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Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

Posted on

What are the big differences between working for a "tech company" and being a dev for a "non-tech company"

Words in quotation marks because it's probably more of a spectrum than binary, but let's talk about the difference between tech/code first work and code work for other types of orgs.

Discussion (33)

yechielk profile image
Yechiel Kalmenson

My first job was part of a team of 5 devs at a non-software company.

The biggest difference in my view was that software companies view their dvs as their biggest assets where non-software companies view them as an expense.

Because we were an expense, the company was always trying to cut corners. We never got time to pay down our mounting technical debt, most of which was added by engineers that the company outsourced to in SE Asia (another cost-cutting measure).

I was even told by my manager that the reason they hired me and another bootcamp grad was because two juniors were much cheaper than the senior developer they so desperately needed...

It's no wonder I "noped" out of there as soon as I had enough experience to get a job at an actual software company.

itsjzt profile image
Saurabh Sharma • Edited on

Yeah it happens. What concerns me is: biggest tech companies today are just advertising firms.

g_abud profile image
Gabriel Abud

Had a very similar experience as a developer in a non-tech company, those positions tend to be very underpaid in my experience.

yaser profile image
Yaser Al-Najjar

Huge difference

Starting from in non-tech companies you will have managers who have no idea about tech... and, good luck with that!

yusufkolawole profile image
Yusuf Kolawole

Reason I quit my job

ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

Any communication strategies for situations like this?

srleyva profile image
Stephen Leyva (He/Him) • Edited on

Principle: Consider the audience.

Pragmatic programmer talks about this but essentially tell them how new developments affect bottom line, availability, security of service in ways they understand and care about. The board doesn’t care if if you’re running Kubernetes, Docker, microservices, monelith, Linux, Windows, etc. All that matters (or really should) is it works, is cost effective and allows you to viably get to market. In a non-tech company, your tech leadership should be able to communicate that back to management in a clear way. Though, the DevOps handbook hypothesis’s that every company will be a tech company in one way or another and business side will need to understand the technology side as they are too tightly coupled.

arschles profile image
Aaron Schlesinger

I like to start by boiling it down as much as possible.

Managers all want to know when it's gonna be done & how much it will cost (even the highly technical ones!), so I like to start with those two messages in mind, and then expand as necessary from there. I usually don't expand at all from there, to be honest. It's nicer and easier for both parties to let them ask the questions after you present the facts.

miketalbot profile image
Mike Talbot • Edited on

I've been a founder of technology startups pretty much my entire life, it's in my blood. However, 2 years ago I accepted a job with an organisation that wanted to go on the journey to become technology led. It's a different beast.

In the non-tech sector:

  • The business isn't counting the cost of feature development and thinks it's paying for everything.

As a software company you are constantly reviewing what makes financial sense to be included. In non-tech our journey has been to identify that "great ideas" from "the people who make all of the money that pays you guys" need equal scrutiny. We all knew we were going on this journey and my colleagues are great, but it's been a nut to crack. Building stuff that matters is what's important to all of us, but old habits die hard. It's really a lot about the whole process of becoming "product" led - more than just the technology.

Software development should be a two way street and the only thing that matters is that we solve the business problem our clients (internal and external) have. The key thing is to understand the business requirement not the feature demands and make sure we are all on the same page.

If anyone is interested I made this video for our investor community (other companies significantly owned by our shareholders) which talks about the issues of going from non-tech project stuff to software company like products.

From that video I think this is one of my key points - just the attitude to failure...

When a non-tech project fails it's a disaster

When a tech company fails it's a learning experience:

jwp profile image
John Peters

The only-tech companies make money on the tech services they provide. This is an asset.

The non-tech. Companies make money on things not directly related to tech work. This makes tech workers a liability.

When budgets fail, liabilities are first to go.

These are two different worlds. Tech people are treated as either an asset or libality. Environments often follow this demarcation.

One of them can be prone to toxicity.

Tech companies are more of a true engineering culture.

Under the right conditions either can be excellent places to work.

I prefer tech companies.

chingiz profile image
Chingiz Huseynzade • Edited on

Currently, I work for university. Our workload are based on working with cloud APIs mostly. And it sucks to be honest. Because most of the companies that give services for universities established to long ago and their documentation are the worst thing to read(not up to date docs). Most of the times even they don't understand what they have done(I know this by talking to them).

ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

Any specific examples to speak of?

chingiz profile image
Chingiz Huseynzade

Around 3 weeks ago, our production key expired (it should not expiry based on their emails). Requesting new key took 2 weeks, but that key didn't work, because they had to add that key somewhere which they couldn't explain in order to that key work. That took 1 week. By the way we had no idea about that process.

themattyg profile image
Matt Graham • Edited on

I've worked for both, and there are pros and cons to both.

Working for a tech company pushes you harder, to learn more and be better. I learned more in my job at a tech services/development company than I have anywhere else. The thing that sucked about that job was the hours (though my time at an ad agency was much worse) and the time away from my at-the-time new family.

I've worked mostly in non-tech companies. @ben as you said, it is a spectrum. I've worked as the sole dev in a large corporation, but also as part of small-to-medium sized tech teams inside of non-tech firms. I've also worked as a sole dev in a department of a large telecommunications company with many tech teams outside the department I've worked in. I find the non-tech companies (with a few exceptions) to have a better work-life balance.

When you're by yourself, and the people around you aren't so techy, they're amazed at the stuff you can do; or extremely frustrated when something that seems simple takes so long. When you're in a team, you can get the best of both worlds... you push each other to learn and be better devs.

Being a freelancer in the time of COVID, though, has been truly rough. Stuck in my basement, losing my sense of time/schedule, SO... MANY... ZOOM... MEETINGS.

briankephart profile image
Brian Kephart • Edited on

I work at a non-tech company, and I find that there is a lot of discussion in tech about titles, hierarchy, and team processes that are not part of my world at all. The formalities don't exist for me.

krtobias profile image
Tobias Krause

A typical problem with non-technical companies is that their managers see IT only as a necessary but annoying cost factor.
They try to save costs by hiring people who can do a lot at once, instead of hiring several people who are really experts in a field.
Furthermore, managers often do not understand tech. They make promises without being able to estimate the necessary effort.

Testing the project? Just unnecessary costs.

If you talk to them about it, they often feel attacked (people are afraid of what they do not understand). Therefore, everyone should have learned basic knowledge imho (which is not hard nowadays).

But it is relatively easy to avoid these companies, because you can usually recognize them by the job advertisement.

greenroommate profile image
Haris Secic

Worst thing for me right now, in non-tech, is the feeling of all your work and effort being underestimated. They think everything is a push of a button, few keystrokes away. Yesterday some were shocked when they realised how much work just 1 simple piece requires. They behave like a startup while having enterprise requirements.
Also you get to be "smartest guy in the room" too much time - in terms of your job/career. So there's no space to learn from others you just work.
This finnaly boils down to the fact that I think I'm degrading professionally.

On the other hand it's much more satisfying to see the purpose of the software and be directly involved with solving real world issues by thinking not by tasks in Jira or patterns. You feel more useful, at least that's my case

flyingjolly profile image
FlyingJolly • Edited on

At a tech company the c-level people say: "we're an IT company". At a non-tech company the c-level people say: "we have an IT department" (or they just outsource IT). The difference between the two is how much influence the dev/IT managers have over leadership. That being said, tech companies don't always fully comprehend the state of the art in information technology; e.g. "Dev Ops" may be considered a team instead of a company culture, similar to the concept illustrated in the DevOps literature.

mcgurkadam profile image
Adam McGurk

I’m the lead developer for one of the largest solar companies in the nation.

For over a year I was the only dev in the entire company (now I manage a total of five other junior devs). It gets a little isolating sometimes when there is nobody else I can turn to who knows what my job is

justsharkie profile image

I've worked in exclusively non-tech companies so far, and it's been a challenge while also being super rewarding bringing them into the modern tech space!

I also wrote a fun article about it:

alaindet profile image
Alain D'Ettorre

Non-tech companies hate you because they need you (or a cost-equivalent version of you). Tech companies hate you more because they're paying you to fix some non-tech company's ugly untested code based on some deprecated library.

barelyhuman profile image
Reaper • Edited on

It really depends on the kind of people you find there.

If you find a mentor in the non tech company that's going to help you a lot more compared to a dev working in a tech company with no one to mentor him.

The speed of learning is very less when everything is self taught. saying this from personal and past experiences.

but, most of the time you will find these diff

  • It's easier to explain the problem you are facing while implementations when compared to non tech company

  • The amount of investment on better and needed technology is way more plausible and doesn't need recommendation from the CEO's software engineer friend who doesn't like the idea.

