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分析Valve是游戏开发者绝佳工作场所的原因

发布时间:2013-01-23 16:44:21 Tags:,,,

作者:Jeff Wofford

前几周出现了一些有关Valve Software是开发者的天堂的证据——不仅拥有丰富的资源与大量的人才,同时还给予了员工最大限度的自由与信任。

第一个证据是来自编程大师Michael Abrash的一篇文章,他称赞Valve是一个很棒的工作场所,并鼓励更多人加入其中。其次便是Valve内部的员工指南,列出了公司的管理原则,并以此更好地引导新员工。

这两个证据都表明了Valve是雇员们的“天堂”。这是一家没有管理者,且不存在等级制度或官僚主义的公司,没有人会命令员工该做什么。每个人都能决定自己想从事的工作。这种自由度不仅适用于每日的工作选择,同时也在团队和项目的选择与组建中发挥着作用。Valve的所有桌子都是带轮子的,以便让员工们可以根据自己的想法移向新的项目。Valve中的每项决策都不是由上层所制定并下放到各个阶层。相反的,Valve中的所有员工也是自己的管理者,他们将协同起来掌控公司。

valve_logo(from wasder)

valve_logo(from wasder)

Valve认为自己是一家“精英”公司,每一位员工都是人才。如果每个人都能胜任自己的工作并值得信任,那还需要管理者干嘛?对于外部那些非常重视游戏开发,并拥有足够技能去创造并发行游戏的开发者而言,这种程度的自由,协作与信任便是最大的吸引力。

员工指南暗示了Valve的年度收益高达数十亿美元。如此雄厚的资金足以让每位员工(游戏邦注:Valve现在的员工只有300多人)每年都能享受长达一周完全免费的度假奖励,如到较远的坎昆或夏威夷。员工们甚至还能携带家属。指南中一个突出部分便是,员工们可以尽情享受办公室里的任何奢华福利。“不管是新鲜的水果或斯坦普顿烤咖啡,还是干洗房或按摩室,这些都是公司所配备好的,你们可以放心地使用!”除此之外,Valve的职员报酬也明显高于行业标准。这种慷慨主要是源于该公司非正统的观念,即“如果你所获得的报酬低于自己所创造的价值,那么Valve永远都不可能获取成功。”

除了绝对的个人自由,出色的同事与高额报酬外,我们更不能忽视一些非常优秀的游戏与超级强大的技术支持。

如此看来Valve是家非常完美的公司。

但似乎所有的一切都好到让人难以置信了。

自从1995年(Valve出现之前)进入游戏开发领域以来,我便对任何“完美的”工作场所充满质疑。我便遇到过许多打着“完美”旗号的公司(如Ion Storm),但事实却并不是如他们描述的那样。所有的公司总是试图通过内部对话去“壮大”自己。例如管理者会不断提醒员工他们是最优秀的,他们之前所创造的作品都是最出色的,而他们未来将创造的作品也必然能够带来巨大利益。在某些方面看来这些赞扬是正面的;但通常这都是他们自己的虚构,是对于糟糕事实的掩盖。

而Valve员工手册中所阐述的到底是真实的,还是也只是场面话?

在仔细浏览了Valve员工手册以及Avrash的文章,并认真研究了字里行间的真实性后,我得出了一个非常惊人的结论。

从整体看来,Valve的确说的是实话。注意,我说的是从整体上来看。

他们所描述的形象并不是完全虚构的。不过我认为他们必然也隐藏了自己的黑点——也许他们自己也未发现这些黑点。但在极大程度上,我愿意接受Valve所传达的故事。不过我仍会怀疑Valve是否真的是一个值得广大雇员们选择的绝佳工作场所。

让我告诉你们,为何我会认为1)Valve也许真的如它所描述的那般出色,2)它也存在一些不可掩盖的缺点。

为何我一个“久经沙场”的愤世嫉俗者会相信Valve真的就像他们自己所描述的那样出色?

