In September I am going to leave the company where I worked for last four years. I am going to get married, go on a honeymoon, and then leave my wife for two months to travel extensively in Colombia and Peru. If anyone from that part of the world reads this, holla at me!
I want to tell you about the job I’m leaving, why you should think about applying for it, and what it has taught me in the last four years about company culture, diversity, and the makings of a good workplace.
I will not mention the company by name. If you’re serious about applying you can easily figure it out, and if not, you shouldn’t care. Trust me, you haven’t heard of us. All the opinions expressed here are mine alone and not the company’s, which is the entire point of this post.
Our company does a few things, but mostly it sells regulatory reporting software to financial institutions.
Bank and financial institutions have to file a shit ton of regulatory reports. The crisis of ’08 brought some new regulations in and Trump may take a few regulations away, but there is always a shit ton of them, and more are added each year. Filing these reports requires a bank to round up a lot of data from its business units, clean the data and standardize it, run the clean numbers through a bunch of calculations, and report the results in the specific format that each of the 18 separate financial regulatory entities demands.
This work is boring and annoying, and bankers don’t want to do it. Sometimes banks have their own people do it using Excel, but then the numbers often come out wrong and the regulators get angry. Sometimes they pay professional consultants to do it for them, but those consultants charge a lot of money and still mostly use Excel. Then those banks buy our company’s software, which automates the whole thing and produces the report at the press of a button.
Automating regulatory reporting is a weird and small niche, but it’s quite lucrative. Our company has far and away the best offerings in this niche, along with a 25-year reputation of never having the numbers come out wrong. Since I joined, our New York office grew from 50 people to 150 and our revenues grew from decent to very very decent.
Does this sound like something you had wanted to do since you were a kid? I have a friend who had wanted to be a fashion designer since she was a kid. After years of hard work, she got a designer job at a famous fashion company. She then suffered a succession of horrible bosses and a toxic work environment, until she finally had to quit to preserve her sanity.
My company is the opposite.
Making regulatory reporting software is just as unglamorous and uncool as it sounds. If you want your job to provide status and excitement, this one doesn’t. And because it doesn’t, you will be overpaid and underworked while enjoying a stress-free and friendly environment.
There are a supply and a demand for everything, including fashion designers and regulatory software specialists. If there’s a high supply of designer wannabes, fashion companies can make their employees underpaid and miserable, and still fill all their job vacancies. If there’s a low supply of regulatory specialists and a growing demand, the specialists will be rewarded with money and happiness.
This is true in any industry. If a company is forced by the law to pay its employees more than they would otherwise, they will then exploit them in any non-monetary way they can. And if a big company offers its employees status, excitement and a ton of money, they will show their relative power in other ways. For example, by policing what its employees are allowed to say.
But freedom and diversity aren’t just results of supply and demand, they also depend on the company culture.
Our company is really, really diverse. My colleagues are men and women, gay and straight, Ukrainians and Nigerians, 17-year-old interns and a 69-year-old expert who knows more about regulations than the regulators. They are atheists, church-goers, and Orthodox Jews. And, rarest of all, they have a real diversity of opinions.
Since I’m a friendly guy and my opinions on most topics are too weird to explain, my coworkers feel comfortable talking with me. One day I was waiting by the coffee machine and a colleague told me that Trump made a good call about transgenders in the military because transgender people are just attention seeking cross-dressers. Another day while I was waiting for coffee a different colleague told me that all cops are sadistic racists who get off on beating black kids. And yet another day while I was waiting for coffee, a colleague told me that the moon landings were faked.
The machine makes good coffee, but sometimes it really takes a long while.
Anyway, you might wonder how the company can tolerate such actual diversity without the office being incinerated by culture wars. The way we do it is the way any person can protect themselves from being incinerated by culture wars: keeping your identity small.
Our company doesn’t have an official position on transgender people, police violence, or the moon landings. Because there’s no official position, there’s no reason to fight over these issues within the company – there’s nothing to be won or lost. Most importantly, our company doesn’t have public forums for discussing our position on all of those issues. And that’s crucial because what can be tolerated in private conversation can’t be tolerated in a public forum.
Every day during lunch break some of my colleagues eat fried chicken and talk about what they read on Breitbart. Another group goes to the organic quinoa bowl place to talk about what they watched on Vice. The moon hoax guy doesn’t really have anyone to talk to about moon hoaxes, so he’s free to eat wherever he wants. After the lunch break, everyone comes back to work together on regulatory software and doesn’t worry about politics and culture wars.
