A small business programmer faces different challenges and opportunities than programmers working for tech start-ups or larger organizations. They generally have less support and fewer resources than programmers working in other kinds of businesses. But they have more freedom to influence the course of the business and determine their own destiny.

Let’s drill down a little.

What is a small business programmer?

A small business programmer works in a non-technical small business. This is the kind of computer programming that happens in a company with fewer than 100 employees where software development isn’t the primary mission.

So we’re not talking about IBM, Apple, Google, etc. And we’re also not talking about a group of friends making the next great app or a small company that makes smart coffee makers. Start-ups, while interesting, are not our focus here and quite a different kettle of fish.

What are the challenges of being a small business programmer?

  • you may only have one or two programmers in the whole company
  • you may have no one to talk to when you get stuck
  • there is nowhere to hide – if you fail to deliver on something everyone will know
  • you might not have any established policies or procedures because software development isn’t a core competency for your employer
  • you might be on call in perpetuity
  • nobody in the company really understands what you do or how to manage you
  • if you can’t explain the benefits in terms non-technically minded people can understand, you might have a harder time getting your ideas implemented
  • you might have to fight for tools and resources that are standard in software development
  • you’ll probably wear a lot of hats: programming, IT, tech support, etc.
  • training and education opportunities will probably be few and far between
  • your pay might be lower than you’d like (keep reading this blog because I have some ideas about this)
  • your path to career advancement might be unclear (ditto)

So those are some challenges of you’ll face working in a non-tech small business. You need to be sharp, motivated, and willing to pitch in to survive. But you can take advantage of some really big opportunities too.

What are the opportunities of being a small business programmer?

  • you get to see things through from beginning to end, which is satisfying
  • people defer to your judgement in technical matters – want to write the new web app in Ruby? No problem. Want to use your favorite js framework? Go for it!
  • people usually leave you alone to do your work – as long as you are meeting your deadlines
  • you are forced to learn about all aspects of software development, IT, tech support, security, disaster planning, life cycle management, etc.
  • you’ll probably work 9-5 so a work-life balance is possible

All of the points above are good but your really big opportunities are listed below:

  • small businesses are simple enough that you can understand how they work
  • and small enough that you can effect the course of the company
  • you have plenty of potential targets for improvement – lots of low-hanging fruit!
  • it’s pretty easy for you to get a meeting with the owner or the senior manager to pitch an idea, especially if you have a reputation for having good ideas
  • once you have the go ahead to do something it can happen very quickly because the decision making process is usually so informal – small is nimble
  • your role isn’t rigidly defined. You can pitch ideas about almost any aspect of the business and, as long as they’re tangentially related to programming, you’ll be heard
  • your compensation is totally negotiable! The more money you make for your employer, the more negotiating power you have

You have a huge opportunity to make a real difference, get noticed, and get ahead. You just have to be willing to role up your sleeves and do the work.


Working as a small business programmer presents you with an often overlooked opportunity to influence the course of your company, be successful, and have a fulfilling career. When you become a small business programmer no one tells you that you can jump in over here and stick your nose over there. But you can. You just have to do your homework and take the initiative.

In the following posts I’m going to show you how to take the initiative and become a wildly successful small business programmer. Stay tuned.