答案很简单。只要一看他们的作品便能感受到。

如果Valve只创造了《半条命》,这便算是他们最非凡的成就。但是紧接着该公司又创造了一些非常出色,且有利可图的作品。可以说他们一直在做出一些最明智的决策。他们买下了《军团要塞》的版权,并将其创造成为最出色的多人游戏。当然还有《反恐精英》。当他们在开发《半条命2》时,我骨子里的愤世因子认为这不可能成为排名第一的游戏。但结果是他们真的做到了。当他们在开发Steam平台时,也没人相信用户会愿意为一款拿不到手的游戏花钱,并将其借给好友或在eBay上出售。但他们最终也成功地做到了这一点。

当其它开发商或发行商仍在奋力拼搏或遭遇一次又一次的失败时,我只能说,Valve自有其聪明之处。如果Valve说他们的成功归功于扁平式组织结构,即“没有管理者!”“每个人都是领导!”,那我又有什么可争辩的呢?比起由2,3个老板去落实自己的想法,让一群经过精心挑选,且有想法的人进行公开交流而做出最后决定自然有效得多。James Surowiecki的著作《Wisdom of Crowds》便认可了这一理念。

根据Surowiecki,“开放式交流”非常重要,这能汇聚集体的创想。当一些有想法的人构思了一些理念,并在一个平等且开放的论坛上与别人分享,他们便能创造出更棒的想法。

许多公司因为未提供开放式交流,所以最终只能做出一些糟糕的决策。在我效力过的任何一家公司,雇员(作为一个集体)总是比高管们更了解公司策略。员工们总是知道公司所存在的优势与劣势,以及它该朝着哪个方向前进。如果管理人员能够听取员工的建议,而不是一意孤行,那么该公司肯定能够取得更好的结果。

举个例子来说吧。一家公司的管理层在面对危机时刻聘请了外部公司去收集所有员工的观点。员工们都提供了许多建设性的意见,如项目应该删减哪些内容,应该推动哪些项目,如何改变薪酬体系,以及如何完善团队关系并鼓舞员工士气等。但这些反馈与管理者的方向却并不相符,所以它们都被忽视了。也就是该公司只是一味地推动一个旗舰项目的发展,但却逐渐忽视了其它充满前景的项目。

所以他们的最终结果是怎样的?在经过几年的辛苦努力以及投入了上百万美元的资本,该公司最终发行了这一旗舰项目。后来,在偶然情况下,由雇员所支持的一个项目(之前被忽视的)获得了适当的预算,并配备的一支团队去进行开发。最终,他们在预算范围内准时完成了该项目,不仅吸引了广大用户的注意,同时还获得了上百万的销量。

如果这些聪明,好意且有想法的雇员们能够做决定,那么该公司便能够避免许多不必要的损失,并凭借一款热门游戏更快获得巨大收益。

所以我愿意相信“Valve方法”的效能——正是采用了这种方式,Valve才能做出一个又一个明智的决策,并获得巨大的利益。

valve-employee-handbook(from jonrogers)

valve-employee-handbook(from jonrogers)

而关于最后一个证据,让我们着眼于Valve的指南本身。这家公司拥有一本精心设计,认真编写,且能够带给员工帮助的指南。更重要的是,这是由员工根据自己的方向而主动创造出来的,他们相信这份指南对于公司的整体的发展至关重要。

我们被引导着去相信他们所说的。

难道我们还有什么不去相信的理由吗?通常情况下,这类型文件总是来自HR部门或一些VP,但在Valve却是由一群具有创造性的员工根据集体的想法进行创造。

所以从总体上来说,我相信Valve是一个值得我们去递简历的好公司。上述我所说的都是一些正面内容,那又存在哪些黑点呢?

