Two words for you: Size and Awards.
First, Size. Seth talks about the Atomic Theory of Business Size. The Organizational Behaviorist in me likes this theory, it explains a lot about why a business is the size it is, and helps leadership to plan for business growth (or resizing). It also helps candidates sort out where they ought to go next. For example, I'm not good in big companies, but I am good in smaller, rapidly growing firms. If you've had experience in both places, think hard about which size companies you've worked at and been the happiest and done your best. My guess is that one of the commonalities will be the size of the organization.
Second, Awards. Industry awards are actually a pretty good indicator of which companies are succeeding. The people who vote on these awards are either industry insiders or journalists with deep background covering the industry. They know the real thing when they see it.
Take a look at this list from last night's WTIA's Industry Achievement Awards:
- Commercial Product or Service of the Year: Isilon and Docusign (tie)
- Consumer Product or Service of the Year: Swype
- Service Provider of the Year: HasOffers
- Best Early-Stage Company of the Year: Ground Truth
- Best Seed-Stage Company of the Year: SPARQcode
- Innovative Manufactured Product of the Year: DarkStar
- Best Use of Technology in Government, Non-profit or Educational: Open Data Kit
All of these award winners have a great product. And, my guess is that they are all looking for people to join their teams, most certainly Software Engineers. At minimum, I can vouch for one on this list. Swype is looking for Mobile Software Engineers who are pretty darned good with C++.
But here's the thing, these companies are all in different stages of growth, different sizes. You might be great at a firm like Isilon that's around 400 FTE, but miserable at Swype, which is around 65. Or maybe the reverse is true!
Check for Size and Awards as you look for your new role. They'll help you make the right career step.