As a STEM worker in a tight labor market, you probably have a lot to celebrate these days. Not only are your skills in high demand but the rewards employers are offering are escalating. This has been especially true for tech startups, which carry the promise of making workers millionaires nearly overnight through stock options. Or so the perception goes. How can you make sure you find the best tech companies to work for?

Top technology companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple are the brands that many workers flock to. The mystique, the sterling reputation and the corporate campus goodies are well-documented components of their employee value proposition. Even a short stint with one of these companies can significantly raise the value of any worker.

It’s no surprise that the technology sector is drawing some of the brightest and most talented workers to the industry. According to the Randstad Employer Brand Research, a survey of more than 160,000 working-age adults in more than 30 countries, the technology sector was the most attractive among five major industries. This is likely the result of the high-profile innovations the industry continuously develops year over year. It also means more workers and students are flocking to this thriving sector at a time when it needs their skills the most.

However, while this sector has tremendous appeal, you may also know it can have its share of drawbacks. Long hours in Silicon Valley and other tech corridors are common, so work-life can be fleeting. Many startups can fail before they even launch a product. To be considered for a job with one of today’s industry leaders, you’ll have to overcome competition from talented workers from around the world. For a young worker just starting in the industry or for those who are lured by tech’s potential rewards, they may not always get what they bargained for. So how can you build a great career in this sector?

a worker’s market

Career opportunities in the technology space have never been greater as the skills gap has widened. According to TechRepublic, a study released by the Computing Technology Industry Association found that at least 80% of companies in the U.S. are negatively affected by technology talent scarcity. At the same time, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predict the skills gap will leave one million computing-related jobs vacant by 2020. The European Commission believes its member states will have as many as 500,000 vacancies in the same fields.


You don’t need a crystal ball to see the growing demand for tech workers. Amazon is choosing the site of its HQ2 in part on access to talent, It’s also investing in markets such as the U.K., Germany, and India, further adding to the demand for workers there. Google said it plans to grow headcount by thousands in the U.S. this year in offices located outside of Silicon Valley. Samsung will hire 1,000 engineers in India for its three R&D facilities there.

The hiring frenzy isn’t limited to big-name employers. Startups and other venture businesses are scrambling to acquire talent. Driven by record amounts of funding, these companies are driving up demand and salaries in their quest to acquire workers. With investors pouring billions of dollars into this market, the scramble for data scientists, software developers, engineers and other hot skills is intensifying. 

With companies large and small (in the technology as well as in other sectors undergoing digital transformation) all competing for the same talent, skilled workers have a lot more choices when it comes to career opportunities. Furthermore, employers will be competing harder for their skills in the near future. 

tech companies’ many benefits

According to Randstad research, workers in the technology sector say an attractive compensation package is the No. 1 attribute they seek in an employer. But as those who work in the industry know, there are many more benefits that an employer may offer. Typically, established companies are more financially able to provide these perks while startups offer the potential of a big payoff from stock offerings. Other perks that big companies can offer include extraordinary benefits such as 12-month maternity leave, travel allowances, adoption stipends and, of course, stock purchasing plans. Newer businesses tend to offer more flexible ways of working, are more agile to respond to market needs and are at the forefront of a lot of innovation, which satisfies the desire of entrepreneurial workers.

On the other hand, both big and small tech companies can be challenging employers, so your choices aren’t always so clear. At large enterprises, the opportunity to make a significant impact on the business is rare; you’re part of one, or several teams so your contributions won’t stand out that much. This also means you’re likely to be focused on one area of specialty. This is great for those who only want to write Ruby code or focus on client delivery, but for younger workers looking for diversity of role, there are fewer opportunities to move into a job that offers this. And of course bureaucracy is a constant way of life so don’t expect to quickly get sign-off on ideas that you might have.

For those joining newly formed businesses, many of these problems don’t exist. Often, an employee may wear several hats out of necessity, making a greater impact on the organization. The downside is that the role is very demanding, requires the worker to be an expert in multiple disciplines and may quickly grow out of hand. Startups also have a much smaller workforce, which means fewer internal resources, including co-workers who can help mentor others. There are fewer opportunities to grow and develop as these businesses won’t have formal learning & development programs. It also means that each worker may be forced to solve his or her own workplace challenges without a lot of support.

the best career choice

So how do you make the best career choice in the dizzying technology industry, where pace of change is rapid and the choice of employment is plentiful? Is it better to secure a job with an established organization or find a place with a startup that can offer the kind of work you seek?

This is where doing your homework is critical. Tech giants have unique cultures and missions, and no one is the same. Some operate standalone businesses that function like a startup but without the inherent risks and have greater access to capital and other resources. However, they are often focused on a very specific product or market that you may or may not want to work on. Does the business offer a career path that could carry you to a long future there? Will you be able to significantly further your professional knowledge there? By researching the benefits and the demands of working at a big enterprise, you can better weigh your options.

You can use this information to compare against the offerings of a startup. Again, be diligent to know about the work you’ll be asked to perform and the rewards that are on the table. Do they satisfy your needs at this point of your career? What are the opportunities for career advancement? Will you be given greater responsibilities and the accompany benefits that come with them? Finally, research the viability of the business by learning about its leadership, products and financing. Remember, a high percentage of startups fail so be prepare for this contingency.

Building a career in the technology sector is a smart choice today as the digital economy expands rapidly. With artificial intelligence and robotics transforming every industry around the world, demand for workers in this field will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. However, how you steer your career should be based on understanding your personal and professional goals, the type of employer you would like to join and the rewards you expect to get in return. By becoming knowledgeable about each of the companies you’re interested, you can achieve much more success in your professional endeavors.