那些被Valve辞退的员工最终何去何从呢?这看似是一个简单的问题,但却非常重要,而Valve的指南中却并未提及这一点。指南中有一章节的标题是“如果我搞砸了该怎么办?”,但它所传达的主要信息是员工不会因为犯了大胆的错误而被辞退。“我该怎么做?”的章节描述的是Valve的同行评审过程。每一年,Valve的员工们都会根据自己认为的价值标准为每位员工进行排名。在这份公开指南中并未包含这一过程的细节内容,但却明确了雇员的薪酬与综合排名是相挂钩。

那么解雇员工的规定是否也取决于综合排名?这一点指南中并未说明。所以问题依然存在。在缺少管理者的集体组织中,员工会因为什么原因而被辞退呢?

让我们猜看看。也许每一年,位于最底层10%员工会被解雇。而再往上15%的员工将被“予以警告”。如果员工连续三年出现在底层25%的名单中,他也会被解雇——即使他从未出现在底层10%的名单中。虽然这一切只是我的猜想,但该公司应该也有类似的规定吧?

如果事实真的如我想的这样,那真的太糟糕了。这与安然(游戏邦注:财富500强公司之一)所使用的方法相类似,因此出现了无数的政策,诽谤与骗局。

被集体员工辞退(而非上司)会有何种感受?你该抱怨谁?你该向谁申诉?你该争取谁的支持或同情?如果Valve是采取这种方法去解雇员工,那它就不能被当成是“天堂”。

如果Valve中的所有员工都非常真诚且优秀该怎么办?这时候公司是否还要每年开除底部10%的员工?也许他们应该每年进行调整。随后又应该由谁去决定解雇的百分比?假设是由Gabe决定,而他认为应该将百分比调整到5%,那是否就意味着是Gabe接触了这一比例的员工?

有可能10%的解雇比例太低了。也许Valve中有25%的员工整天都悠闲地玩着《魔兽争霸2》,享受着按摩与咖啡的优质待遇。也许解雇比例应该上升到25%或30%。

但是不管怎样,所有的这些都是我的猜测。也许Valve根本就未使用这种百分比。但这时我们不禁想问:他们到底是基于何种标准去解雇员工?

因为在任何健康发展的组织中都不免会出现解雇的情况。

公司有时候会雇佣一些糟糕的员工,有时候也会雇佣一些优秀的员工——但是这些优秀的员工也会发生改变,如动机改变,或沉迷于药物或游戏等,而因此变成了糟糕的员工。糟糕的员工将不利于公司整体的发展。他们将不可能有效完成自己的工作,最终害己害人。所以公司要想保持健康发展就需要抛弃这些员工。

或者从相反方向来看,糟糕的员工有时候也会经过完善而发展成为对公司有贡献的人才。他们有可能通过别人的帮助或自己学习,反省而改变之前的糟糕态度。谁都希望自己能够得到成长,特别是当他受到激励时。有时候公司的“解雇决定”也是一种“挽救决定”,也许这能帮助被解雇的员工重新认识自己并去争取其它的成功。

而Valve又是如何做出这些决定?就连他们的内部文件也未提及这一点。

也许Valve并未解雇任何人,或者很少这么做,所以他们并未明确相关政策。而Valve的指南中所强调的谨慎招聘也暗示着他们很少会出现解雇员工的情况。

也许从某种意义上来看这点非常棒,但是我敢保证这也不足以说明Valve就是“天堂”。我曾在一些团队中遇到许多“朽木”般的同事,并且对于任何人来说,在这种情境下生活并不是件易事。

所以这里就存在一个黑点。我担心Valve将自己定义为一家“精英”公司,从而导致他们很难做出真正有效的解雇决定,并最终让那些好吃懒做的“朽木”继续留在公司中。

关于Valve的指南还存在一个可疑的内容。Valve将自己描绘成一家开放,自由的公司,雇员们可以在此尽情地讨论任何内容。但是指南本身就非常保密,不仅未提及公司任何未来项目,甚至也未列出公司的时间轴。关于员工的排名内容也被隐藏起来了。既然该公司如此开放,为何他们的指南会这般拘谨?

