We’ve talked a lot internally about the kind of workplace that we want at Slack. Nolan Caudill, our Engineering Chief of Staff, first wrote about the principles and ideas behind these conversations as an internal post for our team — but these thoughts are integral to what we do here, and we’re proud to share it publicly.
Some notes on working at Slack
Every company builds two things: the products they sell, and the culture inside the company. The former is always an explicit undertaking. Conscious and concerted effort goes into turning nothing into something that people want. This is tracked in ledgers in terms of active users, costs, units sold, and profit margins and gives clear insight into the financial health of the company.
Culture — which we understand to mean the systems that dictate how employees relate to one another, the work to be done, and the customers — often forms without much oversight. Like any random experiment, the results of letting culture form unchecked can vary between fair to disastrous.
When unchecked, humans in groups tend to fall back to baser states. Superstitions and biases color important decisions, and often subtly so. Power concentrates to the loudest and most confident people. Groupthink is encouraged. The first step in creating a positive place where good people can do great work is to recognize these faults and make explicit decisions to address them.
Put another way, culture is the manifestation of what your company values. What you reward, who you hire, how work is done, how decisions are made — all of these things are representations of the things you value and the culture you’ve wittingly or unwittingly created.
Here are a few of the things we value at Slack:
We know that the success of our product will likely not come from unpredictable lightning strikes but from grinding hard rocks against other hard rocks day after day. To build a product that works well and is magical comes out of effort that looks very non-magical. It is easy and sometimes tempting to say “good enough” but after this is where the best work happens and what makes Slack special. This is also where your best work happens.
We are building something that most people don’t know they need. Every day, we are venturing into unknown territory. Thriving at Slack means recognizing this forward position and that you may not know the best direction to head. This means you ask good questions at the right time to the right people. It means being curious about how things work and what our customers need. Curiosity is not being satisfied with the status quo and looking at every problem deeper and from a multitude of angles.
Building things for others to use is an act of empathy. Every decision made about how a thing is built and how it should be used comes from the worldview of the maker. How well they can see things through the user’s eyes determines the value of their work. No one person can see the world through another’s eyes. It’s all approximation and guesswork. Thus the only way for us to broaden our understanding of our users, to see things the way they do, is through hiring people with as many diverse experiences and backgrounds as we can.
Our Culture at Slack: This is who we are. This is what we’re looking for.
At Slack, we want to work with people that have the skills to do their job and the gumption to do it well. They possess great empathy, as designing and building a great product is made up of countless acts of empathy, not only for the users but for those you do the work alongside. Diligence, persistence, an unrelenting bull-headed pursuit of Quality — this drive is what compels the kind of person we look for.
These traits are not intrinsic to any category of sex, creed, origin, race, or any of the other petty reasons others have used to determine who is able to do this kind of work. We believe that the above qualities are a deeper, better, and truer measure of what makes someone successful at Slack.
Specifically, our industry has for decades been directed and built by a mostly homogenous group, and has downplayed the accomplishments of others not in this group. We recognized our own shortcomings in this area and thus wanted to be explicit about what Slack stands for, what we are trying to build, and who we want here to help us build it. By focusing on how we build Slack first, we can hopefully improve the greater industry, in whatever measure.
Our product is good by many measures and it’s something we can be proud of but it’s not finished. Some edges are still too sharp and there are many gaps that need to be filled. This holds doubly true for our culture. We strive to be a place where people with diverse backgrounds bring equally diverse opinions where everyone feels able — obligated, even — to make things better. We each have an individual mandate to help us get there.