5 NYC Tech Professionals Explain Why Their Company Culture Works

Janey Zitomer
September 25, 2019

Company culture is kind of like our national debt: if you ignore it, it will still grow — most likely not in your desired direction. These five companies are helping pave the way for positive vibes with monthly gatherings, team-based trivia nights and more. We spoke with a few members of their tech teams to find out what appeals to them most about their culture, how employees are empowered to shape it, and why they take it seriously. 

 

Galileo team members chatting
Galileo

When we spoke with Kevin Kwon, Head of Growth Marketing at Galileo, he mentioned that he appreciates the transparency and flexibility of their company’s value system. While it’s nice to have stable, core principles available for consistent reference, reevaluation is just as crucial. Otherwise, they can go stale. And when you’re doing something as cutting edge as reimagining the healthcare system, that’s not a risk you can take. 

 

How is your company culture here different from what you’ve experienced at previous companies?

Here at Galileo, our values set our culture. They aren’t just platitudes on a wall. Rather, they guide how we go about the exciting and challenging work of fundamentally changing healthcare. We strive to put our patients’ experiences first, find creative solutions to tough problems, treat each other with empathy and respect, and make smart, disciplined trade-offs as we go. Many other tech companies embrace ‘moving fast and breaking things,’ but we take a more measured approach and balance short- and long-term success. 

In the past, I’ve worked at later-stage companies where the culture was already set. Everyone who joins Galileo has a chance to shape the DNA of who we are and what we’re building through their contributions and interests.

Here at Galileo, our values set our culture.” 

 

How are employees empowered to help shape or participate in the office culture? 

Our team members shape our culture in all sorts of ways! Teams here aren’t siloed and work cross-functionally, so there’s plenty of day-to-day interaction. But we also have recurring traditions that empower our people to shape culture. These include monthly ‘Galileo Gatherings,’ where we officially welcome new team members and learn about their lives outside of work, hear departmental updates, and share a meal. We also have employee-led brown-bag lunches, where people go deep into some aspect of their work (e.g. what an API actually does or how growth marketing has changed in the last decade) and ‘Demo and Chills,’ where our product team shares new features and upgrades. Our office space also has a great common area, where people from all teams eat with each other daily.

 

What’s your favorite company tradition and/or event, and why? How does it reflect your company culture as a whole?

Our summer event included team-based trivia, wall-climbing, shuffleboard, and company-branded cupcakes –– all in a single afternoon! The folks who planned it pulled out all the stops. It was a great reminder that while we all work hard, we still find time to get out of the office and bond on a social level. While we’re serious about our work, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

 

Remesh department meeting
Remesh

You may remember the scientific method best for the role it played in helping you understand a cell’s DNA makeup in seventh grade. Remesh employees rely on it, as well as other quantitative practices, to help their clients connect with audiences in real time, daily. Mike Bruni, VP of Engineering, told us more about how the team’s academic background mirrors their approach to culture. 
 

How is your company culture here different from what you’ve experienced at previous companies?

Our CEO is a scientist, so our culture has a distinctly academic quality without actually being academic. We tend to embrace values like knowledge, learning and curiosity and use them to build solid software. This sounds lofty but in practice, it boils down to collaborating, treating others with respect, asking questions and designing good solutions using data and logic. We also use a “build, measure, learn” variant of Lean methodology for product development, which looks suspiciously like the scientific method and naturally appeals to us.

We try hard to stave off red tape.’’

 

How are employees empowered to help shape or participate in the office culture? 

We try hard to stave off red tape. The leadership team is very approachable. Our CEO eats lunch with us and is an equal participant in our random conversations. If you have an idea, you can simply speak directly with the person who can help or recruit folks on Slack. Our People Science team is always reaching out as well. We also hold “huddles,” where people share esoteric and interesting knowledge with the team. It’s often an opportunity to learn about topics you’ve never heard of.

 

SkillShare post-work fun
SkillShare

SkillShare employees value each other’s passions, whether they are shared widely or more nuanced. Partnerships Lead Scott Sullivan told us that, for example, the Game of Thrones’ Slack channel was on fire during the show’s season finale. In the same breath, one employee recently shared his knowledge of the science behind salt –– a topic they feel particularly enthusiastic about. 

Sullivan’s colleagues’ willingness to be themselves and open up is one of the many aspects of SkillShare’s culture he appreciates so much. 

 

How is your company culture here different from what you’ve experienced at previous companies?

More than any place I’ve worked, Skillshare encourages you to be who you are in real life at work. We create an environment that supports people living real lives, who have passions and needs outside of work.  Do you need to work from home in the morning to see your kids off to school? No problem. Are you passionate about marketing and want to attend a conference overseas? Awesome. We’ll help get your tickets. Have you worked at Skillshare for three years? Congratulations! We appreciate all you’ve given. Take a month-long sabbatical to go explore or just chill.