我想问题是源自Valve的指南而不是他们的内部文化。他们创造这一指南的目的便是让所有人去阅读。不管是公共人士还是雇员,潜在的求职者还是新员工都能够阅读这份指南。

如果Valve中的所有人都是领导,都能参与组织中每个环节的决策制定,那为何他们不愿更频繁地与外界交流。我们很少能够看到Valve的员工参与任何访谈,也很少看到他们能像Michael Abrash那样通过博客去分享自己的生活。对于一个如此开放的公司,他们必然需要与外部世界保持紧密的联系。这便让我好奇,他们的内部对话是否如描述中的那样开放,不受控制。

我曾经读过一篇文章,它描述道公司员工所开的玩笑最能体现这家公司的环境。好像真的是这样。Valve指南便是以一组玩笑做结尾。从中我们可以看到怎样的Valve生活?

“Gabe Newell——这家公司的所有人都不是你的老板,Gabe虽然最大但却并非你们的老板,如果你能理解我们在说什么的话。”

我想我能理解你们在说什么。你们在说Gabe的确就是老板,他掌管着公司的财务,但是他却不会行使自己的权利,因为他遵守着指南中所规定的集体自制和决策制定。所以千万不要把Gabe当成老板。但是所有人都知道他拥有权利。毕竟只有Gabe能在简短面试后当场决定Portal团队的人员。尽管在Valve中每个人都是平等的,但却并非每个人都能立马雇佣一整个团队的人员。另外一点区别是:员工挣得的是薪水,但Gabe却拥有Valve所有资产的银行帐号。所以Gabe就是你们的老板,但是所有员工都假装他不是,因为这是老板想要的效果。

“管理者——我们并未拥有这样的人。如果你看到这样的人,请告诉我们,因为这有可能是这栋建筑物里的幽灵。”

Valve的确需要管理者。更确切的说是,就像在文件中所说的,有些人有时候会暂时扮演领导者的角色。

我的观点是,也许Valve真的是员工们的绝佳工作选择。但是毕竟没有一个地方是完美的,每个工作场所都会有自己的缺陷。而Valve似乎是在尝试一种截然不同的方法,并且好像也取得了不错的效果。

游戏邦注:原文发表于2012年5月2日,所涉事件和数据均以当时为准。

本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,拒绝任何不保留版权的转载,如需转载请联系:游戏邦

Is Valve Too Good to be True?

by Jeff Wofford

Remarkable evidence leaked from Valve Software over the last few weeks, portraying the company as a game developer’s paradise—awash in wealth, brimming with talent, and providing employees with remarkable trust and freedom.

First came an article by programming guru Michael Abrash praising Valve as a workplace and urging others to apply. Then came a copy of the internal Valve Employee Handbook, apparently intended to orient new employees, which outlines the company’s organizational philosophy.

Both pieces describe Valve as an employee’s wonderland. It is a company without managers, without hierarchy or bureaucracy, where no one tells anyone else what to do. Each person decides individually what he or she wants to work on. This freedom doesn’t just apply to choosing day to day tasks, but even in selecting and forming teams and projects. The desks at Valve are all on wheels, enabling workers to move to new projects as they see fit. Valve’s decisions aren’t made at the top and pushed down to underlings. Rather, the people of Valve themselves are there own managers, and they steer the company as a collective.

Valve views itself as a company of experts, “seniors” [Handbook, 38], where every employee is the best of the best. When everyone is competent and generally trustworthy, who needs managers? For game developers outside of Valve who care deeply about games, have strong opinions about how they should be made, and some skill in actually making and shipping them, this level of freedom, camaraderie, and trust holds strong appeal.

