No bosses, no juniors – working at Valve

Hi Kalle,

if you haven’t already, it’s now time for you to go and read what might be the most interesting publication in company and workplace culture this year:

The “leaked” Valve handbook for new employees.

There is just too much interesting stuff in here to discuss in one blog post so I’ll probably break this down to a few posts (or we discuss it on the podcast), but here are some highlights:

  • No management – people work on the projects where they feel they can be of most use and move their desks to form groups accordingly.
  • No juniors – only hire extremely competent and driven people at the height of their careers. No costly bringing up of juniors, they have enough attraction as an employer that they don’t need to “grow their own” – they can attract the best within the business.
  • Compensation based on peer review – salaries are based on stack ranking by your co-workers. You make what the guy sitting next to you think you should make based on your contributions.
  • “T-shaped” employees – hire people with a broad range of skills that are also one of the best in their field within a narrow discipline (sounds a bit like The “Jack of all trades” department put into practice!).

Valve also lists what they think they could improve on (mentoring, predicting more than a few months away etc) which is very self-aware of them, could be interesting to discuss as well.

But what are you waiting for – let me know when you read it, can’t wait to discuss it with you (and Jeff)!

And may all your TF2 hats be awesome,



Day 1 checklist – Make the new guy the hero

Hi Kalle,

since I just started at a new company and am in the first few weeks in the “getting-up-to-speed” phase where you go around feeling kinda useless and stupid, I have two good, solid tips for how to make sure to get your new employee a flying start.

So when you have to hire a guy three years from now to your gloriously successful start-up, whip out this post and make sure to:

1) Have everything ready for them.

Computer, chair, phone, keycard, whatever system access they need (especially to SVN/TFS/etc – for some reason version handling always gets forgotten by HR, I wonder why…).

Everything you need to do good work should be there ready to use at day 1 – no exceptions. If the hire has a choice of computer or phone, make sure to sort this during the time between the signing and the first day so everything is ready to go.

If you have this all sorted and stars align on that first day, you have a chance to…

2) Have the new guy/girl make an impact in the company on day 1.

First day at Lavasoft, I got to fix a bug for customer support that caused their support form to give the customer the impression that their ticket failed submitting, causing the customer to type in the same request over and over again in an increasingly agitated tone, producing a nice mess for the support department to deal with.

I wrote a single line of code, managed to publish the change and voila! – instant gratitude by the support department and saved money for the company on day 1. Couldn’t have asked for a better start.

This was by pure chance in my case but in future hires, I will try to make this part of the introduction plan – to have a task that needs doing that day that is important for the company, so they get to be the hero on the first day of work. I forgot this at my last company, so this is as much a reminder to you as it is to me.

Some ideas for suitable tasks might be:

  • Fix a bug that can be published the same day.
  • Improve the language of a particularly nastily written public webpage / wiki.
  • Answer customer questions on the company forum.
  • Fixing the resolution of the projector in the conference room so that it actually fits the canvas. (We might have this problem at work…)

Can you think of other useful tasks in the same spirit?

Take care,



Creating an API to a team – a system developer’s take at company communication

Hey Kalle!

Been a while since I posted here (we should really publish the podcast too btw, need to speak to Jeff about that).

As you know, I’m now working for a really big company (about 18000 employees) and as such I’m but a grain of sand on a large beach of company culture.

However, the part of the company I’m working for used to be a smaller company that was bought and incorporated into the bigger company in a single-brand strategy (i.e. the old company’s name is not used any more etc). It is still a fairly self-contained branch with stable customer relations that was established before the merger and has the application management of a product that has been around since the early 90’s.

So our department is both a part of the rest of the organization, as well as our own ship, and this reflects in our methodology. In some parts we are running some SCRUM, we are looking at Kanban for some of our stuff and we also have a lot of waterfall in a lot of parts as well as some ITIL-inspired roles for application management. On top of this, we also have a delivery excellence process that is instituted by the company as a whole. In short, it’s all a bit of a mixed sallad (one that has both tomatoes and tuna as well as steak and kumquats – yummy!) with each bite tasting slightly different (not very agile-sashimi at all).

Here is our dilemma:

We need to work out a way of working that works for our independent unit given our customers, our products and our staff – while at the same time working together with the large organization we are also a part of in a way that they can understand and appreciate.

The good news is that I feel that it would be accepted to run any kind of methodology internally in our branch as long as it meshed well with the rest of the company and it yielded great results (i.e. we were efficient and very profitable), so it is a great situation for improving our process. However, the key here is how to work together with everyone else in the company in a manner that is efficient for them and for us.

So I thought:

Why not approach this as a system developer and picture our part of the company as a module in a large piece of software?

If we could just provide an API to the exterior world (the rest of the company and our customers) with metrics and ways of communication that is useful and efficient for them, we could pretty much run any kind of internal process as long as it was CPU-efficient (i.e. cost-effective).

This is obviously the opposite of transparency, and it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the subject. Maybe transparency should be a topic for a future podcast, sometimes I feel that people just don’t want to know and too much transparency might just create confusion as to what they are looking at.

I’ll keep you posted on how this develops – I think my next step will be to map our “interface” in a way similar to how I would map the interface of a module and see if that yields any interesting results.

Thanks for reading all of this (I think I just scored 0/3 on my own scale…), let’s talk soon.

Take care,