Blog engineering values

What We Value in Fauna Engineering

It's not uncommon to see people roll their eyes when managers and companies start talking about values; values are one of those things that are very easy to talk about and orders of magnitude harder to live up to. At a team gathering in Boston this year, we sat down as a full engineering team to write down the values we believe we should work by. It's not uncommon for management teams to show up with a list of commandments brought from on high telling a team how they should act, but to truly own the culture, it's critical that they are driven by the team itself.

The process we used was relatively simple; folks were randomly broken up into five groups and asked to talk in their group about what they value about the way we work at Fauna and what they aspired for us to rise to. The groups were given 30 minutes or so to talk about what was important to them while I made an emergency run to Starbucks for coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

Once the conversation portion was done, the teams were asked to sum up what they value in a handful of sentences and to post them on notepads in the front of the room. We then reviewed all of the ideas as a group, asking for clarification on some of them, and diving deeper on others about what made people cherish those values.

Not shockingly, many of the values from the various groups showed up multiple times and with varying phrasings. To keep our list of values short and to the point, I took the list and outside of the event, worked to condense them into a handful of phrases. The challenge was reducing them to something pithy enough to easily state, without reducing them to something useless or trite.

Projects like this often take a backburner to hot day to day work, so all too many days later, I brought the values to the management team to review and edit, and then to the larger engineering group.

In the end, we walked away with these:

We communicate openly
We support others generously
We build as a team; we are not our code
We build the product we want to use and operate
We solve meaningful problems with knowledge and persistence
We build with an eye toward the future while grounded in the present
We are stronger for our diverse backgrounds, educations, and experiences
Research, experimentation, and metrics are the foundations of everything we build

I think that all things considered they are a good reflection of who we are and how we act. Do we live up to them every day? No. But even within a week of sharing them, I’ve found them useful for clarifying my thinking and decision making, and for having conversations about how we can get closer to these ideals.

The next step is to make sure we’re living these values. Our first step will be taking each value and week by week reviewing a different one in our one on ones to see how folks throughout the team see us living up to them, and where we need to improve. Just stating our ideals isn’t enough; we need to be reviewing our actions to make sure they aren’t just nice words.

This was my first time driving a process like this with a team and while I don’t know if it was the best process, I’m happy with the results. I would love to talk with other developers and leaders about how you’ve defined your values and steps you’ve taken to embed them in your culture; you can find me on Twitter as @mataway.

If these sound like values that you’d like to work with we’re hiring! Please take a look at our jobs page and see if there is something that would excite you.