What is your company about?
Recently I got inspired by Kathy Sierra, whose blog Creating Passionate Users and Head First series of books revolutionized developer education. She kept saying the same thing again and again: help your users be awesome.
Kathy taught me that if you can’t explain your mission in the form, “We help $TYPE_OF_PERSON be awesome at $THING,” you are not going to have passionate users. What’s your tagline? Can you fit it into that template?
It took us nine years, but we finally worked out what Fog Creek Software is all about, which I’ll tell you in a moment, but first, some backstory.
In the early days, we were all about making a great place to be a software developer in New York City.
Yep, that was all there was to it. Almost every software job in the city was terrible. You had a choice of which kind of terrible. Want to wear a suit and work long hours under crummy conditions? Take a job at a bank. Want to report to a manic-depressive creative who demands that you stretch HTML in ways that would have you put to death, in certain countries? Take a job at a media company. Want to work 24/7 in a basement with water pipes dripping on your head and get paid in worthless stock options? Take your pick of the revenue-free dotcom startups.
Why New York, then? There are lots of great product companies where software developers are treated very well in Redmond, Washington. But I was sick of trying to live in lesser cities. Sure, the Seattle area is beautiful, and green, and clean, and possesses great coffee, and I understand that there are even a couple of grocery stores open late now. But I’m staying in New York, because it’s the greatest city in the world.
I gave up the search, and decided to start a company with my buddy Michael Pryor. Making a nice place to work was our primary objective. We had private offices, flew first class, worked 40 hour weeks, and bought people lunch, Aeron chairs, and top of the line computers. We shared our ingenious formula with the world:
The tagline was “building the company where the best software developers want to work.” It was, to say the least, awkward. It didn’t make for a good elevator pitch. It didn’t really have the right format. “Abercrombie and Fitch: building the apparel store where the hottest teenagers will want to work.” Who cares? Not the hot teenagers, I’ll tell you that.
Anyway we accomplished that goal. Cross it off the list. What’s next? We needed a new mission statement.
And it has to be something of the form, “We help $TYPE_OF_PERSON be awesome at $THING.”
Bells went off. Everything we’ve done successfully has one thing in common: It’s all about helping software developers be awesome at making software.
It includes our flagship product, FogBugz, which is all about giving developers tools that gently guide them from good to great. It’s the software implementation of the philosophy I’ve been writing about for a decade, lacking only one thing: the feature to replace exceptions with return values, while adding Hungarian prefixes to all variable names. THAT IS A JOKE, PEEPLE. Put DOWN the bazooka.
Helping you make more awesome software is why I write endlessly about what we’re doing at Fog Creek, despite the fact that people accuse me of shilling. I’m not writing to promote our products. You don’t have to buy our products to get the benefit of reading about my experience designing them and building them and selling them. I’m writing to share some of my experiences in case they can help you make better software.
Our focus on helping developers explains why one of our early products, CityDesk, flopped: it had nothing to do with software developers. And it explains why another of our products, Fog Creek Copilot, only found a market in the niche of software developers doing tech support.
So, here you go, the new tagline: “We help the world’s best developers make better software.”
Going through this exercise made it easy to figure out what belongs in future versions of FogBugz and what doesn’t. In particular, we’re adding source control and code review features to FogBugz, using Mercurial, the best open-source distributed version control system. Everything that helps developers make better software belongs in FogBugz: project planning, project management, bug tracking, and customer service.
It took almost ten years, but I think we finally got the mission for the next ten nailed.
Optional Advertainment: If you’ve got a moment, check out this 4½ minute trailer for Make Better Software, a new video training series we’ve been working on for more than a year. It’s the video edition of Joel on Software and fits perfectly with our agenda of helping developers make great software.
My new Inc. column is up. “For a guy who wrote a book on how to hire great programmers, it’s mortifying how incompetent I’ve been at enlarging the sales team, which, right now, consists of one terrific account executive and a dog. (I’m just kidding. There’s no dog.)”
