Company handbook paints a potentially inaccurate picture.
By Tim Colwill on July 9, 2013 at 9:13 am
Valve’s famous Handbook for New Employees makes the workplace sound like a glorious Shangri-La, but former employee Jeri Ellsworth says that things might not actually be so shiny.
Ellsworth said during a chat with the Grey Area Podcast that Valve’s supposedly ‘flat’ or ‘non-existent’ management structure is actually controlled by a “hidden layer” of cliques.
“Now we’ve all seen the Valve handbook, which offers a very idealised view,” said Ellsworth. “A lot of that is true. It is a pseudo-flat structure, where in small groups at least in small groups you are all peers and make decisions together. But the one thing I found out the hard way is that there is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company. And it felt a lot like High School.”
“There are popular kids that have acquired power, then there’s the trouble makers, and then everyone in between. Everyone in between is OK, but the trouble makers are the ones trying to make a difference. I was struggling trying to build this hardware team and move the company forward. We were having a difficult time recruiting folks – because we would be interviewing a lot of talented folks but the old timers would reject them for not fitting into the culture.”
Ellsworth described a “weird paranoia” about the preservation of Valve culture, but stresses that this was purely her own experience and may not be representative of how others have felt.
Ellsworth was the former head of Valve’s hardware division, working on new controller prototypes when she was let go, with around 25 others, in February of this year. She is now (with Valve’s blessing) working on augmented reality glasses by the name of CastAR, which you can learn about here.