To My Future Employees
Hello! Welcome to your first day at [redacted].
You’ve joined the team, you’re ready to jump right in, but do you know what you’ve gotten yourself into? Do you know why this startup exists?
If you close your eyes and think
startup what comes to mind? Maybe overworked? Maybe strung out young people? Maybe a garage? California? Someone on stage proclaiming, “We will Change. The. World!”
When a startup starts spewing rhetoric about “changing the world,” you should immediately question their motives. Change what? For whom? Why?
Boasting wildly about unqualified change tends to mean: “I want to change the world for my own benefit. I want to crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentation of everyone who ever stood in my way.1” Those founders may be intellectual giants2, but they are emotional children. It’s the same sentiment as a toddler running around saying everything must be mine, mine, mine! They want to elevate themselves above everyone else, leave society behind, and live in a paradise of their own creation while leaving destruction in their wake. Sure, let’s call that changing the world3.
We’re not here to change the world for us. We’re not here to create change for the sake of change. We’re here to help as many people as we can using our code, data, and design.
You’re here for one reason and one reason only: we see potential in you.
We haven’t hired you because you are currently talented at things, though you may be exceptional in certain areas. We hired you because we think we can help you learn more, improve your talents, and use new knowledge and abilities to accelerate progress in the world.
Your job will be half learning and half integrating what you’ve learned with what you do every day.
Why is learning important? Joel once reported an ex-Microsoft employee who joined Google observed: “Google uses Bayesian filtering the way Microsoft uses the if statement.4” Microsoft remained stuck in 80s style programming for 25 years while an entire new category of capabilities became available for making immeasurably better systems.
Continually improving, learning, and refining how you think and work on problems is how we solve world-scale problems. If you stop learning and growing, you end up making the same product over and over again. You’ll be able to make ten perfect iterations of Clippy, but the world has had enough Clippy, so you’re not helping anymore5.
Always continue to expand what you know. Always find more clever ways to do routine tasks. Data wins over manual specification, so learn how to use all the data you can.
If you were hired because you have a particular set of skills, you are welcome to use your skills to advance projects as you see fit, but don’t think you can ride on your existing expert-level skill set forever. Always improve.
Just doing things isn’t the end of the story though. It’s important you have good ideas for the future, both within the scope of your work and within the scope of the entire company.
The only way to have good ideas is to have a lot of ideas and, sometimes painfully, throw out the bad ones. People often phrase idea curation as a thousand no’s for every yes. We think of it as experimenting until you reach a result far better than what you imagined when you started.
Let’s Talk About You
Your work is up to you. We have company goals, and we encourage you to contribute to those goals. You are also free to make your own goals and recruit coworkers to help you in your projects.
Projects are designated as one of: research, experiment, improvement to existing projects (internal or external), or revenue generating. Projects can have a scope of a few days up to a few weeks. You should continually re-evaluate the end goals of your project and compare your projected goal with current progress.
Projects are denoted as one of:
zero secret open source (public projects),
secret unreleased products,
zero secret improvements to released products (built through iterative customer feedback), or
secret future improvements to released products.
You are free to contribute publicly to any
zero secret project. Your contributions will be under the license of the project you’re contributing to and you can claim contributions under your own name. Internal
secret projects are not for release until we’ve got all our ducks in a row.
You have no set working hours. You are encouraged to disable your alarm clock and wake up when you feel rested as long as there are no exigent circumstances currently creeping up in your projects or in the company as a whole.
We trust you maintain your ambition. We trust you to be amazing. If your motivation wanes, let’s talk about it. Don’t let yourself languish in frustration.
We have an extensive ebook library and custom course plans to guide you through learning complex topics from first principles. Your fellow employees come from unique backgrounds and have various levels of experience across a wide range of disciplines. Talk to people and learn new things.
We also have recommended reading lists of both fiction and non-fiction about the potential upsides and downsides of technology as well as how technology can go sideways. Reading about those topics is like reaching your hand into a free well thought out arguments bucket without needing to burn brain cycles building up entire potential outcomes yourself.
If you need reference material or any book better served in a physical quick-flip form, just use our internal purchasing interface to order dead tree books. No approvals are necessary and the company will pay directly.
We hold structured learning sessions a few times a week to cover technical and literary issues relevant to helping you grow what you know and become better at what you do. Some of our work involves doing things nobody has done before. We are constantly learning and expanding our capabilities.