The Handbook hints that Valve has an annual revenue in the billions of dollars [Handbook, 42]. This remarkable wealth (Valve currently employs only about 300 people) enables them to take an annual, week-long, all-expenses paid holiday to faraway locations like Cancun and Hawaii. Employees’ are welcome to bring their families along. A remarkable section of the handbook encourages new employees not to fret about the extravagance of the office luxuries. “If you find yourself walking down the hall one morning with a bowl of fresh fruit and Stumptown-roasted espresso, dropping off your laundry to be washed, and heading into one of the massage rooms, don’t freak out. All these things are here for you to actually use. And don’t worry that somebody’s going to judge you for taking advantage of it—relax!” [Handbook, 19]. Employee compensation is, naturally, higher than industry norms. This generosity is fueled by the company’s unorthodox belief that “Valve does not win if you’re paid less than the value you create” [Handbook, 27–29].

Overall we get the impression of complete individual freedom, brilliant coworkers, and high pay—not to mention the chance to work on some of the greatest games and most important technologies in the world.

Valve sounds like the perfect company.

So we ask the obvious question. Is it all too good to be true?

Having worked in game development since 1995—the year before Valve was formed—I tend to be cynical about claims to workplace greatness. I’ve seen many an “ideal” company—Ion Storm springs to mind—turn out not to be as wonderful as they believed themselves to be. All companies tend to puff themselves up in their own internal dialogue. Managers remind employees that they’re all the best of the best, their past products were unquestionably awesome and their future is a never-ending path of gold. In some respects the praise may be true and well-earned; at other times, it is fantasy or—worse—a cover-up.

Is the glitter that shimmers over Valve’s handbook true gold, or the same old fairy dust?

As I read through the Handbook and Abrash’s column, I searched carefully between the lines for the reality behind the hype. And I came to a surprising conclusion—surprising to me, anyway.

On the whole, Valve is probably telling the truth. On the whole, mind you.

I don’t think their self-image is pure fantasy. I suspect there are dark spots they are not telling us about—perhaps that they’re not even aware of. But for the most part, yes, I buy Valve’s story. I suspect it really is a pretty awesome place to work.

Let me show you my reasons for thinking that 1) Valve probably is really pretty awesome and 2) there are probably some serious dark spots.

Why am I, the battle-worn cynic, willing to believe that Valve is as awesome as—or nearly as awesome as—they portray themselves to be?

The first part of my answer is easy. Just look at the products.

If Valve had only made Half-Life it would have been a remarkable achievement. But the games that have followed have been equally stunning, ground-breaking, and—most importantly—lucrative. They have made smart decision after smart decision. They bought the rights to Team Fortress and made it—albeit with much chicanery and long delays—into one of the great multiplayer franchises. Counter-Strike—need I say more? When Half-Life 2 was in development, the cynic in me said they could never top the first one. They did. When Steam was in development, no one but Valve believed that customers would be willing to pay for a game they could not hold in their hands, lend to their friends, or sell on eBay. They were.

Now something is enabling Valve to be smart when many other game developers and publishers continue to struggle and fall. If Valve says that it’s their flat organizational structure—”No managers!” “Everyone’s a leader!”—who am I to argue? It makes sense that a group of carefully chosen, intelligent, engaged, openly communicating, motivated people would tend to reach smart decisions—smarter, anyway, than a company where one or two or three bosses push through what they believe in. James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of Crowds lends some credence to this idea.

According to Surowiecki, the “openly communicating” part is crucial. It’s the part that enables a crowd to act with collective intelligence. When thoughtful people form their own opinions, then share their opinions in an egalitarian, open forum, they produce great ideas far beyond what any one of them could come up with on their own.

Most companies do not offer open communication, and the resulting decisions are often dumb—even tragic. In every company I’ve ever worked for, the employees in general—as a collective—knew better what the company strategy should be than the high-level managers themselves did. The employees knew what was wrong with the company, what was right with it, and in which direction it should go. If management had followed the advice of their workers, the company would generally have done better than it did by following the managers’ strategy.

Let me give you an example. I’ll have to be a bit vague about the details—you understand.

