The business operating system

Anyone who has worked with me for more than a few weeks will probably be aware of my penchant for quoting Joel Spolsky. I can’t help it, he’s a lone voice of reason in a world of ill-considered, bite-sized, disposable opinion. And I know all about that.

Joel no longer publishes essays on his blog, or writes books, and the more recent Stack Exchange podcasts are a shadow of the original StackOverflow podcasts. The best talent knows to quit while they’re ahead. Now and again, however, he’ll come out with a solid gold nugget of advice, usually hidden in a more corporate announcement.

Today he wrote about his ‘business operating system’ and I’m going to quote it verbatim because it’s brilliant.

It’s OK to put people first.

Even though Fog Creek, Trello, and Stack Exchange are now three separate companies, they are all running basically the same operating system, based on the original microprocessor architecture known as “making a company where the best developers want to work,” or, in simpler terms, treating people well.

This operating system applies both to the physical layer (beautiful daylit private offices, allowing remote work, catered lunches, height-adjustable desks and Aeron chairs, and top-tier coffee), the application layer (health insurance where everything is paid for, liberal vacations, family-friendly policies, reasonable work hours), the presentation layer (clean and pragmatic programming practices, pushing decisions down to the team, hiring smart people and letting them get things done, and a commitment to inclusion and professional development), and mostly, the human layer, where no matter what we do, it’s guided first and foremost by obsession over being fair, humane, kind, and treating each other like family. (Did I tell you I got married?)

So, yeah, there are three companies here, with different products, but every company has a La Marzocco Linea espresso machine in every office, and every company gives you $500 when you or your partner has a baby to get food delivered, and when we’re trying to figure out how to manage people, our number one consideration is how to do so fairly and compassionately.

That architecture is all the stuff I spent ten years ranting on this blog about, but y’all don’t listen, so I’m just going to have to build company after company that runs my own wacky operating system, and eventually you’ll catch on. It’s OK to put people first. You don’t have to be a psychopath or work people to death or create heaps of messy code or work in noisy open offices.