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I am looking for work as a software engineer, and I am suspicious about companies that have very small software teams.

In a small team, each member would have more responsibility and pressure than they would have in a larger team.

A smaller company is also more likely to be informal with their employees and may know them better on a personal basis.

I feel like there is great potential for management to abuse a small team by pressuring them to work more hours and micro-managing them.

When looking for work as a software engineer, is it a red flag when the hiring company's software team consists of only 1 or 2 people?

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    What area of software engineering? Web design? Business software? Rocket control system design? But typically on smaller teams you get a much wider range of experience, whether you like that or not is up to you. On the other hand there'll be fewer software engineering people to learn from. – Steve Mar 2 '17 at 4:48
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    If you're suspicious about small teams, don't apply for positions where the teams are small. I'm suspicious of start-ups, so I just don't work for them... – PeteCon Mar 2 '17 at 5:14
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    Taking on responsibility is a primary goal for many people. An informal workplace suits many others, when they can work in comfort and establish deeper relationships with colleagues. Pressure is the best motivator for many still, who achieve best when pushed hardest. Asking whether it's a red flag therefore depends entirely on personal views and desires; FTC. – user53718 Mar 2 '17 at 6:07
  • This seems pretty subjective - a small team isn't necessarily a red flag any more than a large team is. I think a good tweak to your question would be to ask how you can tell / what kind of questions you should ask in an interview to figure out if you would be unhappy on a small team. – Mel Reams Mar 2 '17 at 7:01
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    There is certainly less chance of hiding incompetence or laziness, but that shouldn't be a bother, right? :) – David Aldridge Mar 2 '17 at 8:55
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I am looking for work as a software engineer, and I am suspicious about companies that have very small software teams.

Small companies or companies where IT is only in an auxillary function do that. There are advantages as well as disadvantages to that.

In a small team, each member would have more responsibility and pressure than they would have in a larger team.

Not necessarily. More responsibility yes, because there are fewer people in development and all bases still need to be covered, but that doesn't imply more pressure. It's entirely possible to be able to set your own deadlines or have a understanding manager in a small company.

You also gain a wider range of experience doing this kind of work.

A smaller company is also more likely to be informal with their employees and may know them better on a personal basis.

True, but I fail to see how this is a negative. If anything, it means cultural fits are more important even, but knowing your coworkers well usually works out good if you can get along with them.

I feel like there is great potential for management to abuse a small team by pressuring them to work more hours and micro-managing them.

Less so then in big companies. Smaller companies or teams usually can't afford to employ people whose only function it is to make other's lives more difficult. If working for a small business, everyone kinda needs to pull their weight.

When looking for work as a software engineer, is it a red flag when the hiring company's software team consists of only 1 or 2 people?

Not generally, but you'll have to be aware of what you want. A large team vs a small team are very different working experiences, and you have to decide for yourself which one you want.

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  • by informal it probably means oral orders, so you can have some hard time protecting yourself I guess. What i would worry about is do they have only 1 or 2 developpers, or 1 or 2 "IT people". I'm a developer, I don't intend to do the job of a sysadmin or network administrator. – Walfrat Mar 2 '17 at 8:22
  • @Walfrat Then a small business isn't the place for you to be looking for, imo. If the IT department is small, everyone will have to do admin sooner or later, for instance if the main admin is on vacation or sick. – mag Mar 2 '17 at 8:46
  • Note that "more responsibility" is usually a good thing but that's less often the case in this context where it's more accurately called "wearing many hats". Sometimes that means you get to work with technologies that are interesting and useful for a resume that you'd otherwise not encounter, which can accelerate your career. And sometimes that means you have to spend a lot of time on work that you hate and/or doesn't match your chosen field or interests with the risk of drifting from your career path. – Lilienthal Mar 2 '17 at 9:47
  • @Lilienthal better said than me. I do sometimes system of course, but I am just not a sysadmin meaning : I don't want to be a system guy and I don't have the skill necessary to be a proper system guy. I may be able to fill someone missing, I can try, but you can't expect more than me / or a developper. – Walfrat Mar 2 '17 at 9:58
  • @Lilienthal I'd disagree that "more responsibility" is usually a good thing, but responsibiltiy should always be a choice. Whether that choice is made in working for a certain company... – Weckar E. Mar 2 '17 at 12:47
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When looking for work as a software engineer, is it a red flag when the hiring company's software team consists of only 1 or 2 people?

Just like everything else in software development, it depends. Question answered, right? ;)

More specifically, it depends on what size of team you like working in and what kind of company you like working for. I think the team size thing is a bit of a red herring, the way the company is run can make just about any size team a great experience or a terrible one.

In a small team, each member would have more responsibility and pressure than they would have in a larger team.

Yep, that's what I like about small teams. I want my contribution to matter.

A smaller company is also more likely to be informal with their employees and may know them better on a personal basis.

Totally true, smaller companies tend to be closer knit. If you prefer a sharp separation between work and the rest of your life, you would likely be unhappy on a small team.

Another potential issue with a smaller company is how financially stable they are. It's not exactly unheard of for startups to abruptly flame out and fold, after all. If you do end up interviewing at a startup, it's totally reasonable to ask how much runway they have. If they get offended by that question, that is a gigantic red flag and you should run away.

I feel like there is great potential for management to abuse a small team by pressuring them to work more hours and micro-managing them.

Micro-management and unreasonable hours are a problem throughout the industry, small teams are not special. When I was interviewing for my current job, I directly asked what they thought about work life balance. At that time the company was very small and they still agreed with me that it was important for everyone to have lives outside of work and time to see their friends and families.

Micro-management can be a harder thing to directly question people about since everybody knows it's uncool to treat your devs like badly behaved children who need constant supervision. I would beat around the bush a little bit and ask things like how your potential manager would handle it if an employee pushed back on a requirement or got an excellent result that made everyone happy but didn't follow the exact process they were given.

In my experience with small teams, they tend to have a much less rigid development process than larger teams because you don't need much process to coordinate just a few developers. That was very weird for me when I started my curent job, and might be completely miserable for people who really like a clear, defined process.

For me personally, it would be a red flag if the dev team was very small in proportion to other departments. I've worked in environments like that before and was unhappy with the quality of the software I worked on because it was seen as a necessary evil that only needed to be just good enough for other people to get their jobs done and no better.

tl;dr it's about the kind of working environment you personally like and how the company operates. I would worry more about the company culture than the specific size of the dev team.

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