Software Developer Career Tips: Unicorns and FAANGs and whatnot.

Date: 2019-11-03

Time to Read: 3 Minutes



Photo By: Rahul Bhogal

This nation needs more programmers. Unemployed individuals in dying industries are told to ”learn to code”. Computer Science departments nationwide are churning out thousands of new graduates each year. Despite this, Companies continue to complain about lack of domestic talent. Many new graduates find themselves wading through the waters of unemployment while others are humble-bragging about their $200k+ total compensation packages that they’ve received at X company in the Bay Area. And it’s lets not forget the programmers in the southeast and the mid-west, working diligently for anywhere from $35k to $60k, a far cry from the salaries that are showcased in popular media for software developers.

But cost-of-living evens it out, right? Sure, to a degree.

Should everyone with a college degree in Computer Science take that long pilgrimage to Silicon Valley or Seattle or New York City? If you’ve spent any time on any message board focused on computer science graduates, it may feel that way. It’s Big 5 or bust. Or Big N or bust, where N can be any single digit number. But what is Big N?

There is a certain subset of companies whose products/services are tech-focused and who are also notorious for their high compensation packages. The list goes by several different monikers such as Big N or FAANG and typically include the following companies: Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Netflix. These are the prestigious, fast-growth tech companies that often make up the daily lexicon of public discourse in the tech industry. They are notoriously difficult to join from both an application and interview perspective and they’re situated primarily in the Bay Area and Northwest with smaller campuses located nationwide.

But are Big N companies the only way to secure financial success in software development? Not at all, there are also Unicorns.

Unicorns are privately held startup companies projected to have a valuation of $1bn or more. Most of these are also household names (e.g., AirBnB, 23AndMe), though definitely not as prominent, yet in many cases just as “prestigious” and difficult to join as the aforementioned Big N. These companies are also primarily located in the same usual locations. Here is a list of various unicorn examples by nationalities: Unicorns Wiki Link

And last but not least are the HFT (High Frequency Trading) firms and proprietary trading shops located primarily in New York City and Chicago. In many cases, these companies are much more exclusive in hiring new employees due to their smaller size and often include higher compensation packages than the technology companies out west, leaning more on base compensation and bonuses rather than stock options. These include companies that most people typically do not interact with on a daily basis such as: Jane Street, Two Sigma, and Citadel.

I’ll simply place these three groups on the same highest tier and allow people to argue over which should be higher than the other. Then you have the smaller publicly traded technology companies, safe and adequate. The startup companies that can be a bit of a gamble by sometimes leveraging potential future success for lower pay and longer hours (blanket generalization, I know). The companies that list on the Fortune 500 where technology may be the focus point or you may simply be treated as a cost center. The notorious consulting/contracting firms that often trap new floundering graduates by promising that they will train you for a guaranteed contract (which you have to pay back if you were to cancel). Defense contractors which can be a hit-or-miss. Government jobs which are typically low stress but also low reward. And last but not least, you have the small regional or local web design firms.

If you want to research some of the compensation packages of the previously mentioned companies, you can sign up for an account at or (The latter link shows the salaries disclosed by companies for H1B Visa employees) Additional research for these companies can also be done at

The landscape can be a bit wild. But it’s good to have somewhat of a guideline of which companies you’d like to target specifically. Do you want to work for a big recognizable name? Do you want to work for the highest paying company? Do you simply want to get on the ground floor of something that can be potentially big? Do you want a secure job that pays well enough but more importantly provides ample work-life balance? And how much does location matter to you? I’ll get to that next time.

Software Developer Career Tips

12 February, 2020
A collection of posts detailing much of the information that I've learned in recent years when considering a significant career move.
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Blake Adams is a writer, software developer, technical consultant, and financial independence enthusiast living in Oxford, MS.

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