I have worked at 4 companies. Each of the companies were a lot of fun, and have given me a lot of learning. I’m at my 4th company, which is helping companies hire great developers. For anyone who is familiar with the hiring process, the technical part is just one part of the process. A lot of companies these days stress on the fabled culture fit. It is heartening.
The reason I say that is that I have seen companies grow and fall, based on a set of complete intangibles. I have 3 stories, which in essence have formed the meaning of culture for me. This could be completely off from what you believe. These are just observations -
My first workplace was culturally very different to where I came from. It was a company in a tier 3 city in India, and the majority of the population came from nearing cities, which were known to be conservative. I was very pessimistic about being accepted into such a work place, given my outward and city upbringing.
But strangely, I gelled in pretty well. Mind you, I worked very differently to what they did, and right from the way I dressed and spoke, I was very, very different. And yet, I fitted seamlessly into the system and in a month or so, that company, and it's people were home. I had a very successful stint and at the end of one year, I had added a lot of value to the company, as the company did to me.
This was my first lesson in culture - Culture is not a set of rules and regulations. Think of it as a level of acceptance. While the company and it's people were very different, it took me in, and by the time I left, a part of me was it's culture too. The culture of the company, was just the characteristics and habits of the people who made that company successful.
The second company I worked for was a complete failure from a professional standpoint. I didn't do anything that I could put on my resume and all the good work done in the first job was undone by the second. In this context, the third job came to me as a blessing. It was a writing job, and I love writing. I took it up.
Now, this company was much smaller than the first one. We were about 7 employees. In the year and a half that I spent there, we grew from 7 to about 30 at one point. As with any scaling startup, there was a lot of hiring and firing in the early stages, and the ones who stayed were ones who were similar to the early 2 or 3 employees. They were extremely hard workers and always put the company first.
My second lesson in culture was this - culture of a company can be set by a few influential people too. By making sure similar people joined and stayed at the company, a kind of homogeneous culture was set. Mind you, some of the people who were fired were very talented people, but were not similar to the influencers. In retrospect, those people could have really helped the company grow. Could a smaller company not afford a degree of acceptance? I don't know. But it worked. We had a singular focus and we did awesome things. Good culture, right?
After another decent stint at my previous company, I wanted to do more, and wanted to work with an early stage company. HackerEarth was one of the many companies I applied for, and I'm glad I made it through to where I am today. The answer to the burning question on small companies and acceptance was answered here.
Everyone at HackerEarth is good at what they do. They've know their trade very well and have a rough idea of what needs to be done to take the company to the next level. But our similarities end there. The 6 of us and the interns, are very, very different. We have extremely different backgrounds. Even tastes of music are extremely different. We often have fights over these differences, but at the end of the day, we're friends. Very often, we hang out with each other, after having spend a full day at work with them.
And that's my third lesson in culture - friendship ensures great culture. Yes, we were all hired for skill, but probably an equally high priority must be given to how well you can get along with that person. This is not acceptance - we're open about our likes and dislikes and there are constant disagreements. But we cherish each other's company and at the end of the day, we're good friends. It's already been 4 months since I joined HackerEarth and I have no idea where all that time has gone. Could it be the effect of a great culture? Well, here's what Zappo's CEO Tony Hsieh says -
What are your experiences with culture?