The Netdata Culture and People
Culture Mar 23, 2020
There are many things I absolutely love about Netdata, but I’m most proud of our people and culture. Some words about this unique experience are long overdue.
In a career that spans over two decades and six other companies of various sizes, nothing compares to the satisfaction of working in a company like ours. My answer to the canned interview question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years”, was always the same: I don’t care; I just want to be solving problems and working with good people, real professionals, who I can trust and respect. In retrospect, I was missing another huge part of the equation, which is to mention the kind of company I wanted to work for. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a cliche. More importantly, bad culture devours people’s souls; it sucks out any creative energy one may have, reducing engagement and, therefore, productivity. Short-term wins at the expense of company culture guarantee huge losses in the long run.
But let’s get back to the people. The reason I emphasized co-workers so much in my answer to the interview question wasn’t because I had read any books or research on the effects of quality personnel. I know the people around you are important because I was always more productive and happier in the workplace when I just “clicked” with my co-workers, direct reports and managers. My fondest workplace memories involve working in good, small teams, solving really hard, urgent problems in an efficient way. No fluff, no conflict; just a problem, cooperation and results. I realized soon enough that the only way to get into such a groove is to be working with smart professionals.
The most surprising thing I’ve ever heard coming out of a manager’s mouth is that “If you have someone irreplaceable on your team, you should fire that person immediately”. Another was the strategy to “build a development factory” that would keep producing results, regardless of who was replaced when or by whom. Who cares about skills, right? Just recounting these ideas angers me. The people who try to apply paradigms from factories to knowledge workers have probably never written a single line of code in their lives. They never had to challenge others or negotiate requirements in order to deliver a feature, balance technical debt and deadlines, or troubleshoot production issues in complex infrastructures. Or maybe they did have to do the work at some point in their lives, but it was so long ago that they forgot how difficult it is to find people who can juggle all those balls effectively and efficiently. The inevitable result of such ideas is bloated, late, expensive and often buggy software that users tolerate instead of falling in love with. Read about Netflix if you don’t understand how dangerous these ideas are. Or just look at what a single person, Costa Tsaousis, the founder of Netdata, did all by himself. At some point, I told Costa that if he could find me three people exactly like him, I wouldn’t need to hire anyone else to achieve our goals. I stand by that statement.
Of course attracting the best of the best is a difficult task. We know we’re not well-known enough, or with deep enough pockets, to attract industry luminaries. But we punch above our weight, and our fully distributed model allows us to build a really good team of seasoned professionals with deep, working knowledge in their domains. Even more importantly, we turned down applications from several “ninja prima donnas”–– toxic people who are better left alone to work by themselves. So we already have strong, bonded, dedicated teams of highly qualified individuals, despite the fact that most of them joined the company fairly recently. When the critical mass in any team shares some key, common values and experiences, as our people do, a person who can’t keep up with the others is in danger of becoming an outcast. The only way that a member can correct course and properly integrate into the team is to embrace the Netdata culture that drives our daily interactions.
Our culture…I got sick of hearing about the “X Values” of company Y. Catchy, short phrases that someone came up with one day, plastered them on walls and tried to force down people’s throats, usually with laughable results. Yes, we have such a list as well, though no one has ever quoted them exactly. Each “value” if you need to call it that is just a category title for a list of many specific DOs and DON’Ts that we refined in multiple iterations. It’s a live list that anyone can propose a change to, just as they can for anything in the company, from processes and tools, to new roles or people that we feel we need. It’s these DOs and DON’Ts that we refer to when we’re in doubt about how to handle something. Almost every retrospective we’ve had reinforces the strength of these statements. The list is rather long, so you can see below just some highlights from the DOs. You will see that most of them are practical pieces of advice, useful in our day-to-day work.
These statements come from our collective experiences of what works best to guarantee long-term engagement and productivity in a highly demanding but positive environment. Most of them feel natural to most of the people we’ve collected here.
Putting users first
- Prioritize what provides value to the user.
- Measure the impact of your work by the benefits to the users.
- In your interactions with users, reach out, understand them, put yourself in their shoes, connect with them.
Teamwork, honesty, transparency
- Prioritize unblocking others over completing your own planned tasks.
- Offer help wherever and whenever help may be needed. Look outside your box.
- Share information, feelings and concerns. Communicate and own your mistakes.
- Treat feedback from others as a helping hand. Assume positive intent.
- Respect others. Demonstrate empathy.
Self-motivation, passion, drive for excellence
- Take the initiative to improve things in your area.
- Take pride in your work, every single day.
- Do everything in your power to honor your commitments.
- Don’t negotiate on quality.
- Limit work in progress. Focus on completion.
- Do everything in your power to overcome difficulties.
- Communicate risks immediately.
- Protect yourself from scope creep.
- Keep following up on other people’s tasks that block your progress.
- Be on time for calls. Check your calendar several times a day.
- Create your own daily routine and stick to it.