I had an interesting experience recently.

I had a job opportunity dropped in my lap. A greenfield project that had a pay range $10-40k more than what I’m currently making.

You have my attention.

I responded to the recruiter and within a few days, I had an initial meeting/interview with one of the higher-ups at the company.

I went and had a nice conversation with him. He was a cool person, not much older than myself. The company itself was pretty cool, and looked and acted very much like a Silicon Valley startup. We even sat in a conference room that had a feminism-themed mural on one wall (I was told that each of the conference rooms had mural of different themes, though the other rooms were occupied at the time, so I didn’t get to see much of them). The primary working space sported a handful of colorful market umbrellas (which I later found out served the purpose of shielding some of the employees from the direct sunlight that streamed in from the skylights overhead) interspersed through the three columns of desks.

I knew going in that it was an open floor plan, but I was still struck at how far this had been taken. The desks had no less than two workstations, each, and the central column was made of long tables that held multiple workstations. The company, for being a relatively young startup (only a couple of years old, though very successful), was larger than I expected.

After the meeting, I realized that while it would be a nice pay raise, and I’d get to work on new development instead of the legacy system I currently work with, I really didn’t want to go back to an office environment, especially one so open that you don’t even get a dedicated desk. I found that the feeling remained even after mulling it over for a few days.

I also realized just how much I value culture, and how willing I am to put my money where my mouth is.

I realized that, despite the “WTF moments” I’ve had with the code that I’m currently working with, and despite the fact that this opportunity would have been a nice raise, for the first time in a long time, I have no desire to leave. I don’t want to break in new coworkers, especially while trying to write/architect a new system, and trying to do it all in an environment I know isn’t conducive to my productivity (not to mention dealing with a suburb-downtown commute each day).

What did this? What makes my current employer so great that I’d turn down such a lucrative opportunity? It’s simple, really.

My higher-ups value my input and concerns and act on them when appropriate.

I left my previous, agency job, despite all the cool greenfield projects I got to do, because I was treated as nothing more than a code machine. When I tried to make it known that the process seemed broken and maybe there’s a better way to do it without abusing the people on the production teams, I was at best ignored and at worst told that since they’re better than the competition, they didn’t need to improve anything. I had similar experiences with a couple other of my previous jobs.

In fact, cultural issues were the reason I left nearly every job that I’ve voluntarily left since I started programming.

That’s how much culture means to me.

So, when I find a company that embodies the core values that I have about workplace culture, you can bet I’m not going to let go of it lightly.

I’m a “fixer” by nature. I have what is, for all intents and purposes, a compulsive need to solve problems put before me. So, when I see that the development team is working a bunch of overtime, for example, I immediately ask “why?” Why are they working so much, and what can we do to make sure they’re not being overworked? The company’s answer to those questions have proven more valuable than even I imagined it when I first started asking. At previous jobs, the answer would basically be “oh, that’s just the way things are, work ebbs and flows” (funny, it never seemed to ebb enough to work only the hours you tout as a perk of working for you).

My current employer, though? The answer is “we’re sorry, your team needs more people. Give us some time, we’re working on that.” Actually, it’s a few different answers. In addition to the aforementioned one, it’s also, “since it’s an older system, a lot of things are done manually that could be scripted, we’re looking at what we can do to automate those things, which should free up some time on that end. Feel free to toss any ideas you may have.”

Now, you have my undying loyalty.

I kid you not, I geek out on DevOps stuff with the CTO on a fairly regular basis. Rarely have I been able to have that kind of relationship with anyone in management positions (even so much as tech leads). Yeah, I don’t want to have to rebuild that from scratch again. Thanks, though.

I think people underestimate the value of this kind of environment. This is what I call real culture. This isn’t the superficial crap you see in so many other companies. This isn’t beer kegs and video game consoles, dusty with disuse, but nonetheless used as a marketing tool to attract Millenials. This isn’t happy hours, meant to look like management cares about its employees at an individual level without actually building relationships with them. I kid you not, I’ve worked at offices that have had pool tables, ping pong tables, kegerators, and video game consoles. The beer was the most utilized perk at most of them, and at one job, in the nearly 2 years I was there, I’d never seen the tables nor the consoles used for their intended purposes.

Those aren’t perks, those are props.

At my current employer, we have none of those. Hell, we don’t even have an office (not that that is at all a bad thing). By nature of being a distributed company, we don’t have such gatherings (though we do get a “Holiday Party In An Envelope,” or HPIE for short, which often includes a gift card to a nice restaurant and a few other nerdy goodies). This really isn’t as depressing as some people might think, because the focus is then shifted away from these frivolous things (and marketing them) and toward more meaningful things and ways to attract (and keep) employees. The end result is the above – a company run by people I’m comfortable approaching with my concerns and ideas and having them seriously heard and considered, and that I’d be hard pressed to leave behind.