Having worked for both large and small companies, I can confidently say that while having access to the resources afforded by a large company can be attractive, the availability of said resources, quality of work and of the working environment found in a small company is superior by far.
Yes, a large company may be able to provide you with better computer equipment. Yes, a large company may be able to provide you with a free cafeteria. Yes, a large company may be able to provide you with the prestige of working for a famous name brand. However, a large company is also likely to have more layers of bureaucratic fat than a blue whale, making it damn near impossible to appreciate any of these facts. It is painfully common, when working for a larger company, to be simply lost in the shuffle of things. From both my own experience, and from the experiences of my peers, it’s a common thing for a new coop student to waste days simply trying to gain access to the computer network, to have his or her passwords defined, or to have an email account opened. This type of hang-up does not happen in a smaller company as it is always possible to find someone to make things happen. In a large company it’s required to fill out the proper forms and to go through the proper communications channels. Large companies are machines, and while it’s possible to make the machine work for you, it takes a long time, and much practice, to do so. Time is not something coop students have. In contrast, with many smaller companies, coop students are expected to produce, and are therefore given tasks on their first day of work – possibly within the first couple hours. And by work, I don’t mean reading a fist-thick policies and procedures manual.
An additional reason why smaller companies are preferred employers is because of the quality of work. Many smaller companies work on projects with shorter life spans, meaning it’s possible for coop students to play a more integral role, to have more responsibility within the project. With larger companies, however, because the projects are based on longer time spans, it’s impossible to give a coop student (who will only be around for four months) any real responsibility. The budgets of said projects play a similar role in deciding whether a student can have any real responsibility. With a smaller company, with smaller budgets, there is less fear of a student’s failure. If, however, a project’s budget is in the millions, it’s inconceivable that any financial responsibility rest on the shoulders of a mere student.
The final reasons why working for a small company is preferable are the expectations of the employers. It’s inevitable that the expectations of an employer will be a poor match for what the student can provide. While it is possible that the employer can expect too much of the student, the situation is usually in the reverse – the abilities of the student are used poorly. If, in a large company, a student is able to meet and exceed expectations, there is little recourse for him to make this fact known. He could tell his manager, but then his manager would be tied as there are often limited projects in which the student can participate. If, however, in a small company a student is starved for challenge, it is a simply matter to bring this to the attention of someone who can affect change. This means that in a smaller company, a student’s skills will be better used and better appreciated, making the work experience better over all. Additionally, the manager of a small company is unlikely to be tied by a company mandate that “there is no such think as an outstanding coop student” – a mandate which seems very popular in many larger corporations.
Smaller companies are better to work for in a coop environment. Bureaucracy of resources, of projects and of expectations; while each of these factors is, individually, enough to support the previous statement, when taken together they make ridiculous the idea that anyone would voluntarily seek such employment.