This level of respect and trust makes you feel valued as an employee and a person. 

Skillshare encourages you to be who you are in real life at work.’’ 

 

How are employees empowered to help shape or participate in the office culture? 

Employees are encouraged to bring their real selves to work and share their thoughts, opinions, ideas and causes they support with the team. We recently had our first LBGTQ+ happy hour, where a colleague shared what it means to be a community ally. 

One employee who is particularly passionate about salt recently walked us through a comprehensive deep dive into the nuanced science of the mineral. I personally love pizza, and have been given the budget to serve the entire office a pizza buffet that even the Ninja Turtles would be jealous of!

 

 What’s your favorite company tradition and/or event, and why? How does it reflect your company culture as a whole?

Pecha Kuchas! Pecha Kucha is a rapid-fire, three-minute presentation where new colleagues get to share something that gives insight into who they are with the company. Topics have included everything from “this is my life story” to “this is the one time I went bungee jumping, look how scared I was.” I love this tradition because it allows colleagues to share who they are outside of the office. 

 

Pager employees together
Pager

When your team passes the 100 employee mark, maintaining an effective culture is notoriously difficult and especially important. Pager makes sure their employees are all on the same page and that the hiring process accounts for belief/behavior alignment. Recently, we spoke with Office Manager Ryon Burrell about some of his favorite company traditions and how the business brings people together.     

 

How is your company culture here different from what you’ve experienced at previous companies?

Our five core values play a huge role in the decision making here, especially in hiring. Coming from a company that didn’t have core values at all, it was refreshing to join a team that had clearly defined expectations for the kind of people they wanted to bring in, not only to fit into the existing culture but also to add to it! 

 

How are employees empowered to help shape or participate in the office culture? 

We encourage our team members to be brave leaders and speak their minds. We’re currently establishing our culture club, in which representatives from each team can voice their ideas, concerns, and suggestions in relation to our culture. Combined with our quarterly surveys and our NYC-office Slack channel, we give everyone the opportunity to effect change.

Our five core values play a huge role in the decision making here, especially in hiring.’’

 

What’s your favorite company tradition and/or event, and why? How does it reflect your company culture as a whole?

My favorite traditions here are our annual engineering on-sites. We bring all of our remote team members under one roof for two weeks in the summer and one week in the winter. Also, we have a field day, summer rooftop soiree, and holiday cocktail hours. It’s so great to see team members strengthen bonds with each other through work and play, especially people who aren’t usually in the office. 

 

Nylas team outside
Nylas

Nylas’ focus on connectivity extends beyond the cloud. Director of Engineering Evan Morikawa explained that they take community building seriously, especially as they scale. Whether it’s by updating their employee fun-fact document or breaking bread together during work hours, nurturing an inclusive environment is a top priority. 

 

How is your company culture here different from what you’ve experienced at previous companies?

Nylas’ commitment to diversity and inclusion stands out when people walk through the door. It’s highlighted through our wide-reaching discussions around the communal lunch table, the activities people participate in, and lastly, in the essence of the product we build. Bringing together this many kind, humble, and super-sharp people from minority backgrounds is unique. Emphasizing this fact as the company grows and scales is even more special. Nylas also maintains this culture across three offices and with several remote employees. Remote happy hours and tight geo-agnostic collaborations help fuel our commitment to connectivity.

 

How are employees empowered to help shape or participate in the office culture? 

We strive to let people express themselves, their quirks, and their ideas. We believe having a diverse office helps support that expression. In addition, we have a culture committee, a diversity and inclusion committee, and an additional team who goes out of their way to think of fun and inclusive things to do together. We share our values publicly on our open source GitHub handbook, through our blog, and on KeyValues, a website for engineers. We also explicitly reward ad hoc contributions. Our review process includes dimensions like community, wellbeing, and accomplishment. It rewards people equally, whether the category is mentorship or technical acumen. 

Nylas’ commitment to diversity and inclusion stands out when people walk through the door.’’

 

What’s your favorite company tradition and/or event, and why? How does it reflect your company culture as a whole?

Nylas guess-the-people trivia. During one of our recent hackathons, there were several competitive events to break up the week, including competitive cup stacking (with regulation cups) and a hot pepper challenge. 

Another was in the form of pub trivia, but centered around knowing fun facts about fellow colleagues. We have a giant Wiki titled ‘Fun Facts About Nylanauts’ that’s full of some crazy and (very) impressive tidbits. As this grows over time, it really highlights how interesting and different people are.

 

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