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Choosing between a team with interesting work vs team with more potential

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Mid-Level Software Engineer at Yandex8 months ago

Hey, I work at a large IT firm (can be compared to Big Tech in the west, similar culture, similar scale of work), currently in the process of switching teams, interviewed with a bunch, ended up with a choice of 2.

The first team has great growth potential (they are young and intensively hiring), and it directly works with money, so it seems like a good place for an SWE to do projects that are meaningful on the scale of a company & to have an opportunity to grow as a manager (more opportunities to pick up an intern, as they hire - to become a mentor of new hires and lead projects with them as a part of my virtual team). They have an analytics team which prospects the important tasks, and when the tasks are done, the results are measured to calculate the profits.

The second team is special in that it deals with the subject area that interests me the most - they develop an analogue of Facebook Games (or Newgrounds.com), and it hits home, as I got into SWEing to be a game dev (before I found out they get paid pennies ). This team has less potential for growth, to the point them may have no headcount for an intern, and the hiring of new members will be slower. Also, they do not work with money directly, rather with target metrics defined by business. But they also have an analytics team which proposes the tasks based on the projected metrics growth & they measure profits on task completion, so the aspect of delivering the measurable profits is present here as well.

I'm trying to choose the best team for my career goals - long-term growth from L4 -> L6. As far as I understand, that may be done through team-leading of through tech-leading. I fully understand I'm not going to develop any games myself in team #2, but the fact that the subject area is the one I understand makes me feel like I'll have some morale boost in that I'll have an understanding of usefulness of the tasks i'm doing, as well as I'm seriously considering overworking for the next 1-1.5 years to perform better than peers & grow from L4 to L5, and it just feels like if I have more connection to the area of work, it'll be easier to pour extra effort, opposite to the area which I have little emotional connection with.

But this point about the "morale boost" might just be me wearing the rose-colored glasses, and I may be making a mistake trading a team with better potential for the one with seemingly more interesting scope.

In your experience which is better long-term - the team where work is work, but it's better for career goals, or the team where the work seems interesting, there's less direct career opportunities, but you feel like you are more likely to make your own via being more involved into the project you work on?

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  • 3
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    7 months ago

    In your experience which is better long-term - the team where work is work, but it's better for career goals, or the team where the work seems interesting, there's less direct career opportunities, but you feel like you are more likely to make your own via being more involved into the project you work on?

    Optimize for the team.

    I'm a gamer too. And I also came to the realization that game developers are paid nothing and subjected to sweat shop conditions (which sucks). I would love to work on games, but the low pay and poor conditions means that it attracts a lot of toxic people (especially to leadership positions).

    Product space is something I have engineers overrate again and again as I talk about in this video here: What's Often Overrated When Choosing Your Next Job. From my experience, it doesn't contribute that much to quality of life at work and career advancement.

    Take me as an example. The team I spent the most time at was Instagram Ads (3 years). It's not exactly exciting to make ads a little more clickbait-ey so Mark Zuckerberg has billions of more $$$ to burn on the Metaverse. But I really enjoyed working there because:

    • My 2 managers there were incredible
    • My tech lead Jocelin was also incredible
    • There were incredibly difficult technical problems to solve at scale
    • The good people in the org attracted other good people, which let me pick up tons of awesome mentees

    I'm happy to work on an app that counts the blades of grass on your front lawn if the team around it is sufficiently cool. Conversely, it doesn't matter how cool and cutting-edge the product is if the team around it is hard to work with - I'm definitely going to have a bad time there.

    In other words: Good people + bad product = Good career experience

    When you're surrounded by good people, everything just falls into place:

    • They push you to get better
    • They work with you instead of against you (a lot of engineers are competitive and see scope as a zero-sum game, which it isn't)
    • If your manager is good, you have the trust and transparency to get real feedback and eventually get promoted

    All that being said, there are exceptions to every rule and everyone is different. In particular, try to avoid negative extremes:

    • If you absolutely hate the space in Team #1, you can avoid it. Being directly connected to revenue isn't that big a buff either. Most Meta engineers don't work on ads, and many of them still grew super faster.
    • If Team #2 has 0 exciting new scope, you can also avoid it. However, you said they're still hiring (tough in this economy), and I don't see not having intern headcount as a negative (interns are big investments).

    Anyways, I said a lot of stuff so let's get back to my original statement: Optimize for the team. Here's what that means:

    • Talk to as many people on each team as possible, especially the manager/tech lead.
    • Figure out which group of people you like more. In particular, lean towards who feels more honest and transparent.
    • Pick the group you resonate with more. Listen to your gut.

    Lastly, I recommend going through the entire team selection masterclass, which is where that earlier video was clipped from: [Masterclass] How To Choose A Good Company And Team As A Software Engineer

    Here are some other good resources too:

  • 1
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    7 months ago

    I'd approach your career in phases, for exploration and exploitation. Early in your career, it makes sense to explore new technologies and people (unless you've landed a magical team), but at some point, you want to see rapid career advancement.

    It sounds like you're in the 2nd category focused on rapid growth -- exploiting the skills you have to grow faster. (BTW, you're well-positioned to do this since you've been at the company for a while now, so you know the tooling and the people already.) From the data you presented, the first team better fits this criteria.

    A few other inputs to consider in your decision:

    • How painful is the team switch process at Yandex? If it turns out you made a mistake, can you switch teams in 6 months, or are you stuck?
    • Can you talk to 2-3 people from each team and ask about (1) what they like/don't like and (2) what the team priorities are for the next 6 months?