I’ve been meaning to write about my new job for a while: in fact, almost a year.
Fifty-three weeks ago today, I got permission to work in the US. The following Monday, my Social Security Number arrived in the mail, and I started work at Eucalyptus Systems. A year ago today, I flew down to Santa Barbara to get oriented, meet (some of!) my team, and start in on what’s been an absolutely fantastic adventure.
Eucalyptus’s official tagline is “open source software for building AWS-compatible private and hybrid clouds”. I describe it to my techy friends as “open source, Amazon-compatible, private/hybrid cloud solution, fully buzzword compliant”. I describe it to my non-techy friends as “the dullest technology I’ve ever worked on, with the best people”. If you’re not working in infrastructure or operations, it might not be obvious, so I follow that up by explaining that in this case, dull is a Really Good Thing. If you’re working on consumer products, sure, “exciting” is great. My ops friends, on the other hand, would rarely choose to work on “exciting”, given the option!
My introduction to Eucalyptus was through Anne Gentle, who I worked with at the Doc Sprint Summit, so I started out favourably inclined. I talked with Scot Marvin, who was already working there as a writer (you’re a startup? Looking for a second writer? How fast are you growing!?), and it sounded good.
Before I went to interview in person though, I looked at their Team page. I freaked out. This was not going to work out. Scot recently described what I’d been wearing when I first met him as a shibboleth. I had to ask him what I’d had on, and we agreed that unintentional as it was, it really was: a test of whether these were my people. And looking at the team page, I was pretty sure that they weren’t.
My flights were bought, though, and I was mostly killing time waiting for US immigration, so I went down. I met almost the whole office that day, and was reasonably impressed. They made me an offer before I even had work authorization, and after negotiating on the details (and getting my work authorization!), I accepted.
It definitely wasn’t love at first sight. There were problems, there were stumbling blocks. But for the first time in my professional life, none of them had anything to do with my gender. None of them even had anything to do with the fact that I was writing documentation rather than code. And all of them were handled. They were handled in a timely manner, they were handled well, they were handled with care, and respect, and a view to a resolution that worked for everyone.
I work with truly excellent people. We hire the very best people, even if it means going without or finding a backup or substitute for a while. We’re able to do so in part because we’re not just open to remote workers: we’re set up, and we work hard, to do distributed teams and do them well. It’s not always easy: working with people who mostly appear as words on a screen just isn’t. It’s not necessarily cheap: if we need to meet up in person, we’re encouraged to do so. It’s probably not the most efficient: I know I spend time trying to figure out who to ask, or writing up a question, that would just have been a matter of shouting out in a busy open-plan space at previous jobs. But it’s really, really worth it. Every single person I work with, I would choose again given the chance. I’m one of the few who hasn’t worked with any of my Eucalyptus colleagues previously, and when I first started, that seemed a little odd. Now I understand why: these are really great people, and I’d follow them to the ends of the earth.
I work with people who have passions, and responsibilities, outside of their jobs. Some are parents, certainly, but those whose outside activities are not family-oriented are equally respected. We recognise, and appreciate, that these things are important. Much of our recent All Hands meeting was made up of lightning talks from people across the company, on everything from children (and story books!) to provision management systems, from the Honor Flight Network to storage area networks. And many of the best-received, the ones we were talking about for days and weeks afterwards, were not the technical talks.
I work with people who care. And in caring about each other, and the people around us, we create better software. We work reasonable hours, take time off when we’re sick, switch off on vacation. We’re expected to do these things, we’re encouraged to do these things, and we’re supported by our colleagues when we do these things. And in return, we bring our very best to work.
These qualities don’t come from the top down, or the bottom up. I think they come from the inside out. Our software came out of a research group, was built by people who believe in these things, and that has been written into our DNA as a project, a community, and a company. Our CEO talks eloquently about managing a distributed organisation, and how important it is to manage through vision and culture. Simon Sinek talks about the Golden Circle. And at Eucalyptus, we live in that. We believe challenging the state of the art, we believe that we can do better, and we care enough to try.
My CV has a lot of recognisable names on it. I’ve worked at Microsoft and Google, at MIT’s Media Lab Europe and Trinity College Dublin. But I can say, hands down, Eucalyptus is the best place I’ve ever worked.