Internship at Big Companies or Small Companies

over 4 years ago from , Product designer in training

As a college student who hopes to build a career as a Product/UX designer, I'm really torn between two kinds of internship opportunities:

  • Big tech companies, where I could participate in designing small features in a big project. The team that I will be joining has 30-40 designers from visual, ux to motion.
  • Small tech startups with successful launched product, where I would probably involving designs of multiple features. The team size is around 10 people.

Both opportunities located in big cities like Bay/NYC. And I would have a mentor help with my work.

  • My current skills: UI design and implementation, visual
  • What I want to learn in the future: strategy, considering business needs, sophisticated UX process

Any advice would help. Much appreciation in advance. :-)


  • Sam SolomonSam Solomon, over 4 years ago

    The unfortunate answer is that it depends...

    If the large company is a household name, then having that on your resume will give you a much better chance at getting your foot in the door for your next job. I'd say this is also a good bet if you think you want to go work at a large company one day. Processes will be much more defined and everyone there will have a much more specialized skill set.

    If you'd like to start your own business one day, the startup may be the right decision. Paul Graham said that there is no better place to learn than in a startup—I think he's right. You'll learn much more than about design in this environment.

    Startups move fast and bad decisions are often better than no decisions. A friend once told me there are no mistakes building a business, only expensive lessons. I think that sums it up pretty well.

    Some more general advice—you'll be fine either way. Perhaps you join a large company and hate it? It might suck for a few months, but now you've learned what you don't want! Go find something else.

    4 points
  • Poyi ChenPoyi Chen, 4 years ago

    I think you will have good a learning experience going either route. The question is what type of learning you'd like to focus on at this stage of your career.

    At a bigger company: You may be tasked to work on smaller projects as an intern or potentially paired up with a more experienced designer to work on bigger projects. For each project, you can probably expect to go through a structured and defined processes (e.g. multiple rounds of critiques, design handoff, design sprint, etc..). Because you're part of a big team, you're also likely to have the chance to meet, observe, and learn directly from other designers at the company. In addition, the company may also have the resources to provide you with other learning opportunities (e.g. events, workshops).

    At a startup: You will likely be working on multiple (and potentially big) projects at a time. At times, you may or may not have the time or resources to polish up, get support on, or even validate your work. That being said, you'll probably learn a lot by doing and probably ship more projects compare to working for a bigger company.

    Other things to consider: Since this is an internship opportunity and a step towards your full time design job when you graduate. You should consider whether having that big company name on your resume will help in your future job search. I'd also consider the connections that you'll potentially from working for either company, because some of them may benefit you greatly down the road in your career.

    Best of luck!

    1 point
  • Jonathan ShariatJonathan Shariat, over 4 years ago

    First, think about who you will be working with. That is the most deciding factor for how much you will grow in your career. Avoid working alone at this stage in your career. If you have a choice in the matter, find a team you want to learn from. You'll be spending a lot of time with these people and their good and bad design skills will rub off on you. Also consider if you will be set up for success or not. Does Design have proper value and place in the process? Will you be able to do user research? etc.

    After those are answered, small or large, you'll find what you're looking for: growth.

    0 points
  • Charlie McCullochCharlie McCulloch, over 4 years ago

    It depends what you want to do. I've worked at both $1bn tech companies and small startups with an idea and no users, and they are very very different experiences. I will go out on a limb and say you'll probably learn more at the startup, because you'll be closer to all the different areas of the business, not just design. That kind of insight can be incredibly hard to learn at a large organisation where there may be very distinct teams with limited contact, and everyone is too busy attending pointless meetings :)

    0 points