Why I’m Still at Big Nerd Ranch

This post first appeared on the Big Nerd Ranch blog.

It’s my third year working at Big Nerd Ranch as a developer and instructor. Inevitably, I have a lot of friends (and recruiters) asking me why I am still working here.

I could tell you working at the Ranch is awesome because of the cool office, brilliant people, great projects and stellar bootcamps, but in reality it all boils down to two non-negotiable values: trust and kindness.

Trust powers every other benefit I love about the Ranch. Because we trust one another, we have perks like a remote-first, results-oriented environment that values the craft of communication and fosters kind, trustworthy people (down to our hiring policy).

Other Atlanta tech companies offer ROWE, the option to work from home and higher salaries, but after a couple years these tacked-on benefits hold little appeal for more senior talent when they aren’t the logical outworking of company values. Working from home is no longer a perk if it endangers your career and damages your “perceived” productivity.

In contrast, my nerdy colleagues at the Ranch trust me to get things done and communicate expectations, and I trust them to do the same, regardless of our preferred work schedule or location. There are no micromanagers or implicit commitments delivered at a water cooler: we bias towards over-communication.

Because we value kindness, the Ranch is made of outstanding listeners and communicators, so I don’t have to navigate company politics or tread lightly in difficult topics. Everyone is kind and supportive, so I feel comfortable (even obligated) being transparent about the good, the bad and the ugly.

We derive many other values from trust and kindness:

  • Bias toward action (or ownership). If something needs doing and doesn’t have an owner, help it find a home! Don’t just assume it’s someone else’s job.
  • Remove barriers to action. A new developer shouldn’t be blocked for 24 hours waiting for source code access. Trustworthy people can be trusted with the tools and access they need to take action.
  • Bias toward over-communication. Don’t make assumptions like “My client knows I’ll be out of town in two weeks” or “It doesn’t need to run in Internet Explorer.” Clarifying expectations may be awkward, but it’s better than discovering you live in an alternate reality.
  • Bias toward fewer meetings. When you communicate well and frequently, there’s no need to “get work done” in meetings.
  • Strong opinions, weakly held. The brightest minds have strong convictions about the best framework/program/workflow, but are always ready to give it up for something better. Don’t be dogmatic.
  • Pop the why stack. “Why are we not billing for this work?” “Why do you need a new blogging platform?” Tasks often hide a giant Jenga tower of assumptions. It seems adversarial to challenge these assumptions, but asking good questions is the best yak-shaving antidote!
  • Assume positive intent. “That last Slack message sounded rude, especially since they missed the meeting.” Give your colleagues and client the benefit of the doubt. Remember, you work with kind, trustworthy people!
  • Challenge the status quo. Just because it is this way, doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. Don’t be afraid to break poor conventions in the codebase or to kindly challenge bad habits in the workplace (like Sludge).

As long as we continue to value trust and kindness, I know the Big Nerd Ranch will be my herd.

Jonathan Martin

Jonathan Martin

Globe-trotting web developer, instructor, international speaker and fine art landscape photographer from Atlanta, GA.

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