Do you like your job?
Do you enjoy the people you work with?
Would you want to have lunch with them? Every day? Alex Papadimoulis thinks that Fog
Creek’s free lunches are “cultish,” but everyone at Fog Creek loves them. Maybe it’s the mandatory brain implant we install in each new worker, but I like to think that we just enjoy eating together because we genuinely like each other and like spending time together. If you can’t imagine eating lunch every day with your coworkers, I hate to break it to you: you might not like them. Is it OK to spend most of your waking hours with people you don’t like?
Do you actually enjoy doing your job? If you wake up an hour early in the morning, do you think, “Yay! I can go in early and get another hour of work in!” Or does that sound ridiculous to you?
Are you learning? When was the last time you had to learn a new skill? Is this year kind of like last year, or are you doing something new, stretching yourself, challenging yourself to be better?
At one of the recent DevDays events, I asked the audience (almost 100% programmers) how many of them were incredibly satisfied with their job, found it fulfilling, and were treated well by their employers. Only about 25% of the hands went up. I asked how many people either hated their job and couldn’t wait to find something better, or were actually actively on the job market. Again, about 25%. The rest were somewhere in the middle: maybe they can tolerate their job, but they’re keeping an eye open for something better.
Who is this DevDays audience? They’re the elite of the elite of the best programmers out there. They’re the people who participate in Stack Overflow, the people who read, the people who are constantly trying to learn more about programming and software development. More than half of them paid their own money to attend a one day conference. They’re the most desirable software developers on the planet. And 75% of them are not delighted with their job.
That’s unacceptable. I’ve been saying for ten years that the top developers have a choice of where to work, and the top employers need to work harder to attract them, because the top developers get ten times as much work done as the average developers.
And yet, I still keep meeting ridiculously productive developers working in shitholes.
We’re going to fix this, right now. Thus, Stack Overflow Careers.
We’re going to completely turn the job market upside down, for the best software developers and the best companies.
This is a talent market. Developers are not even remotely interchangeable. Therefore, recruiting should work like Hollywood, not like union hiring halls of the last century.
In a union hiring hall, downtrodden workers line up like cogs, hoping to make it to the front of the line in time to get a few bucks for dinner.
In Hollywood, studios who need talent browse through portfolios, find two or three possible candidates, and make them great offers. And then they all try to outdo each other providing plush work environments and great benefits.
Here’s how Stack Overflow Careers will work. Instead of job seekers browsing through job listings, the employers will browse through the CVs of experienced developers.
Instead of deciding you hate your job and going out to find a better one, you’ll just keep your CV on file at Stack Overflow and you’ll get contacted by employers.
Instead of submitting a resume, you’ll fill out a CV, which links back to your Stack Overflow account, so that you can demonstrate your reputation in the community and show us all how smart you really are. To a hiring manager, the fact that you took the time to help a fellow programmer with a detailed answer in some obscure corner of programming knowledge, and demonstrated mastery, is a lot more relevant than the Latin Club you joined in school.
Employers can see how good you are at communicating, how well you explain things, how well you understand the tools that you’re using, and generally, if you’re a great developer or not. And they can see your peer reputation, so all that hard work you’ve been putting into helping people on Stack Overflow can karmically come back and help you upgrade your job to the latest, state-of-the-art, great place to work.
Stack Overflow has grown incredibly fast. After a year in business, it gets over a million page views most weekdays and currently stands as the 817th largest site on the Internet, according to Quantcast. It reaches 5.2 million people a month. But Stack Overflow Careers doesn’t have to be massive. It’s not for the 5.2 million people who visit Stack Overflow; it’s for the top 25,000 developers who participate actively. It’s not for every employer; it’s for the few that treat developers well and offer a place to work that’s genuinely fulfilling.
1114 posts over 16 years. Everything I’ve ever published is right here.
There’s a software company in New York City dedicated to doing things the right way and proving that it can be done profitably and successfully.