Working at Valve: a Glimpse Behind the Curtain

Valve Offices

If I know anything about our Sushi-ans, it’s two things: you guys love Valve, and many of you are interested in landing a job in the video game industry. And though jobs in the video game industry are sometimes defined by long hours, menial tasks and not always working on that dream game, it does seem that Valve marches to the beat of a different drummer on multiple fronts.

In a new blog entry by Michael Abrash, currently working in the R&D department at Valve, we’re given a pretty candid look at just how different things operate at the house that built Half Life. On top of having an incredibly unique long term view of how they see the company moving forward, it sounds like Valve has mostly abandoned the corporate structure. To me, this was one of the coolest excerpts:

Hierarchical management doesn’t help with that, because it bottlenecks innovation through the people at the top of the hierarchy, and there’s no reason to expect that those people would be particularly creative about coming up with new products that are dramatically different from existing ones – quite the opposite, in fact. So Valve was designed as a company that would attract the sort of people capable of taking the initial creative step, leave them free to do creative work, and make them want to stay. Consequently, Valve has no formal management or hierarchy at all.

Now, I can tell you that, deep down, you don’t really believe that last sentence. I certainly didn’t when I first heard it. How could a 300-person company not have any formal management? My observation is that it takes new hires about six months before they fully accept that no one is going to tell them what to do, that no manager is going to give them a review, that there is no such thing as a promotion or a job title or even a fixed role (although there are generous raises and bonuses based on value to the company, as assessed by peers). That it is their responsibility, and theirs alone, to allocate the most valuable resource in the company – their time – by figuring out what it is that they can do that is most valuable for the company, and then to go do it.

I could sit here and comment on that, but I think it speaks for itself. It says a lot about the quality of Valve’s products, why Steam is so innovative, and why their games have such a degree of polish. I highly suggest you go read the rest of the post yourself. Not only does Michael talk about what he’s currently working on at Valve (wearable computers – yes, seriously), he also ends the post with a call for people that want to work at Valve.

Out of curiosity, who are the folks at GamerSushi shooting for something in the industry? What are your thoughts on Abash’s post about Valve? Go!

Source – Valve Blog