I recently joined Box. I worked nearly 9 years at Guidewire, more than 3 times longer than I’d stayed anywhere else in my software career, and only the 2nd company that I was at that I wanted to recruit friends into (Sapient was the other one, if you’re curious). It is obvious to me that I’m still in the honeymoon phase here at Box. You can hear it in how I gush when my friends ask me if I’m enjoying my new job. “Oh Yeah!” I heard myself say at a potluck last week at our house. “Box is great. I love it there!” But I do try to temper my response a little. I don’t want to appear crazy in THAT way. I also have the discipline to force myself to be objective, and look at it a little over the weeks to figure out what it is that is really making me so psyched. Here are a couple quick analysis areas:
What I value that is not uniquely Box:
- Open environment: Box has an open environment… no cubes, no office for the CEO. I wouldn’t have come here if it didn’t. It’s that important. Open work environments foster teams to communicate. Personally, it helps me overhear random things that are going on that I want to learn more about. Yes. I like to stick my nose into other teams business when I know it is going to affect my team. At Oracle, I was looked at like I was possessed when I took my swiss army knife to the cubicles, and pulled enough dividers out that my team could all chat with each other without leaving our desks. I did the same on many a consulting assignment with KPMG, and then with Guidewire. I’ve been a bit of a bull in a china closet, ruffled a few feathers by rearranging furniture when that was “Union work.” But I refuse to back down on it. I know that software teams operate better if everyone can see and hear each other.
- Lots of smart people: Another non-negotiable in my book. Box has it in spades, but not just in the engineering team. Marketing, UX, and Publicity smarts are very high at Box. There’s a healthy bar to clear for new hires: we only hire people that wow someone.
- No dead weight: I can’t over-state how important it is to have people that do stuff at all levels in the organization. No manager is simply a manager, they’re also a contributor, writing code, or creating wireframe mockups, or writing copy. When people don’t promote away from doing actual work, you avoid having managers that are out of touch with what the real work is. You also don’t spend a lot of your time explaining a good idea because people get it when they hear it.
What Box does great that is different:
- Box is fast. We push a significant release to production every week, and minor bug fixes practically every day, so there’s a massive amount of discipline around automated QA, and around making sure things keep moving. For big features, this means making sure the code is checked in by the previous week’s deadline, so that it can go through several rounds of testing before the rollout. Any bugs found have to be fixed by another deadline, or they get backed out of the release.
- Box uses good tools – git, Gerrit, Jenkins: Frictionless branching for every bug fix is possible thanks to git. A required code review on every single checkin is done courtesy of the army of developers self-policing and using Gerrit to manage the reviews. Git’s branching (and the team’s intense discipline) also makes it possible to back out individual bug fixes, since each one is on a separate branch that’s been merged into the base.
- Box celebrates. A lot. When the sales team closes a big deal, a gong rings, everyone in the office hears it. You stop for a second and clap, and you know the company is pulling in serious money. Why do that to the guys writing code? Because the code is what is making it possible for the sales team to sell. When recruiting hires a new engineer, they ring a cowbell, and everyone cheers, because we all know how many interviews it takes to find someone special enough that they should be writing code at Box.
- Great food. Snacks include fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, and nuts, and they never run out. Sure they have chips and sugar like most places, but junk isn’t the only option, and the drink selection includes good stuff, like V8, Vitamin Water, fresh juice, and every kind of milk. No need to run out to Starbucks to get a good cup of coffee at Box. I’ve met more cross-org folks by toasting a bagel in the morning and introducing myself as the new guy on the Platform team.
- Subsidized gym membership. I value exercise and fitness. Like attracts like, so we have a lot of fit people. It’s healthier. There are some crazy fancy bikes leaning against the walls in the office. There are rugby balls on people’s desks. Sports are a part of social conversations.
- Caltrain pass. Encouraging more people to walk or ride their bike to Caltrain, which also encourages fitness. A side benefit of this is that I meet co-workers from other teams on the train, and have good conversations, learn what’s going on in other departments, and get to know other people at Box better. Another side benefit: I avoid being parked on 101 trying to commute to work in a car.
- Box is enthusiastic about Scrum. My boss and I introduced Agile at Box 5 weeks ago. Yes, It only started after I got here. But more than half of development was so excited about it, they decided that they wanted to try Scrum. Right. Then. Most teams starting turning things into Stories right away, and then breaking stories down to 3 point or less tasks. See my post about what Guidewire does right about Agile to understand my thinking about Scrum and Agile. I’m sure it will continue to evolve as I learn more. Finer grain tasks means you track things at a more granular level, and know sooner when things are blocked. It is working quite well for the 4 or so teams that are adopting it. Very hard to say what all the impacts will be, since the process is young here. But it is already making people understand more and learn more. I’ll blog more about it in coming weeks.
- Box has energy and enthusiasm: Sure, there is plenty of caffeine in the kitchen. But there is more energy per person at Box than I’ve seen elsewhere. Some of it comes from Aaron’s infectious energy. He is loud and cheerful, and puts a smile on your face with his positive energy. But there’s also a lot of energy flowing between teams. Development and Operations sit close together. Sales is banging on the gong. Recruiting is hitting cowbells. Site metrics show on the wall. There is a lot going on, and that excitement fills the air, and makes everyone want to crank and deliver.
- Aaron gets tech: Box’s CEO was a developer originally. Sure, he’s handed in his checkin privs (I think), but he gets technology better than most CEOs, and he understands the massive value of a platform. Unlike most companies, technology isn’t relegated to the basement, or the back of the office. We aren’t excluded from strategic decisions. Technology is a cruicial pillar of the company strategy.
- Marketing rocks: It seems like every other week there is some knock-your-socks off news, and Box has clearly gotten into the mind of the tech media. It is impressive to see how well the marketing team cranks on programs and really helps get the enthusiasm and high-energy of the company out there into the media. Do we have relationships with every big tech rag? I don’t know. They all seem to cover Box though, and from my experience, that comes from spending time educating the analysts, the tech bloggers, the journalists. I confess I don’t understand that side of the world as well as I’d like. I’m a nerd, though I’m working with more marketing people at Box than I have before, and it is great.
So, I’m having a blast at Box. Yes, I am only 6 weeks into my employment here. I’m sure there are (more) things I will spot that I think need improvement. We’re already hard at work on several of them. I’ll save some of them for later blog posts. They are great challenges, and nothing that we can’t solve. Until then, I’m learning a ton, and having a great time. It has been an absolutely fantastic change for me.