At one company, the management hired an outside firm—at a moment of crisis—to administer an anonymous survey to all employees. The employees came through beautifully, offering thoughtful and constructive suggestions about what projects to cut, what projects to advance, how to fix the compensation system, how to improve relationships and morale. But the feedback didn’t fit with management’s direction, and so all but a token few suggestions were ignored. The company’s flagship project—a deeply troubled effort—thrust ahead, while other, more promising projects languished.

So what happened in the end? Well, the flagship project eventually launched, after many years of painful delay. This vast effort by hard-working employees was met with a collective “meh…?” from critics and customers, and the company took a multi-million dollar hit. Later, one of the backburnered projects that employees had favored was given a proper budget and team and allowed to push forward. It—as the company at large had predicted—shipped on time, under budget, and was a remarkable, unexpected hit that sold millions upon millions of copies.

If these smart, well-intentioned, thoughtful employees had had their way, the company would have spared itself an embarrassing and expensive loss, and would have gained more quickly the wealth and kudos of a hit game.

So I, for one, am willing to believe that “The Valve Way” could really work—that it is working for Valve, enabling them to make some of the smartest decisions and biggest profits in the industry.

As one final piece of evidence, take a look at the Valve Handbook itself. Name one company that has a more cleverly-packaged, well-designed, well-written, illustrated, helpful employee handbook. And yet this production was created by employees working on their own initiative, under their own direction, simply because they believed it was important for the company’s overall health.

Or so we are led to believe.

But why shouldn’t we believe it? What is more likely, that a document like this emerged from an HR department, “tasked” by some VP, or from a group of motivated, creative people following their own collective gut?

So I believe that Valve, on the whole, is a great place to work. That’s the good news. What—and where—is the bad news?

You can find the bad news in the same place: between the lines of the Valve Employee Handbook.

How does anyone ever get fired from Valve? It’s a simple question, an obvious and important one, but the Handbook never addresses it. One section is titled “What if I screw up?”, but its primary message is that you won’t get fired for making bold mistakes. The chapter “How Am I Doing?” describes Valve’s peer review process. Once a year, Valve employees rank each other according to who they think is most valuable. The details of this process is absent from this “accidentally leaked” public document, but it’s clear that employee compensation is tied to overall rank. Makes sense.

Is firing also tied to overall rank? The Handbook doesn’t say. So the question remains. In a collective organization without managers, how do people get fired?

Let’s speculate. Perhaps each year, the bottom 10% of employees are fired outright. The next 15% up from those are put “on notice”. Anyone appearing in the bottom 25% three years in a row is fired outright, even if they were never in the bottom 10%. I don’t know—I’m just making this up. But it has to be something like this, right?

If it is, it sounds pretty dark. It’s similar to the approach used by glorious Enron, where it produced endless politics, backbiting, and skullduggery.

How would it feel to be fired not by a person but by a collective? Who would you complain to? Who would you appeal to, to explain yourself to? Who would you go to for support and sympathy? If Valve were to fire employees like this, it would be no paradise for many.

And what if everyone at Valve is sincerely and truly good. Do you still chop off the bottom 10% of your organization every year? Maybe you adjust it each year. Then who decides what that percentage should be? If Gabe decides, and decides to reduce it to 5%, isn’t that basically Gabe firing a certain set of people?

Then again, maybe 10% is too low. Maybe 25% of Valve employees are sitting back playing DOTA 2 all day while receiving hot stone massages and sipping high-end espresso. Maybe the chop bar should be 25% or 30%.

Okay, but all of this is speculation. Maybe Valve doesn’t use percentages at all. But then, I ask again: how do people get fired?

Because, you see, as nasty a business as firing is, it really is a fact of life in any healthy organization.

Companies sometimes hire poor employees. Sometimes good employees undergo personal changes—changes in motivation, changes in chemical dependency, nonstop World of Warcraft addiction (I’ve seen it all)—and become poor employees. Poor employees weaken the whole company. It doesn’t do anyone any good to allow a poor performer to languish in a job where they’re failing, hurting themselves and others. A healthy company has to let people go sometimes.

