Hire great people and create an environment where they can do their best work
Or, what it's like to work at Prismatic and why
October 18, 2019
If Prismatic had a separate Careers or Culture blog, this would be the first post. If we ever start one, we'll move this there. But for now, think of this as an open letter to anyone considering joining our team or anyone who, for whatever other reason, is curious about what it’s like to work at Prismatic and why.
As we start building our team, we wanted to share our thoughts on why we are so intentional about how we build teams and work environments, and then lay out some of the details of our approach.
A Highly Intentional Approach
We’re firmly convinced that anyone who wants to build a successful tech company must take a highly intentional approach to building their team. We believe how you recruit and who you hire is only the start of this, and that it continues from there to how you approach every part of the employee experience: how you meet people’s basic needs as an employee, how you manage and communicate with them day-to-day, how you help them grow and develop over time.
One thing we’re deeply proud of with respect to our previous company is that we built an organization that attracted smart, hard-working people and gave them a place to thrive. We’re proud of how many people found meaningful opportunities there. We loved seeing people do work they felt mattered, make real connections with their teams, rally together to make big things happen, rise to the occasion of new roles and responsibilities, and grow their careers.
Being intentional about all of this “soft stuff” isn’t a novel idea by any means. There’s a lot of writing out there about how to create alignment or achieve organizational health, and Managing Humans is a good book specifically about building a useful engineering culture. It turns out that some of this soft stuff isn’t really that soft after all. The analytics firm Gallup has published a high-quality study, based on decades of research involving millions of employees, on specific factors that lead to employee engagement and the strong relationship between engagement and measurable company performance outcomes like profit and productivity. (If you don’t want to go through the download, you can get directly to the study here.)
From our own experience and from useful things we’ve read on the topic, the same insights surface over and over again: there are specific things you can do to help people be meaningfully connected to their work and their company, and there’s a strong correlation between companies with highly engaged employees and companies that succeed.
We’ve had a lot of good conversations on these topics over the years and been asked “What are your thoughts on building a successful team?” or “How do you build a good culture?” or “What’s your management philosophy?” The short version of our answer to any of those questions is pretty simple: Hire great people and create an environment where they can do their best work.
Let’s unpack that a bit.
Hire Great People
It all starts with a focus on hiring well.
Obviously, a great hire needs to have the hard skills you need in the role. We design our technical interviews to dig into how a person approaches problems, whether they have the key technical skills needed to do the job, and if they don’t, whether they can clearly demonstrate that they’ll be able to develop them quickly. The ability to quickly learn new languages and frameworks is a valuable skill in itself.
They also need to have the values or mindsets that make people successful in your organization. For Prismatic, that means smart and driven. Values progress over perfection. Focused on solutions over problems. And of course, no assholes.
Finally, for a candidate to be a truly great person for your organization, you need to be a good fit for them too. There’s a huge benefit to being open and realistic about the opportunity you offer, what the role is like, what your organization is like, and so on. Everyone’s far better off if the candidate is excited and motivated by the realistic picture you paint.
This is especially important when you’re a startup, even one like Prismatic that’s well-capitalized and has a founding team with previous startup experience. Do they prefer everything to be perfectly defined and get easily frustrated when priorities change? That’s fine, but this probably isn’t a good fit for either of you. Are they excited about the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and help set the direction of a product and company? Realistic about the amount of work that goes into launching a new product? Excellent.
Create an Environment Where They Can Do Their Best Work
Getting great people in the door does you little good unless you create an environment where they can thrive and do their best work. There are so many factors that make up a work environment. We’ll dig into just a few and how we’re addressing them at Prismatic.
An environment where people can do their best work starts with some basic things like having the tools that will help them be most productive. We supply everyone with good tools like MacBook Pros and big monitors so they can work effectively. We provide the best chairs we can find even though they cost a lot more than cheap office chairs. Software engineers are at their desks most of the day. They should have good chairs. It just makes sense. So do things like providing free snacks and drinks and avoiding unnecessary meetings to minimize the number of times a day they have to context switch and lose the five layers of complex logic they had in their heads.
Engineers tend to be happiest and most productive when working with latest technologies and modern best practices, so we’ve been making very intentional decisions around application design, development environment, CI/CD, and so on.
Another basic factor is having clear expectations and a highly accessible, communicative manager. No one wants to be micro-managed, but on the other hand no one wants to guess at what they should be working on or be stuck waiting on a manager they can’t get five minutes with. We make sure each person has a direct manager who communicates with them frequently and is available to answer questions, remove roadblocks, and generally help them be successful on a day-to-day basis.
We also believe in making sure managers get to know their people beyond just a transactional sense. We’re big believers in weekly one-on-ones as a useful way for managers to get to know their people, help them grow, give feedback, work out problems, and whatever else comes up.
We put a big emphasis on treating people as people, and we believe this helps them be more effective at work. This goes way beyond providing a solid benefits package. (Which, of course, we do.) We believe people should have opportunities to connect with coworkers, so we have Friday afternoon cocktail hour. We believe people should be able to run out for a personal appointment and be trusted to manage their work and hit their sprint deadline anyway. We have an unlimited PTO policy so people can take real vacations and come back refreshed instead of worrying about whether their two days of remaining PTO will get them through the rest of the year.
We believe it’s important for people to feel informed about and connected to the bigger picture of what’s going on at their company, so we communicate as frequently and transparently as possible about both the good and the bad.
Being intentional about these things is clearly a win-win situation: the things that contribute to a work environment people like and appreciate tend to be the same things that enable them to do their best work. Good for employees, critical to the success of a business.
Here We Go!
We’re excited to start putting together, person by person, a group of smart, driven people and creating an environment where we can all work effectively together to pursue our mission. If you know someone who would be a good fit for Prismatic (and if we’d be a good fit for them!), please point them toward our current openings.