Recent grads and experienced job seekers looking to work on innovative projects frequently name the best known technology firms as their most desired employer. Google (which is usually in the top five and in some surveys the number one most frequently named firm), Apple, Microsoft, IBM – are staples on the list of desired employers. What some job seekers looking for the opportunity to work in an innovative environment might not think about is that not all innovation is coming out of just the most high profile tech firms. Some of the most cutting-edge tech is coming out of places one would least expect.

A common misperception is that high tech companies spend much more on R&D than lower tech firms. It’s true that high tech companies invest more of their total income on innovation than their lower tech counterparts but the difference in magnitude is not as high as one might think. One large study of 700 companies cited about 16% compared to 10%. That same study found that the lower tech companies that spent more on innovation compared to their competitors that spend less had about a 50% higher annual income growth rate. Competitive pressures are driving even lower tech companies to invest more in innovation.

We’ve been part of many creative, innovative projects for firms that might be thought of as staid or conservative. One of our clients, a manufacturer of agricultural products that has been around now for nearly 180 years, is not usually thought of as a hotbed of technology innovation although they are working on a number of breakthrough technology products. With help from our Embedded Engineering solutions practice, this firm has developed technologies that provide intelligence to the next generation of its farm and all-terrain vehicles. We’ve collaborated with their team of developers and analysts to create highly sophisticated software that enables intelligent instrumentation and uses touch screen displays to monitor and control equipment affixed to their vehicles. The software also leverages remote diagnostic communications capabilities to facilitate routine maintenance and systems monitoring. This company is not an exception or an outlier; many of our “unglamorous” clients are investing in technologies that could rival those found at any of the more colorful high tech firms.

For some individuals, one other positive aspect of working in technology at a lower tech company is job satisfaction. Where do you think you’re more likely to quickly attain authority and influence on technology product design and functionality – at a firm where you’re one of hundreds or even thousands of technologists – or at one where you’re one of a handful? That’s not a dig at high tech firms – many of our clients are some of the largest and most recognizable brands in the technology industry – but some people will find working at a perceived lower tech company a better fit for their lifestyle and career goals.

Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, judging the technological sophistication of the projects and products of lower tech companies by the markets they serve or their conservative image might lead you to eliminate potentially challenging and rewarding career opportunities. Keep in mind that just because you can’t bring your dog to work doesn’t mean the work won’t be edgy or invigorating.