Or to look at it from the opposite direction, poor employees often improve, growing into strong contributors. They get help, they study up, they kick themselves in the pants, they change their attitude—who knows how it happens? People tend to grow, especially when motivated. Sometimes a “firing decision” is really a “saving decision”—the decision to give someone who’s struggling another chance to succeed.

How does Valve make these decisions? Even their internal documents ain’t telling.

Maybe Valve simply doesn’t fire anyone, or does so so rarely that they have no real process or policy. The emphasis on careful hiring that appears throughout the Handbook suggests that firing is difficult—perhaps unheard of.

Well that would be nice in one way, but I can promise you it would be no paradise. I’ve been on teams with plenty of deadwood—not naming names, don’t worry—and life is no picnic for anyone in those situations.

So there’s one dark spot. I worry that Valve’s self-image as a company of “seniors”, coupled with the need to make awkward, decisive, sharp decisions about firing leads to a company where firing is either coldly calculated and ultimately political, or else simply doesn’t happen, leading to a soft underbelly of lazy, incompetent deadwood.

Here’s another suspicious thing about the Handbook. Valve portrays itself as an open, freely communicating company, where employees are welcome to discuss anything with others. And yet the Handbook itself is remarkably tight-lipped. There is no mention of future projects—not even on the “company timeline” [p. 19]. The juicy details about employee rankings are hidden away. If the company is so open, why is the Handbook so formal, so careful, and controlled?

I suspect the answer to this question has more to do with Valve’s intention for the Handbook than its own internal culture. Come on: this Handbook was made to be leaked. It was intended for public viewing as much as for employees, for potential hires as much as for new ones.

Still, if everyone at Valve is a leader, involved in decisions at every level of the organization, it’s remarkable that they don’t leak more often. You don’t see Valve employees getting out and giving interviews much. You don’t see them blogging like Michael Abrash did about life within the company. His was the exception that proves the rule. For such an open company, they are remarkably closed to outsiders. And that makes me wonder if their internal dialogue is really as loose and uncontrolled as they portray. It just piques my skepticism a little.

I read an article one time—I don’t remember where—that said that the jokes that people tell within a company are the best hint to the truth about the company. I have found this to be true. The Valve Handbook ends with a set of jokes. What do they tell us about life at Valve?

“Gabe Newell—Of all the people at this company who aren’t your boss, Gabe is the MOST not your boss, if you get what we’re saying.”

I think we get what you’re saying. You’re saying that Gabe really is the boss—he’s the one holding the purse strings—but he’s careful not to impose his authority because he believes in the collective autonomy and decision making advocated throughout the Handbook. Don’t burst Gabe’s bubble by treating him like the boss. But everyone knows he’s got the authority. After all, it was Gabe who had the power and right to hire the whole Portal team on the spot after a brief interview. Everybody’s equal at Valve, but not everybody can hire whole teams on the spot. Another difference: you earn a salary, but Gabe owns the bank account into which Valve’s coffers flow. So Gabe’s your boss, but we all pretend he isn’t, because that’s what the boss wants. We leave it to you to work out the tension.

“Manager—The kind of people we don’t have any of. So if you see one, tell somebody, because it’s probably the ghost of whoever was in this building before us…”

The message: Valve does indeed have managers. Or rather, as revealed elsewhere in the document (pp. 16, 32), people sometimes step up—temporarily—to take on a lead role. The cynic in me wonders just how “temporary” these managerial roles tend to be. But I’m willing to suspend my skepticism and give the benefit of the doubt until new evidence arrives.

So I’m optimistic about Valve as an employer. Since I teach superb game development students who seek jobs at graduation, I’m interested to see whether they are drawn to Valve and what they report when they get there.

My own take is that Valve probably really is a pretty darned cool place to work. No place is perfect—people are people, after all, and every workplace has its disappointments, its tedium, its betrayals and mistakes. But Valve sounds like they’re trying a different approach, an exciting one, and one that seems to be working out well. For once, I’m not (quite) cynical.(source:jeffwofford


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