Quality and Value by Wetwebwork

The buzz last week in tech circles was about Mozilla chief Brendan Eich’s resignation as CEO after just two weeks, the result of a growing public outcry over the revelation of his donations to the same-sex marriage banning Proposition 8. Countless words were spent on both sides of the decision, some supporting the ouster of a boss whose politics disagreed with their own, others lamenting this as a win by the “political correctness police,” who argue that Eich’s off-the-clock behavior shouldn’t matter to his on-the-job performance. I tend to agree with the more nuanced approach espoused in Farhad Manjoo’s excellent New York Times op-ed, which states that in this particular case, Eich’s effectiveness as CEO was directly impacted by his personal behavior. While the same filter wouldn’t apply to other organizations, Manjoo says that Mozilla’s position as an “activist organization” (by virtue of their commitment to open source and their mission to spread the Internet) forces them to use “a different calculus from most of the rest of corporate America.” In short, Mozilla was acting in service of their values, not of some political crusade, a fact that gets overshadowed amidst all the hyperbole.

In reading this take on the Mozilla situation, I got to thinking about whether Substantial is more aligned with corporate America or Mozilla in this case. Are we an activist organization? If so, what does that mean for us?

Yes, Substantial is an activist organization. We have very distinct points of view about how we choose to work, operate, and exist, and our decision-making is done through a series of filters that ensure that our actions align with our overall intent. That said, far from making us some sort of radical ideologues, every organization does this, even if in some more passive form. Mozilla has values it espouses, it has a mission, and that mission guides their actions, making this Eich situation less about the obvious politics involved and more a public example of them living their values. Living their values? That sounds familiar... (jump to 28:30 in the recording).

Every decision that your organization makes is based on some rationale about what’s right. “Right” isn’t universal however, and what may be appropriate for your company doesn’t mean it’s applicable for another one. Your specific culture, your specific values, guide your decision-making, and for those of you that haven’t gone through a values-defining exercise, your values exist whether you’ve written them down or not, and they manifest themselves every day.

So how are we activists? The first few “causes” that come to mind are the following:

  • Work-life balance is a necessity, not a nice-to-have.
  • Diversity in the tech world is a good thing.
  • Community binds us together.
  • There’s always room for improvement.

I’ll take each of these on in turn, describing what we do and what it really means.

Work-life balance is a necessity, not a nice-to-have. Client services organizations are known for squeezing as many hours out of a contract and employee as is possible (and sometimes beyond that). When we say that we want our people to have a life outside of work, we mean it. We set those expectations among ourselves and with our clients, and we do our best to rectify situations where that needs to be disrupted. Sure, the occasional long night or week happens, but we choose to have that be the exception, not the rule. Does that leave us shy of peak profitability? You bet, but we choose to invest in our people.

Diversity in the tech world is a good thing. Diversity can mean a lot of things here, but the biggest point to be made is that we take a holistic approach to building our ranks. We want smart people that are passionate about their craft, but we want them to show that passion outside of work as well. We want (mostly) non-jerks. We like eccentric artists and genre-bending musicians. Or collective greatness is made up from the various individuals we have. We’re not some “island of misfit devs,” but we take a different view of what we want then other organizations.

Related, the reason we host events like Railsbridge or sponsor ADA developers Academy is because we strongly believe that there is a broader view that can be taken of what a tech worker can be, and we are willing to put our money, space, and time in support of that.

Community binds us together. On the same vein of hosting, we host a LOT of events. We open our doors on a regular basis to community groups, often sponsoring as well with food, drink, and hosting staff. Toss in the cleaning bill and you end up with a non-trivial amount of money spent on something non-revenue generating. We host groups we believe in, viewing our space(s) as a resource that can be leveraged in its idle time. We gain knowledge and support from the community at large, and we want to give back.

We’re also collectively committed to open source development. Due to our client services nature we can’t share everything that we do, but as is possible, we’ll create our own projects or contribute to those in the wild. Again, we use the resources available to us, why not contribute as well?

There’s always room for improvement. We constantly beat the drum for continuous improvement, and believe that to be attainable on the individual and organizational levels. To that end we send our staff to conferences to learn or to teach, we support people taking classes, and there’s a constant influx of books & new software. We’re constantly trying new things related to how we work. Sometimes those experiments don’t work out. But rather than take that as a sign that we need Standard Operating Procedures, we instead take those misses as opportunities to make better experiments.

There are others, but you get the point. We hold some things dear and we act accordingly, some of which don’t necessarily align with the chase for the almighty dollar.

Going back to Mozilla, Eich’s ouster wasn’t so much about his views as much as it was about how those views could impede Mozilla’s mission. Your value demonstrations may not be quite as public or divisive, but you’re making them all the same. Since that’s the case, you might as well be intentional about it. How? Ask yourself if the actual values you’re demonstrating align with the ones you’d like. If they aren’t, what can you do to change that? It’s up to you to make your organization what you want it to be, and what better time to start than now?

Image from Flickr user wetwebwork.