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#154: How Do Values Affect Software Companies?

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In this end-of-the-year discussion about missions, values and goals, Alex Williams, TNS founder, was joined by Ashley Williams, Services and Ops engineer at npm, Inc. who has been active in the Node.js and Rust communities, Charity Majors, CEO of Honeycomb, a company that provides “observability for a distributed world,” and TC Currie, TNS San Francisco correspondent.

Topics include hacker culture, preferred perks, what gets lost when pushing employees, what is gained and more.

Alex Williams started by presenting the question: “How do values affect organizations and how do values affect the people who work inside organizations?”

“Your values are what you publicly celebrate and what you publicly punish,” said Ashley Williams. Values are what organizations use to guide decision-making — they help determine what to say “no” to.

Majors agreed, but added that values are also the things that you celebrate because whatever gets celebrated will be repeated.

“Values are all about defaults, the habits you revert to when given no other stimulus,” she said. Values are internal, and often not communicated publicly. But there’s often a disconnect between what is happening inside an organization and what’s being demonstrated on the outside.

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There are always values in a culture, said Currie, whether they are implicitly defined or explicitly acted upon. “Every company has a set of core values, but they are not necessarily in evidence. This drives people crazy, when upper management espouses a set of core values but your manager doesn’t follow them.”

A company’s values are going to be the values that show up in the workplace, not what’s written on the web page.

“Goals are an interesting struggle between what you aspire to do, and the constraints you’re presented with,” said Ashley Williams. We have the things we aspire to, then the things that we are given, she said. The tradeoffs that people make are not always the correct ones, but as in all software, everything is a tradeoff.

Balance: It’s Hard

Teams with good live/work balance move faster in the long term, but move much slower in the short term, Ashley Williams said. If you have a business-critical function coming up that needs a push (e.g., a funding round), you need to push hard or maybe go under. It’s really complicated. This is where companies end up not meeting their values because they’re put in a system of constraints.

As a leader, said Majors, you’re often put in the position of “sure it’s not good to burn people out, but it’s also not good for the company to go under because then people will not get their paychecks.”

Valuing Communities Is a Plus

A key component for software companies is a user-friendly community, said Ashley Williams. Majors agreed. Users will often make decisions based solely on a company’s delightful community support.

Summing up the conversation, Currie said, “Values drive the company, whether they are implicit or explicit. The disconnect between what the stated values are and the lived values is something that is crazy-making for the engineers and other employees doing the work of the company.”

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In This Edition:

1:39: How do we instill values in business?
9:44: What are the values of hacker culture in Silicon Valley and how do you balance that inside your organization?
 Establishing boundaries and a better work/life balance.
 The exploitation of the open source community and people’s ability or inability to participate in it.
 What are some of the values you respect inside of open source communities?
 How companies organize around their values from within.

Feature image via Pixabay.


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As a Senior Tech Enthusiast, I bring a decade of experience to the realm of tech writing, blending deep industry knowledge with a passion for storytelling. With expertise in software development to emerging tech trends like AI and IoT—my articles not only inform but also inspire. My journey in tech writing has been marked by a commitment to accuracy, clarity, and engaging storytelling, making me a trusted voice in the tech community.

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