Our employees are our most valuable asset 10 May 2007
slide software development

Having an epiphany over a two-beer lunch on a Wednesday isn't hard, and if you can't, make it a three-beer lunch. I had one such epiphany today where, as if stars in the mental mockup of the corporate world inside my head, started to come into alignment. It is one thing to release a corporate memo that states 'employees are our biggest asset'"or similarly market-drone-tainted nonsense, it is another thing to try to maintain a state of human resources nirvana where your employees genuinely like each other. In my less than expansive track record as a professional software developer, I've always chose the cut in pay, over dealing with colleagues that I don't like. That is to say, I've always opted for the companies to work for where I really enjoyed working with who I'm working with, regardless of what I've been working on. In the end, it's just code. They're just projects. And none of it really matters if you absolutely abhor your coworkers.

I don't. I enjoy working with who I work with, and if you've followed the constant stream of absolute nonsense from twitter stream it might start to become apparent why I spend so much time at the office (cue suspenseful music). I realized that I'm in the right place over the aforementioned two-beer lunch when I made a reference to a paragraph-long snippet from an ancient page of Jamie Zawinski's and everybody at the table knew exactly what I was talking about (Wednesday, 21 September 1994). The references to Arrested Development, or just the common understanding that we will all make jokes, and often the funnier ones are at each others' expense, all make the office a very enjoyable place, to where you can find yourself getting carried away until the wee hours of the morning. (Did I mention we're hiring?)

The startup atmosphere is certainly refreshing after dealing with smaller companies for so long that just "don't get it" when it comes to balancing between trying to bring products to the market yesterday, slowly grinding employees into either burnout or other companies, and the companies that don't understand you're allowed to think big, even if the payroll is small. It is also harder for companies to grow, while maintaining their "startup" tendencies. Apple seems to be proverbially stuck in the "90 hours and loving it!" mode, while Yahoo! has gone from a Web 1.0 blitzkrieg of products to a slow, lumbering giant that operates in every sense that you'd think a large software company, with the right hand not knowing exactly what that pesky left hand is doing over there. Google just has too much damn money. Microsoft is disintegrating into the IBM of old, and all of them fail to capture the fun and excitement of the startup, even though some have tried so valiantly to replicate it[1].

At the end of the day, the majority of us (Americans) need to find some sense of satisfaction and identity in what we do for a living, the importance of who you work with for the majority of your day is the difference between waking up in the morning and dreading what is to come, and waking up in the morning looking forward to lunch just so you can cut out of the office and hang out with your coworkers (I was going to fabricate some statistics about heart disease and stress levels, but the well ran dry shortly after that two-beer lunch when I exceeded my quota of bullshit for the day). In any given job interview that I've been on, I've always been measuring them up while they measure me up, asking myself important questions like if I work here:
  • will this person annoy me?
  • will I be thoroughly caffeinated?
  • will I need to work 12 hour days, or might I just choose to sometimes?
  • if we accidentally got into a bar fight with a competitor, would we win?
  • will the world come to an end if we miss a deadline?
There is little worse (professionally) than ending up on a team, or in a company with people you would try to avoid in public, but on the flip so there is little better (professionally) than ending up on a team, or in a company with people you would come to the office to hang out with even if you didn't have to.

[1]: The startup atmosphere seems to thrive around the idea of "make it big or go home." They tend to know that their time is limited so they try to shoot for the stars while they have a chance, some make it there, some burn up on the descent back down.