Page Body

Page Main

Post Main

Post Article

Tyler Wilde, PC Gamer:

Former Valve employee Rich Geldreich, who worked at the company between 2009 and 2014, has spent the past several days tweeting detailed accounts of the internal politics at ‘self-organizing’ companies—one of which he says is based in Bellevue, Washington, where Valve is headquartered. Some of Geldreich’s comments could be about any self-organizing company (that is, a company without a traditional hierarchical management structure), but other, more specific references suggest he is largely talking about Valve.

While Geldreich says that he still prefers flat company structures to hierarchical structures (he’s now moved on to discussing the latter on his account), many of the politics he describes at ‘SelfOrganizingCo’ don’t sound pleasant. According to Geldreich, the company in question leaked its friendly employee handbook as a PR move, but was actually a stressful, difficult place to work, full of backstabbing and manipulation in pursuit of bonuses and job security.

Some of Geldreich’s comments are similar to comments Ellsworth made after being let go by Valve. “…There is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company and it felt a lot like high school,” Ellsworth said in 2013. “There are popular kids that have acquired power in the company, then there’s the trouble makers, and everyone in between.”

Geldreich similarly describes ‘barons’ who are in with the executive arm of the company in question, and a culture in which employees must curry favor with influential ‘sponsors’ to enjoy stability.

While Valve has some glowing recommendations on the anonymous employee review site Glassdoor, the testimonies of certain self-proclaimed ex-employees also mirror Geldreich and Ellsworth’s comments. One Glassdoor reviewer calls Valve’s employee review process a “popularity contest,” and another says that the “opaque approach to compensation and retention breeds a culture of paranoia,” despite leaving an overall positive review.

“If you buy [Valve’s] rhetoric, you’ll hear that there are no bosses, no managers, no supervisors and that there is a flat structure where everybody is so smart, so cool and so intelligent that they can work completely autonomously,” reads an especially negative Glassdoor review. “That is only a facade … In order to succeed at Valve, you need to belong to the group that has more decisional power and, even when you succeed temporarily, be certain that you have an expiration date. No matter how hard you work, no matter how original and productive you are, if your bosses and the people who count don’t like you, you will be fired soon or you will be managed out.”

This account sounds similar to the “purging” described by Geldreich’s tweets, as well as his claim that the lack of structure is illusory, and that company politics are actually influenced by executives and their baron confidants.

Rich Geldreich:

After joining this one Bellevue company one of the psuedo-managers kept ragging on a well known physics coder I respected. He joined the company and left for another after a few months.

At a self-organizing company with bonuses: Once you modify a project you’re on the hook for anything until it ships. The team will hold your bonus hostage and claim your work broke something. It’s basically company-legalized extortion.”

The company was moving into a new field. They made the temp strategic hire then fired her a year later with no warning after they had hired up her friends and their friends.

Another type of temp strategic hire you can make is to recruit a well-known author, a famous dev, or a person with specialized skills (like an economist). Have them write gushingly about their amazing experiences at the company. Once you’re done with them quietly let them go.

All legit self-organizing firms have to ‘leak’ an official unofficial Company Manual. It’s got to be slickly made and fun to read. Developer Marketing gurus create these productions to sway new recruits into the Hiring Funnel. Insiders laugh at these things.

At self-organizing firms you might be placed into a huge open office and given massive monitors. This is to normalize all communications and for more effective surveillance. Everything will be monitored either directly by a corporate arm employee, one of their barons or friends.

Paul Ciano

Enjoyed this post?

Subscribe to my feed for the latest updates.