Big tech company vibes

posted by Jeff | Sunday, November 19, 2017, 8:45 PM | comments: 0

One of the things I didn't talk much about when writing about the hackathon we did last weekend was about the vibes of a big tech company. Intuit has a fairly large campus, next door to Google in Mountain View. Facebook is just down the 101 a bit. I'm no stranger to these big tech company campuses, since I worked in Redmond for two years for Microsoft. (Side note: In terms of real estate, the Seattle east side is cheap compared to Silicon Valley... the AirBnB we rented was a 2,000 sq. ft. house that sold a few years ago for nearly $1.3 million!)

There's something cool about these places, beyond the big modern buildings with their own coffee shops and open spaces. You know that there's interesting, impactful work happening at these places. You can feel it. And make whatever jokes you want about Intuit, QuickBooks and TurboTax are old brands that made the full-on flip to real SaaS products with insanely high market share. You have to respect that. They make pretty good software. They did the small biz hack in their Building 20, which has a big atrium with stadium seating, some garage doors and exposed concrete. It reminded me a lot of a combination of different buildings in Redmond.

It's important to remember my experience in Redmond, because it was a mixed bag. The MSDN/TechNet subgroup that I worked in (I'd give you the formal name if it hadn't been reorg'd a dozen times) was a fairly excellent group of people doing great work. We were made up of a bunch of small teams working on stuff that literally millions of people touched. Being a cost center, in that sense, had its advantages, because we couldn't solve our problems by throwing money at them. And to my boss' credit, we hired right.

I've told the story many times about how my second gig at the company wasn't that great (and maybe it's because money was not an issue for it). The context here is that giant tech companies are really like many small companies, and some parts are better than others. Furthermore, when you do break it down, you start to see how scope and impact really does not correlate to company size. At Microsoft, our small, constrained teams on the MSDN Forums, CodePlex (RIP) and such impacted huge numbers of people. The other group I worked in never shipped anything, even with all of the people involved.

Vibes are important for people. Now I get to guide a small engineering team, developing a product for which we don't really know where our ceiling is. Because we work so closely with our customers, we know first hand how much better we're making their working lives. That's rare for a company of any size, and we're doing it with a relatively small team spread across four states. That's a lot of good vibes. The impact we're creating is huge, even if the scope is still growing.

It's easy to be sucked into big tech company vibes, but I caution anyone who thinks that size is indicative of success or great, high impact work. And definitely run the other way if a recruiter starts talking about foosball tables.

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