I’ve been doing a lot of interviews and talking to people about potential next roles over the last 2 weeks. The question inevitably comes up: “What are you looking for?”
The more I think about it and the more I have to answer the question, the more I’m realizing that it’s not so much about the particular company or the particular product (though the product itself is still a major factor). What’s most important to me in my next role is more about how we work on it.
Over the last 6+ years that I’ve been doing product work, I’ve worked on teams of all shapes and sizes. I’ve worked at places with deeply embedded and amazing cultures and at places that have struggled to even find a culture. Culture, though, extends beyond whether you have a ping pong table and free lunch or tech talks and unlimited vacation policies. The culture I find most important is the introspective culture. The one that embraces the idea that the process of working is just as important as the product of that work.
This idea is often most visible in engineering teams who have the ability to quickly iterate on the tools they use or to build the tools to suit their needs. But this needs to extend beyond just the tech org and incorporate everyone involved in the product development process and beyond. As fast-moving companies (or to become faster-moving companies), we need to be as conscious of the work habits we’ve fallen into as we are of the friction points in our user-facing products. We need to constantly evaluate how we approach solving problems and communicating with each other and empower every single person in the company to do something to address it. Settling for the status quo doesn’t scale. It’s frustrating for everyone involved to try to use processes that worked for a company of 10 people but aren’t really working at 100.
And changing process / the status quo in companies that aren’t introspective is ridiculously hard.
One other important factor in this equation is where the introspection comes from. Processes need to be built around people, not vice versa. They should grow organically within the teams that use them. A system that works spectacularly in one company may do miserably in another. For this to happen, everyone in the company should feel empowered to try to address any friction points they’re experiencing rather than waiting for some mandate from above. The best people to try solve a quirk in a process are the people who use that process most often.
Then there are the norms that have fallen into place just because that’s how it’s always been done: face-time/in-office expectations, etc. But that’s a whole other topic itself.
None of this is to say that I’m a huge fan of massive codified processes or even the concept of “process” as it might be defined in a big corporation where you have to go through 8 levels of approval before you change a button color. I am a fan of making the flow of work as easy as possible. Ultimately, a company that makes a habit of looking inward and improving itself will be better-equipped to produce better products for its users because the friction along the way will be minimized. And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all in it for: building awesome stuff that our users love.
So when I’m asked what I want in my next role? It’s a great user-focused product, a user-focused product culture, and a company that approaches how it works in the same way it approaches its products: iterate, test, adjust, evaluate, repeat.
But I also wouldn’t mind the ping pong, free lunch, unlimited vacation policies, and tech talks. ;)