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Our values and culture—and what it takes to achieve them

Þórarinn Sigurðsson
Þórarinn Sigurðsson
Eyþór Magnússon
Eyþór Magnússon
April 20, 2022

At Garden, we've gotten amazingly far with a small crew. This isn't just because it's a group of strong individual contributors, but because of the way we work together.

Now that our team is growing fast, it's more important than ever to know who we are as a company, and what it means to work at Garden.

Some of you may remember Netflix's legendary slides on company culture from 2009 (they've since added a culture page, which we also highly recommend reading).

One of the key takeaways: is that many companies write fluffy value statements that have little to do with the real carrots and sticks that guide how the company is run.

Enron's values of integrity and respect are comical in retrospect. The real carrots and sticks that the company ran on—something like profit at any cost—were completely detached from their stated values.

In reality, values come with trade-offs, and any honest discussion of company values has to address them. Additionally, values can easily be in tension with each other.

The key is to choose the right trade-offs, and to navigate the tensions between our values in a sophisticated way.

Our values

1. Joy

At Garden, we do our best to keep things magical and fun. A joyous atmosphere is personally rewarding and finds its way into what we create daily.

It's easy to grow steely-eyed and grey when a lot is at stake and we're working on challenging projects. Cultivating and protecting our sense of joy helps keep us creative in the face of pressure—and is a good thing in itself.

Joy doesn't come from nowhere. It comes from an atmosphere of trust, freedom and intellectual stimulation (see value #4 below).

As a company, we're serious about maintaining and protecting this atmosphere.

This could mean saying no to a promising hire who is highly skilled, but who risks undermining the atmosphere of trust we rely on.

2. At Garden I feel like I'm doing the best work I've ever done

Creating an environment where people can do their best work is no mean feat. One thing we offer at Garden is working on interesting, ambitious problems. What we're building and solving for could change the course of our industry.

The key ingredient to tackling a complicated, expansive problem is deep focus and creative thinking.

Thinking creatively means making space for it. Garden is a company that's building developer tooling for cutting-edge cloud platforms—a complicated design space to say the least. It follows that the quality and originality of thought is crucial to our edge as a company.

We're not here to grind blindly; that's simply not going to cut it.

As an organization, we provide the time and resources our team needs to grow to their full potential and do their best work. We take time to learn from each other and teach each other, and elevate each other to a higher level of ability.

This comes at a cost. Deep focus is fragile. It has to be balanced against responsiveness to our customers for whom we want to create a great experience. But constantly responding to inbound things shatters that focus. In order to balance these two values, we need to organize our time and collaborate well with others.

We want fire (focus) and water (responsiveness). But we avoid mixing them, since that just results in wet ashes.

3. We enable our users to do the best work they've ever done

Garden was created by engineers to improve the lives of other engineers. That empathy with the user is an essential part of Garden's DNA. We want users to associate Garden with joy, creativity, and empowerment. Our clients are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. When they really need something, we go the extra mile for them.

The cost of that is there can be a conflict with joy. We've stayed on the right side of joy so far, but we need to stay alert and keep the balance right as the company grows.

Since we help people abstract over very complicated systems, we come in as experts when people might be frustrated. We need to stay positive and patient towards the user but also protect our sense of joy about our jobs.

At the same time, this must be balanced with deep focus. This is where planning comes in.

As a company we invest heavily in automation, documentation, and anything else that removes drudgery and enables us to push our boundaries of what's been done before. We'll touch more upon that in the culture section.

4. We uplift each other and learn from each other

We're a team of high performers who trust and care for one another. We trust every single person on the team to do their best, work hard, and be creative. We don't micromanage each other. We know that we can go out on a limb and push ourselves.

If someone needs a break, or makes a mistake, we have each other's back. We believe this is synergistic with doing the best work possible.

At Garden you don't have to worry about office politics. We go to great lengths to maintain an atmosphere of trust, friendship, creativity and professionalism.

We take time to help each other and share knowledge. It's important to us that people are never afraid to ask questions because they're afraid someone's going to call them a noob.

We're all learning every day, wrestling with complicated technologies. We want people to feel safe to ask questions, take risks, and admit their mistakes without worrying about repercussions.

There are no big shots here. We have managers and individual contributors, not bosses and subordinates.

The cost of this is we can't hire people who can't function in this kind of culture. Someone who is highly proficient but needs constant hand-holding or is cold and calculating won't jive well with us.

This is not the only way to hire the best talent the industry has to offer. But this is how we want to run our company.

5. Garden is friendly, sophisticated, and elegant.

This last value is more of a brand statement.

The people who we're making this product for—cloud developers and SREs—are building systems that are more complicated than we've ever built before.

Too often they're doing this with half-baked, unfriendly, ugly tooling, leading to frustration and inelegance. We want Garden to be an oasis in that desert.

Our product, design, documentation, marketing material, and personal interactions should reflect this.

Maintaining that level of experience is a constant battle against entropy, but it's worth it!

We're hiring!

If Garden sounds like an interesting place to work, check out our jobs page—we'd love to hear from you!

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