Software Engineering
Updated Sat, 10 Sep 2022 17:31:05 GMT

What's the difference between working at a software company and a company whose focus is in another field?

Recently, I was approached by a local ad agency with a job opportunity. They are bringing all web/interactive development in-house and adding to their development team.

I'm growing sick of my cushy, yet boring corporate job, and am intrigued by the position.

Having only worked for software shops where the primary business was making software, I worry that they may not put emphasis on quality software practices, since development is not the focus of their business.

Could anyone with experience at both compare/contrast working at a software company with working at a company that just happens to have an in-house software development team or department?


It will depend on the company. But usually, if it isn't their main focus, the software will be of lesser quality. The process, if they have any, will be less stringent. The testing non-existant. And the work overall less technically challenging.

They'll want it to work, and work now, and that'll be good enough.

But some places are hip about software development, even if they're mom & pop shops doing something else entirely. It depends on the business leadership being open to good ideas, the tech leadership knowing enough to do it right, and having people that can explain a good idea. Which might be you.

Interview the company. Ask them if the know of/adhere to the Joel test. Most of them are good points. See if they understand technical debt and the mythical man-month. Who is your project manager, what process does he use, and how geeky is he?

Comments (5)

  • +2 – Good answer, I think the "work now, and that's good enough" is my biggest concern. Those are good tips for interview questions also. — Jul 28, 2011 at 17:44  
  • +5 – I almost -1'd for "less challenging" - but the rest of the post I agree with. Worked both in SW shops and in operational corporations for 20+ yrs, & have to say that the operational shops are just as challenging. 1) you as the developer face your customer directly every single day. 2) you don't worry about scope creep - it's scope explosion. 3) the business throws anything and everything at you, in quick succession - you don't have the luxury in spending a day or a week on a module in peace, you take what time you get. NB: not saying SW shops are all roses - they aren't. — Jul 28, 2011 at 21:25  
  • +3 – bear in mind that wanting it to work and work now is sometimes the right decision, ultimately you have to understand the business — Jul 28, 2011 at 21:46  
  • +1 – Also on difficulty level: When comparing enterprise software to typical commercial OTS (excluding stuff like games, device drivers, embedded, etc.), you'll usually end up dealing with more stringent reliability and performance requirements, which often trump concerns about the user experience. It really does take talent to keep these all in balance. The software quality is often lower simply because these companies have a hard time attracting the smartest developers (often justifiably so). — Jul 28, 2011 at 23:40  
  • +2 – This is my experience. It depends almost entirely on the particular company but on average a non-software company is more likely to have a bad environment and slothful/lazy developers that only care about getting things done quick instead of doing things right. — Aug 03, 2011 at 18:20