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Table Selection in Software Engineering

Table Selection in Software Engineering

In the world of poker, there is a strategy that goes beyond just playing the game well – it's about choosing the right table. The idea here is clear: why struggle against the best when you can excel among the rest? This can also be applied to navigating career in software engineering. Why not play smart by picking your battles - or in this case, the company, project and team that aligns with your strengths and goals.

Choosing the Right Company

Starting a career in software engineering is like stepping into a casino full of tables. You need to pick the one where you can play your best game. It's not just about avoiding tough competition; it's about finding a culture that resonates with your values and brings you the most value.

Choosing the Right Company

Maybe you thrive in a nurturing environment over a cutthroat one, or, perhaps, you prefer working on projects that align with your personal interests. Some may avoid sectors like advertising, crypto, surveillance, gaming, or streaming despite lucrative offers, preferring to work for companies whose mission and products align with their personal ethics. The key is to understand that company culture plays a massive role in your career trajectory and job satisfaction.

Projects vs Products

Project-Based Work

Project work, often seen in contract or freelancing roles, is like playing a series of short, intense poker hands, each with different players and stakes. The primary focus is on completing a specific set of requirements within a defined time frame. It involves working on short-term, often varied tasks or goals. This type of work can be exciting and diverse, offering exposure to a broad range of technologies and industries. It's an environment where adaptability and a broad skill set are highly valued.

However, this type of work has its downsides. The most prominent is the stress and uncertainty of constantly seeking new clients and projects. For many, the irregularity of work and income, along with the need for continual self-marketing, can be draining. Moreover, project work often lacks the continuity and long-term impact that some engineers crave.

Product-Based Work

Unlike project work, product work involves contributing to a long-term, vision-driven effort, typically within a product team. This type of work is similar to playing a long, strategic game of poker at a single table, where understanding the nuances and dynamics over time can lead to greater success.

In product teams, the focus is on evolution and refinement of a product over time. This approach allows for a deeper immersion into a specific set of technologies and industry and often leads to a stronger sense of ownership and connection to the work. The commitment to a single vision over a prolonged period fosters an environment where deep, specialized skills are developed resulting in more efficient and valuable products.

Working on products can be incredibly rewarding for those who find motivation in seeing the long-term impact of their efforts. Being part of a team that drives a product from inception to market success offers a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Additionally, product teams often provide more stable work environments compared to project-based roles.

Choosing between project and product based work is a personal decision that should align with your career goals, work preferences, and life circumstances. If you thrive in dynamic, fast-paced environments and enjoy the challenge of adapting to new contexts regularly, project-based work might be more fulfilling. Conversely, if you seek stability, long-term impact, and a deeper connection to your work, product teams may offer the environment you need.

Startup vs Big Tech

Choosing between a startup and an established company is a classic "Risk vs Opportunity" dilemma.

Working in startups (typically smaller teams) versus large tech companies offers different experiences. Startups offer excitement and the chance to build something from scratch, but they come with risks like job security and market volatility. Startups allow closer involvement with the product and customers and a better understanding of the business mechanics. However, they often lack experience in scaling their product.

Large companies offer more stability and structured career paths but might limit your exposure to cutting-edge technologies. FAANGs have mature infrastructure and well-integrated systems, so the major challenge you will face is that most large tech companies expect you to find projects that are valuable and understand (and focus on) the business mechanics of it.

Startup vs Big Tech

I would say the choice between startup and big tech may depend on the phase of your career, but that is my opinion — decide for yourself. The balance you choose, again, should align with your career goals, risk tolerance, and personal goals. Whether you opt for the dynamism of a startup or the steadiness of an established company, ensure it aligns with your long-term objectives.


Compensation in IT varies widely between startups and Big Tech. Big companies often offer higher salaries and benefits, reflecting their stability and scale. Startups tend to pay less and they rarely have the annual performance-based bonuses that are typical at bigger companies. But many startups hand out equity to employees (the earlier you joined the bigger).

In addition to the size of the company, the industry or sector you choose to work in can also affect your compensation. Obviously, engineers working in more lucrative industries generally earn more than those in less profitable sectors. This factor should be considered when evaluating potential employers, especially if financial compensation is a high priority for you.

Innovation vs Stability

Either way, understanding your market value and being able to articulate your worth plays a significant role in your earning potential. Experience level matters too – senior engineers typically command higher salaries, reflecting their accumulated expertise.

Picking the Right Work

Once you've picked your company, the next step is selecting the right project or product area. This is like choosing a good hand to play in poker. Occasionally, you might end up with a 2 and 7, if you catch my drift.

Avoid projects that are too far outside your skill range. Start with something that matches your abilities, making significant contributions and building your confidence. As you grow, you can gradually take on more challenging projects.

It's also wise to assess the project's strategic importance within the company. Projects at the heart of the business are likely to get more resources and attention, offering greater visibility and advancement potential. Understanding the difference between profit centers and cost centers in a company is crucial. Aim to work in areas that directly contribute to the company's profitability.

P.S. I have my personal decision form for choosing the project, maybe you find it useful: decision.luminousmen.com.

Selecting the Right Team

The Right Team

Your team can make or break your job experience, much like table mates in a poker game.

Avoid teams with toxic or overly competitive cultures, no matter how exciting the project might be. Instead, look for teams that prioritize healthy competition – where challenges are seen as opportunities for collective growth rather than just personal advancement. A supportive team environment encourages risk-taking and learning from failures, essential aspects of innovation and personal development.

Working with experienced colleagues who can provide mentorship is an invaluable asset in your career development. In a well-mentored environment, you are more likely to have access to constructive feedback, insights into best practices, and learning opportunities that extend beyond your immediate project work. This kind of environment fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement, where more experienced team members are seen as resources and role models, rather than competitors.

Diversity in a team is also crucial. Teams with a mix of backgrounds and perspectives foster innovation and personal growth. Look for teams that value diversity and inclusion for a more enriching work experience.


Success in software engineering isn't just about tackling the toughest challenges; sometimes, it's about strategically choosing paths that allow you to shine and grow. With the right company, project, and team, your career in technology won't just be about work; it'll be a journey of meaningful impact and personal fulfillment.

In my opinion, when you're at the junior to mid-level level, it's crucial to focus on gaining experience and working with people who are smarter than you on complex projects. Forget about the money and be willing to work even for minimal compensation to accumulate valuable experience. As you progress to a senior role, you can start thinking about compensation, but it's advisable not to compromise your interest in the work. When you reach the staff level, you're expected to have a deep understanding of your field. Career is a journey where you initially work to build your skills and experience, and eventually, your reputation and expertise will work for you.


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