In the five years since I left a big, corner office at a large corporation, I've experienced the leveling of the playing field between David- and Goliath-sized companies. Back in the day, there might have been a legitimate argument that you should work for a large company to get access to resources…or to have a chance to change the world. I think that argument is deep in the deadpool now. Why?
Great training used to be unique to large companies. From my experience leading an online training software company, it’s apparent that large companies are increasingly outsourcing employee education in cutting edge topics and technologies to outside experts. It's a rational decision, given the pace of change and the challenge of maintaining the best and brightest in-house. So, subject matter experts now commonly make their expertise available to companies at wholesale rates…and to individuals at retail rates. And they're delivering that training to both audiences via the web. So, you may pay a slight premium for a solo license to take the same Social Media Marketing or HTML5 Programming course that folks in cubicles at Microsoft or SAP do, but it's readily available to you.
Resources and tools have similarly broken out of the corporate cage, their declining costs following some Moore's Law of their own. It used to be true that only large companies could afford to buy the consultants and operational and analytic tools that so often drive successful "strategic Initiatives"—and career paths among those fortunate enough to get picked for those projects.
Today, the potent combination of cheap data storage and analytic capacity, standardized infrastructure, APIs, and ubiquitous virtualization is making it possible to build powerful analytic and operational tools that are affordable for even mom-and-pop shops. And, not surprisingly, there are thousands of corporate refugees hard at work on creating just those tools.
As a result, I can replicate what a large market research department at Charles Schwab used to do for me…using SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang. I can get real-time access to our users' behaviors and feedback via Salesforce and Get Satisfaction, versus waiting for management reports from my remote customer service team at American Express. I can manage our software development process via Rally or Jira, for a fraction of the cost of the program management department at Expedia.
Twitter had 400 employees when it became the platform for the Arab Spring in 2011. Change.org had 80 employees when its social advocacy platform drove the governments of South Africa and Ohio to change their laws, the U.S. Secretary of State to change her opinion on Saudi Arabian policy, and the largest U.S. bank to give up millions of dollars in fee revenue.
Obviously, these companies are brilliantly using technology to leverage their employees' impact on society. And the same open platforms and networks are making it possible for individual artists (Etsy), inventors (Quirky) and authors (BlogHer) to earn a good living by reaching large, even international audiences far from their often-bucolic homes. Which raises a whole quality-of-life angle on the choice to start or work in a smaller company (to be explored later).
It seems to me that there's little to no advantage left to working for the Goliath companies. And you've got to enjoy the irony of today's Davids once again winning using open-source technology.