Our startup isn’t a one way street of “you work for us, the company cares nothing for you.” We’re here to help you as much as, and maybe more than, you help us.
Our company is made up of people. Without people there is no company. With no company, we can’t improve the world for everybody.
Collectively, you are our strongest, most valuable asset in the entire company. You are the company.
We want to make sure your mind and your body are happy and everything works together in the best way possible. During your first week you’ll meet with our personal trainer and nutrition adviser to help figure out the best ways to keep you healthy.
Some startups treat employees like machinery and run them at a 100% duty cycle until the machine fails, then they just replace the machine/employee with something new.
That’s not us. You should never feel like you are “letting yourself go” here. If you start to feel you’ve reached that extreme, adjust your priorities. Your long term health takes priority over company goals.
We also have therapists on retainer, and you should schedule weekly sessions starting your third week here. Our therapists are forbidden from keeping written documentation, audio recordings, or sharing your details with anybody else, including the company itself. Use them to talk about how work is treating you, how you’re fitting in, perspectives on potential interpersonal conflicts, and general life issues.
At any time for any reason, you may book travel at the company’s expense.
You have unlimited travel benefits for any use you see fit.
You are responsible for your own schedule. If you need time off or need to be somewhere, tell us your schedule instead of asking for permission. Be a leader of yourself.
If you feel you’ve been working hard and deserve a week in Barcelona, book it and go.
If you see a business opportunity in New York, book it and go.
If you want to attend a conference in Shanghai, book it and go.
We trust you to be responsible. You don’t need approvals or oversight for your travel plans. It’s up to you to be frugal with company resources. The company-wide booking process will keep everyone updated about all travel plans.
We make products for the world. We can’t understand the world if we remain locked in a valley inhabited by rampantly delusional tech culture.
In addition to booking remote travel, we also keep a couple Tesla Model X vehicles on campus for your day-to-day use.
You are encouraged to organize public conferences in interesting areas. If you’re working on a project and run into a long-held difficult problem or run into issues without enough public support, organize a conference and invite people from around the world to come together and think about how to improve the state of materials, algorithms, and processes around the problems we’re all facing.
If there are any conferences you want to attend anywhere in the world, book it and go. We’ll cover everything for you.
Dictating company culture is a bit of a sticky wicket. We do our best to set the tone, and we’ve hired you because we recognized you as a good culture fit with the rest of the company.
What is the culture here? Our overall culture can be described as “We delight users using remarkable design, both seen and unseen.”
That’s a nice sentiment, but still vague from a day-to-day behavior standpoint. Culture is made up of many parts. Let’s cover a few now.
First, we have interpersonal culture: Be accepting of people who are accepting. Keep your ego and bravado in check. You do have some special privileges by being here. Do not let those privileges go to your head. Do not lord your position over other people. Follow Wheaton’s Law. Discuss and provide feedback over abrupt negative confrontation. Listen before answering. Seek out third party mediation when necessary instead of fuming in silence.
Second, we have product culture: Show the customer the best way to solve their problems, then show them the most realistic way to solve their problems. Above all, we serve the end user who holds our product in their hands, not any advertisers, disintermediators, or internal metrics gatherers. Realistic perfection instead of actual perfection—good is better than perfect, but really good is better than just good. Consider what happens if the product you’re working on receives zero uptake in the world—does it have reusable pieces we can build other things on top of, or was it just a waste of time?
Third is the inward facing culture of the company towards employees: We hire smart, capable people. We trust you. We do not have the capacity to work with people we don’t trust—if we don’t trust you, we will have problems. We will not waste the time of our hand-selected, smart, high productivity employees with trivial accounting, reimbursement, or paperwork issues. Employees may stand on different levels of authority for certain product issues and decision making requirements, but no employee is above any other in regards to receiving or giving feedback. We will provide you with all the technical, support, and computing resources you need to build new useful things. We will try to support you mentally, physically, and environmentally to keep you as healthy as possible. Great advancements come from hard work and great thoughts—but great thoughts often happen when you are not sitting at a desk in an office. If you are fully engaged in your work, time away from your computer can be more productive for finding the next missing piece of your puzzle than sitting at your desk during working hours for the next two months. We understand just because you aren’t at your computer it doesn’t mean you aren’t working.
We could go on. But, we won’t. These are guidelines to help you get a feel for what we expect of you, what you can expect from us, and how you can start thinking about your work here.
Now on to some serious company matters.
