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I had 2 jobs previously as a front end developer, now I might be offered a 3rd job from a design agency, here is some background.

1st job: software house, overall positive

Positives: I learnt a lot about software development, company culture was great (from my point of view), very friendly colleagues, willing to help each other almost selflessly. I enjoyed working there and made some friends. Technology-wise they kept their stack well and everything is pretty up to date.

Negatives: I only worked for part of the project, wrote some code using HTML, SCSS and JS (jQuery), but never got a chance to build a website. I felt that I didn't learn much website building knowledge and responsive design.

2nd job: design agency, an overall negative

Positives: I built the frontend of a website by myself, learnt a lot about responsive design, how to build a website (front end only), how to make a website look beautiful and modern.

Negatives: Rubbish company culture, lots of legacy projects with 90's tech, records developers work hours to charge the clients, regular meetings wasting developers' time, the company does not value their staff, no agile, bad team leader, ordinary colleagues.

I left the 2nd job, and now I might be offered the 3rd job from a design agency. I do not know anything about the company culture. By the look of their website, they seem to be different from my 2nd company and use good software development to build their projects. Now I want to be careful with this job because I'd like to stay in my 3rd role for a long time. I have some questions:

  1. is it a wise choice to work for a design agency generally as a front end developer? (career development and learning wise)
  2. was it just bad luck I had a bad experience from my 2nd job?
  3. what's your experience working for design agencies?
  4. any good questions I could ask before taking the role?

Many thanks in advance!

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  • sounds like you had bad luck at both jobs. How long did you work at these places? – Kilisi Sep 16 '20 at 9:42
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    @Kilisi 1 year for job 1 and 6 month for job 2, which is why I'd like to stay in the 3rd role longer cause I'm not a job hopper – thinkvantagedu Sep 16 '20 at 9:48
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    what makes you think you're not a job hopper? – Kilisi Sep 16 '20 at 9:51
  • Because I don't like to change jobs, job-hunting is hard and I do not earn money during it, if I could find an overall satisfying job, why would I change? – thinkvantagedu Sep 16 '20 at 9:53
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    because hoppers can rationalise 20 years worth of hops into someone elses fault. – Kilisi Sep 16 '20 at 9:56
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I might be offered the 3rd job from a design agency. I do not know anything about their company culture.

Here's the issue. You need to learn about their company culture in order to make an informed decision, if you want to find a job where you can stick around more than a year or six months.

Ask the hiring manager about what it's like to work there. Ask if you can speak with some of your future peers, and then ask them what they like about working there and what they don't like.

You need to decide if this company is the right fit for you or not, before you decide to accept the offer. A design agency could be a great place to work, or a terrible place. Most times it comes down to company culture. You owe it to yourself to investigate.

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    I agree with you. How should I learn the company culture effectively before even starting the job? My understanding is it takes weeks if not months to get a good understanding of company culture. – thinkvantagedu Sep 16 '20 at 10:20
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    I can't agree more, being "a good fit" is 90% of success. It won't assure success, but with out it, failure is highly likiely. – Old_Lamplighter Sep 16 '20 at 13:26
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Companies that adopt the agency model of working tend to be less concerned with code quality and more interested in delivering projects faster out of the door.

Their usual lack of interest in quality leads to sub-par coding standards. You may end up absorbing, or more probably, you will not be exposed to modern coding approaches and standards, particularly around testing.

Nowadays, testing and quality code are typical requirements in any quality-oriented company out there, and they'll look for practical experience on this matter from their candidates: if you work for an agency, it'll be hard to fill this gap, and you risk remaining stuck in agency companies forever.

I'd recommend you accept a job in an agency only in these cases:

  • You need a job right now; otherwise, you'd have a hard time eating and paying for a roof
  • You enjoy working on small/repetitive pieces of work that just "have to work."
  • You don't like testing, or you can stomach "ugly" code that looks shiny from the browser.

Then an agency can be a good fit for you.

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  • So if a design agency forces high-quality code and utilise good testing, is it acceptable? – thinkvantagedu Sep 16 '20 at 13:41
  • Only if the client PAYS for it or it is beneficial for a fixed price project (i.e. I am faster with testing than without). The agency is not in the business to provide unpaid work. – TomTom Sep 16 '20 at 13:57
  • @thinkvantagedu probably, but they'd be quite rare and/or transitioning to a product-based business. – STT LCU Sep 16 '20 at 14:17
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Here is another point: you must be realistic.

rubbish company culture, lots of legacy projects with 90's tech, records developers work hours to charge the clients, regular meetings wasting developers' time, company does not value their staff, no agile, bad team leader, ordinary colleagues.

I hate to tell you, but this is more the norm in possibly like 80% of the companies out there. Things get build, then budget are tighter - so maintenance may work with ancient technology. Except the "work hours to charge the client" thing every other element seems like a really typical enterprise job to me. Unless you start accumulating enough money to say "go f*** yourself" to pretty much EVERY job - that is how reality looks like.

Exceptions are startups and VERY IT focused companies. But then, they may often just be a bit better. The larger a company, the more it is going to be hit by a combination of the Dunning Kruger Effect and the Peter Principle. Was there not a study recently that said 65% of managers add NEGATIVE value to the company?

Validate company culture, but also be realistic about your expectations. Jobs are there primarily to make money. Career opportunities are REALLY limited - because there are way less places the higher to the top you go. And companies are NOT run optimally, as sad as it is.

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    I disagree with some of your points: legacy projects are acceptable but a lot is not okay; regular meeting are fine but devs should not be dragged into product meetings; company SHOULD value their staff, agile methodology (or equivalent) should be used, team leader should be good and helpful. – thinkvantagedu Sep 16 '20 at 13:34
  • And what do you disagree with? You name valid points - and your opinion on how things SHOULD be is absolutely one thing: IRRELEVANT. I do not say how things should be, I say how things ARE. SADLY. As normal employee you CAN NOT CHANGE THE WORLD. I totally agree with you - but then this does not in any way invalidate my point that most companies do not care about that. And that trying to CHANGE this is futile. Seriously futile. See, there are policies and there is you, and guess who wins. Hint: it is not you. – TomTom Sep 16 '20 at 13:42
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    So are you saying most companies know what they should do but they are not doing it? I'd say those are bad companies, not most companies. I might not be able to change a company, but I want to avoid the bad companies, which is why I asked the question. – thinkvantagedu Sep 16 '20 at 13:49
  • Well, COMPANIES do not know anything - people do. And I would say that large companies, established companies, are going in a direction and it is EXTREMELY hard to fight that. People are selfish and if you build a pyramid of people whole career depends on looking good MORE than on being competent, and politics, companies have a special tendency to go in a special way. Small companies where the owner can keep control can escape that. But if you look at LARGE companies, budgeting, office politics - then yes, this is the reality. And you can not change it. You can not avoid it unless... – TomTom Sep 16 '20 at 13:54
  • ...you can walk away repeatedly from work. Which most people can not. Or do not want to. This is the reality. There are whole memes around it. Plus companies are there to make money. I.e. your legacy apps - an AGENCY does not earn money updating applications without the customer paying. The client will pay for the absolute minimum he can. Until the thing explodes. Simple like that. It takes RIDICULOUS energy to get a client to pay for "non essential work" (from their side). Reality. And it is not the client manager - he has a budget which he has to work with. – TomTom Sep 16 '20 at 13:56

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