Working Here — Week Four

So moving to California (and coordinating with my fiancé, who is not QUITE out here full time yet), starting a new job at SpaceX, and trying at ALL to do homework/research/thesis work for school has me rather busy!

But I wanted to do a quick update… this place is insanely cool.

The philosophy that seems to permeate the culture here is one of “of course we can do that”, coupled with pushing ourselves and each other to answer “how quickly can we do that, and do it well”?

Every barrier I’ve seen in other companies is torn down. Meetings are pretty efficient and only as long as necessary. No one gets upset if you don’t attend; you’re an adult, you know how your time is best used… if someone NEEDS you to attend, they’ll make it very clear. They’re adults too.

There’s no idiocy around doing something because someone up the chain said you had to. (Yes, I’m thinking about forcing people to follow policies that no no one likes just to check a box like putting post-its on a white board so that people walking by can see what you’re working on despite no one ever walking by and despite there being software designed specifically to make that task obsolete which works much better and everyone knows it but someone is being stubborn). Agile is real here; the need to organize large projects on a white board for months is obviated by smart people being able to ACTUALLY break large tasks into individual ones and really use epics and sprints as intended.

Smart people make everything easier. SURPRISE! But, in the past, I hadn’t had complete evidence of that (I’ve worked with plenty of smart people, and working with them has always been easy, but there have always been enough other silly people who just seem there to muck up the works). Now, here we are, one of the most successful (in terms of ability and speed to execute to vision at least) space companies ever (ok, maybe the first US and Russian Space flight people get a nod too, because they were the first, but that’s granting points for a different era), complete evidence that cements any prior observations I’ve had over the years about silly people, particularly silly people in charge.

The attitude here is one of can-do. The mission is to get to mars. The company takes for granted that we can do it. It’s never an if, it’s not even really a question of how… it’s a question of how quickly and how best can we do it? There’s deep engineering and testing and intelligence everywhere… but there’s also a key resistance to risk-aversion. Measured risks are the norm, and the ability to recover is a key personality trait. It certainly takes some getting used to, and I’ve been below water a few times… but it’s only been a few weeks!

I’m being pushed to limits I always assumed I could only reach by pushing myself, something which I haven’t done consistently. It hasn’t seemed likely to ever encounter a company who actually bakes this sort of motivation and excitement into their work successfully. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve very much enjoyed portions of previous jobs… but that excitement was always tempered by silliness; cruft, and waste. Meetings that were unnecessary, delays based on heavy overhead and bulky testing which failed to find errors anyway. Even inside “agile” development groups, there were still poorly thought out deadlines and red-tape obstacles, managers who only understood waterfall and who thought it was perfectly reasonable to not push back on a user request who wanted to type text into a numeric field just because someone had already coded it up without any vetting. (On day 1 here in orientation they told us that we will never succumb to the Sunk Cost Fallacy).

No job is perfect, but this one is pretty dang cool, and I haven’t really found a downside yet!

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