  • Non Tech companies you'll find a lot of people that have other hobbies and you can talk about it. This point is only based on my experiences and I'd mostly find people I could talk about tech, which I like but can't really do that 24/7. on the other hand because you can't expect everyone to know what you are doing in a non tech environment, the conversations get a little more casual.

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Raunak Ramakrishnan • Edited on

Biggest difference is tech in "non-tech" companies are seen as a cost center and thus the organization tries to always reduce cost. This results in decisions like off-shoring or out-sourcing which if not handled correctly cause loss of knowledge and capability in the organization. It has a big impact on the employee morale and work culture.

In tech companies, the developers have more freedom and responsibilities without worrying about short-term impact on company's bottom-line.

gklijs profile image
Gerard Klijs

It's a bit sad of a picture I get from the other reactions. That in 'non-tech' it is merely a necessity. However I think more and more every company is (becoming) a 'tech' company. In the Netherlands there is an incentive from the government to boost tech knowledge in 'non-tech' companies. I think that's great.

I'm been working as a contractor most of the time, so it's a bit different then, because the company I'm directly working for is a 'tech' company. But currently at a fintech, and they go far to keep the developers happy.

matt profile image
Matt Seymour • Edited on

Opinionated response ahead. Disclaimer, not all companies and made or run equally, there are good and bad non-tech companies and good and bad tech companies. These are just some ramblings, and should be read with a pinch of salt.

From my experiences managers in non-tech companies tend (not always) to be promoted because they have been at the company for a long time and the company need to make them feel like they need to be promoted. They are usually (not always) promoted because they have knowledge of the company and sound like they know what they are talking about from a technical point of view.
Those who are technical enough to sound like they know what they are doing are the most dangerous type of people (to me). You will end up being dragged into situations where they will say things without truly understanding ramifications (there is a good chance blame will be passed around, (in some ways its not their fault they are in a position they think they understand).
As a dev you will will probably be taking on more work where the spec might be "fuzzy", the spec will be something like: Make A do Y. The work will tend to be constrained to cost rather than accuracy. There will be technical debt.

In tech companies you tend to have two types of people on the tech side. Those who are "tech people people", and those who are "tech people". Those who are the "tech people people" will start going up the management career ladder, team lead, dev manager. The "tech people" will tend to follow the technical career path, senior dev, architect, principal engineer.
As a dev in these organizations early on you should be given a talk or your manager should be aware of your preference, would you rather go down the technical manager route or the technical dev route.
In technical companies the work tends to be about doing things right, minimizing technical debt where possible.

tdwright profile image
Tom Wright

Having worked at both, I think the biggest difference is the problems that tech solves. At a "tech company", tech is often the product and there will likely be a shared vision of what this should look like. In a "non-tech company", developers may have more of a role to play in helping the company identify what business problems tech can help with, and then delivering on that.

katafrakt profile image
Paweł Świątkowski

Many true things were already said, I'll add one more: feedback.

When working in tech, you are creating the actual product. People interact ith what you create and you will get back feedback about what you did.

In non-tech you are only creating an addition, even if it's customer-facing. I never heard anyone saying "wow, this shipment tracking on your e-commerce is AMAZING", people will always speak about the product they bought.

Now, this is not good-bad spectrum. But for some people this kind of feedback is more important that for others. I've also met people who don't like this and prefer to work behind the scenes. For them it might be important factor when choosing between tech or non-tech.

sdil profile image
Fadhil Yaacob

I did my internship at a non-tech company a few years ago, then I know it was not what I wanted to do in my life!

Some of my experience working with "non-tech company":

  • There's a huge barrier when communicating with my superior & stakeholders that does not understand technical details
  • Most of the system is outsourced to companies overseas and it takes weeks for me to get into the system
  • I have to go through a lot of procedures & bureaucracy before making a decision (they're a big enterprise)
  • I don't have the opportunity to learn and grow professionally in the company because there are not many SWE I can learn from
ijimmoore profile image
Jim Moore

When you work for a tech company your prime directive is to sell their products or services; everything else you do is in support of that effort.
When you're a dev in corporate your primary goal is to produce functional, bug free code, as per Enterprise standards (if they have any), while meeting project milestones within a specified time.

csumm profile image
Carl Summers

I got into a non tech company but they didn't do any technical interview or tests. That being said, my quest was over in a week.

aswzen profile image
Agus Sigit Wisnubroto

non-tech company : you only a support guy, with a 'support a like' salary package
tech company : you are the precious one, with a super-benefit salary package

094459 profile image
Ricardo Sueiras

I wrote about this at the beginning of the year. Excuse the external link -