This next bit sounds a bit harsh because security is not optional.
Security isn’t something we can joke about and laugh off as PLA 61398 only got half our internal customer data, so it’s not too bad. You must internalize our security practices and implement them at all times.
You’ll receive more training about operational security practices during your first week, but here’s a quick preview of how things work around here.
Any sensitive details or long-term strategies must be discussed in a SCIF. Also, at no point are internal company details to be talked about over a public connections including, but not limited to: telephones, cell phones, SMS, text chat, IRC, or any IM service not secured by the company. For remote communication, you must use our Secure Link app which guarantees end-to-end encryption and authentication of all voice, picture, video, and text data.
Some widely available products and services are declared security threats and must never be used internally. These include all Microsoft software products (including Skype), all Adobe products, all Android devices (not applicable to actual Androids), and any remote data storage or data synchronization service. If you need to run software from Microsoft, you will need to run a VM with limited hardware and network access.
You will get a current generation iPhone as your official company mobile device and your choice of MacBook for development workstation with up to three external monitors of your choosing. You can order upgrades or additional hardware at any time.
You must follow proper security practices at all times. Obviously we can’t force a geas or rider on you, but it is your responsibility to not leak details to unapproved people including close relations, distant relations, reporters, other companies without active co-sharing agreements, or some person in an airport bar. We reserve the right to Slugworth you at any time as well.
Employee reviews are standard practice at most companies, and the standard practice is completely broken. In most companies, the yearly “Employee Review” period is how promotions and rewards are handed out. Who wants to wait a year after they’ve done something good before they get recognized for it? Who wants to wait a year to hear they’ve been under performing for six months and didn’t even know it? You don’t wait until Yearly Doggie Performance Review Time to tell your dog not to pee on the carpet.
Here at [redacted], nobody is exempt from feedback. Freshly hired employees can give feedback on the CEO. Feedback is continuous and, at our current scale, everybody should be aware of what everybody else is doing.
You are responsible for your own projects, and you are also responsible for recognizing when you’re stuck and need to move on. Spending six months “trying to figure something out” is probably not the best use of your time considering our current roadmap.
As a small startup, we can do continuous feedback in a more fluid way than other companies. You’ll learn more about feedback, accomplishment recognition, and promotions at your orientation session for company processes.
As a startup, we have two faces: our open source side and our internal side. You may talk about your open source work with anybody at any time. You may not talk about your internal work with anybody outside the office at any time.
If someone asks what you do, the preferred answer is either mentioning the open source projects you work on or: “I work at a data startup as a [programmer|manager|assistant].” You may also mention the scope of your work as involving “deep space radar telemetry” to add some color to your conversation. If someone continues to ask about what you do, just mention you’re not allowed to talk about it yet, but it’ll be really great and well worth the wait when it’s released and you can talk about it.
Some quick notes:
No smoking or e-smoking on company property.
Feel free to interview at other companies for the fun of it. Do not leak operational or product details during your interview.
Attend concerts. Have fun.
Asynchronous communication is preferred over scheduling meetings for day-to-day issues.
If you wake up a Straumli Blight, it falls on you to accept the responsibilities of godshatter to clean up your mess.
Don’t forget to have a life outside work.
Please keep autonomous drone testing confined to Airfield B. You may fly drones under remote control in Airfield A.
We’ve had a long chat, but it’s still just your first day! You’ve got a lot ahead of you. You should be excited.
One day you’ll look back at this moment and wish you still felt like you do now. You’ll wish we were still here on this very first day, ready and raring to go. You’ll remember details you’ve long forgotten. Before your memories start to fade again, future you will wish you could be here to tell past you it’ll all be worth it.
As people, we are just fleshy bags of bones. We are moist robots and we don’t last forever. But for a while, when we’re here, when it’s good and it feels like it should, we must make every moment, every chat, every meal, and every line of code count.
We’re here to make the world a better place by creating new things only this team of people assembled right here can make. We’re going to show ’em what we got. And, we’re not going to stop this train.
It’s time to go. Let’s make good art.
For additional details, ask.
copyright 1982 Conan the Barbarian, liberties taken.↩
Hopefully they are. Sadly, many founders these days are intellectual fleas who get funding and attention due to ego and social connections, not out of substance.↩
Except for your manager who imposes nonsense top-down demands, which you obey because you’ve surrendered your intellectual agency to the traditional employee role of being an appeasing servile automaton.↩