Everyone has a good guess about what everyone else’s opinions are, but no one makes a fuss or feels threatened by those opinions. I bet you have an uncle or a grandma that believe in some crazy shit, but you still get along with them.
What would happen if our company had an official forum for discussing our attitudes about transgender people? The person who doesn’t think transgender people exist might post something about it. The quinoa people who are otherwise happy to ignore this will have to respond vociferously, because once something becomes public knowledge you have to respond to it, otherwise you condemn yourself.
Judge, lest ye be judged in turn.
#googlememo was written a few weeks before any of us knew about it. If no one outside of a few Googlers had ever heard of it, Damore would still be writing software alongside Google’s excellent female engineers. But once everyone knew about the memo, and once everyone knew that everyone knows about the memo, the issue became a question of Google’s official position on “Can women code?”. Google’s official position on the topic is “Yes, we think they can”, and Damore had to be fired for the official position to be maintained.
My company’s only official position is: “The CECL accounting standard should integrate PD/LGD models”. So, in our company, everyone works on integrating PD/LGD models in CECL and no one really cares what anyone else thinks about hot-button politicized issues.
I thought about this a lot when I read this excellent piece by Rich Armstrong. It talks about how in order to have an inclusive company culture, a company should try to have less culture. Some excerpts:
J.D. Edwards’ culture and workplace standards came straight from IBM. Jacket and tie were required (for men). If you started showing up at 9 instead of 8:30, it would definitely be mentioned to you. Their marquee perk? Free soda. Casual Fridays were grudgingly introduced as the internet boom made recruiting harder. I loved my job, and hated that dress code and schedule. […]
My team at J.D. Edwards was the most diverse I’ve ever worked on. My first boss was an African immigrant, second boss was a forty-something mom. Our team measured high on nearly every dimension of diversity — gender, race, religion, age, parental status, national origin, sexual orientation, disability status, veteran status. They were a talented and hardworking bunch. I hadn’t known any other kind of team, so it didn’t seem exceptional to me.
Still, I just couldn’t get over that damned tie. The internet boom was happening all around me, and I was stuck with a bunch of (incredibly nice and generous) non-hip people. […]
I finally got out in 2000. I was giddy. I found a job at a hip software company. Their offices were downtown. My new coworkers were so cool. They wore ironic T-shirts. They showed up at 10 or later, worked crazy hours. On Fridays, and on many other days, they went to drink microbrews together after work, went home to cool lofts, or went straight to indie rock shows.
And they were all white, all young, all childless, mostly male. The women were in HR, or QA, or content creation. The dev managers were slightly older white males. The QA managers were slightly older white females. […]
See, here’s the thing: there are many ways to build an inclusive environment, and to enjoy the diversity that often follows from it. One great way, that I think might’ve been overlooked, is to keep things professional. When our office culture is focused on business rather than socializing, we reduce the number of ways in which we all have to be the same. When we do that, we allow diversity to flourish. If your culture expects people to work long hours or hang out off-hours, the strain on the people who are different, in whatever way, is increased, and your ability to retain a diverse work force is reduced. […]
If you want to build an inclusive culture, build a minimum culture. Build it around professionalism, boundaries, and work-life balance. Make sure your senior staff walks the walk, and spreads the word.
In my company you’re expected to do the following things from 9:15 am to 6 pm: build good regulatory reporting software, be nice to your colleagues, wear business casual. You can get away with a t-shirt, but not with being an asshole or making bad reporting templates. Nothing else you do has any impact whatsoever on your career. This not only makes the company a remarkably pleasant and productive place to work, it also allows colleagues to become friends with people they would never otherwise even have a conversation with.
So why am I leaving? Because I actually want some stress in my life. In four years I have learned everything I need to easily do my job well. Now I have a burning desire to do something really hard that I would suck at.
My current role is product manager: I configure new products that I think big banks would need (this involves working within our proprietary software but doesn’t require any coding), and I demo those products to banks to convince them to buy it. Ideally, a product manager should own both the product and the relationships with the clients who use it. This requires long-term vision and commitment, while my growing restlessness tells me that my time in the regulatory finance industry is running short.
Other than commitment, the job requires analytical thinking, aptitude with software, and preferably some experience in finance and/or in selling things to large enterprises. If you know SQL or accounting, you’re already two years ahead of where I was when I joined. The office is in New York City, with occasional travel around North America. The job will probably be filled in the next month.
I really like the company, and especially my team. After four great years, the least I can do for them is to recommend a product manager to replace me. Someone who shows their great character by reading excellent blogs.
If you think that could be you, let me know ASAP.