I was fortunate, early on in my career, to work at Maxim Integrated Products. Maxim was one of the most successful technology companies of the 1990s, growing to $1B/year in revenue by the end of the decade.
Maxim's engineering culture was superb. The talent level, passion, rigor, and collaboration was off the charts.
I've worked at successful technology companies, unsuccessful technology companies, and I've started my own company since leaving Maxim. There is a direct correlation between having a successful engineering culture and the success of the company.
Here's what I've seen the great technology companies consistently do with regards to their engineering culture:
A. Great technology companies only hire the best. Great technology companies have extremely high standards for hiring.
A great technology company may make hiring mistakes, but they are quickly corrected.
Unsuccessful technology companies' hiring standards are less stringent. They knowingly hire mediocre talent that is "good enough".
B. Great technology companies pay for talent. And, interestingly enough, the great technology companies I've worked at usually pay market rate. They don't have to overpay.
Unsuccessful technology companies are all over the map. I've seen them overpay, but, more often, I've seen them underpay.
C. Great technology companies have rigor. The design review process at the great companies that I've worked at is always tough.
The design team reviewing the design is always well prepared. And the designer was usually appreciative of the rigor imposed.
Unsuccessful technology companies have a weak design review process. And I've seen instances where there was no design review process at all.
D. Great technology companies have teams that work well together. The teamwork and collaboration between engineers at the great technology companies is, in my experience, really good.
Engineers learn from each other and help each other regularly. In other words, there is cultural fit among the engineers.
E. Great technology companies never, ever release a design unless all the review action items are completed. This is a big issue in the semiconductor world where you can be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars every mask set.
Unsuccessful technology companies have a "Silicon bread board" mentality. Designs are spun again and again causing delays and results that don't meet specifications.
F. The engineering team at a great technology company passionately cares about the company's success. Sometimes engineers just care about the work because it's cool.
And I'm not saying that there aren't engineers at unsuccessful companies that don't care. There are.
However, the percentage of engineers that are truly passionate and care about the company is much higher at the great technology companies. It makes sense because of how high the standards are for hiring and the importance great technology companies place on culture.
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