Company Culture Part II

I wanted to follow up my previous post on company culture with a questionnaire for job seekers and also some great quotes.

If I were to ask the right questions to a company interviewing me, I would start asking them about their culture:

  • Does your management team see developers as an asset or liability? Please explain.
  • How much time in a day would you allow for undisturbed, focused development?
  • What is your company’s purpose or goal? How do I share in that goal?
  • Do you allow your employees to maintain an online brand, blog or engage in social media during their personal time outside of business hours?
  • Do you allow your employees to moonlight, freelance, maintain their own online business, develop products/projects outside of business hours on personal equipment?

I believe it’s important for a developer to retain their creative rights outside of the company, even as a permanent developer. You should never sign a contract that gives your company exclusive rights to all your work outside of business hours.

I loved reading Valve’s employee handbook. For one, it starts with the company’s expectations, which is greatness. It begins with the following quote: “A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.” Great programmers are ones that execute and know what to do without asking anyone. I would love to work for a company where all of management understands this principle to empower the employee.

Some points on Valve’s culture are outlined below and to sum it all up, you get to ship products and work without being bossed around. What a phenomenal concept!

  • There is no hierarchy or organizational chart and they rely on self-managed teams. “Hierarchy is great for maintaining predictability and repeatability. It simplifies planning and makes it easier to control a large group of people from the top down, which is why military organizations rely on it so heavily.”…”telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value.”
  • Projects are self-initiated and self-directed. “We’ve heard that other companies have people allocate a percentage of their time to self-directed projects. At Valve, that percentage is 100.” It’s proven that when employees take time off to work on side-projects, actual innovation happens. Take 20% off your work week to be creative and come out with a new product.
  • Projects are volunteered for based on one’s own personal reflections and convictions about their own capabilities, interests and skills. “you’ll decide what to work on after asking yourself the right questions.”
  • Your are not boxed in with the total amount of value you can provide: “You were hired to constantly be looking around for the most valuable work you could be doing.”
  • “working overtime for extended periods indicates a fundamental failure in planning or communication. “
  • Failure has positive consequences, “Screwing up is a great way to find out that your assump tions were wrong or that your model of the world was a little bit off. As long as you update your model and move forward with a better picture, you’re doing it right. Look for ways to test your beliefs. Never be afraid to run an experiment or to collect more data…There are still some bad ways to fail. Repeating the same mistake over and over is one. “

Based on my own experience, most employees are under utilized, terribly managed, and not recognized. Instead of being crushed by useless meetings, ignorant managers, and delusional requirements, employees should have the power to be creative and have answers to the right questions such as “what’s the most valuable thing I can be working on? What’s interesting? What’s rewarding? What leverages my individual strengths the most?”