigger companies like Google or Facebook, you’ll probably need a month to roll that out.”
So if you’re driven by speed and constant, fast innovations, go for a smaller team. That being said, Otasevic says that your fast changes may go unappreciated by users, if your startup lacks a big reach.
“Everything you release in Google or Facebook will have millions of eyeballs on it,” he says.
In order to figure out where you should take your talents, consider where you’re more motivated by speed or impact.
3. ‘What do I want to learn?’
“People often just settle for conventional wisdom like, ‘Oh, Google has a great engineering team and therefore I will learn a lot there,'” he says. “Yeah, but what do you want to learn? Go deep.”
He says that companies like Google offer excellent learning experience in terms of large-scale systems, while startups can provide more education on building things up from scratch.
4. ‘In what environment do I work best?’
Many tech giants like Google come with great perks and strong company values.
“Google has a great culture, in terms of engineering,” he says. “Intellectual curiosity is a value. That’s been Google’s philosophy in hiring forever. You want to hire people who are extremely curious and passionate about the world’s problems.”
On the other hand, tiny startups can also provide you with a close, fun environment, if you’re on a great team.
“You really feel that people on the team are like your family,” Otasevic says. “You’re pulling in the same direction. Everything that goes good or bad, you’ll get through it together.”