Behaviors and traits of successful software companies (the ones where I’ve worked, anyway)

Today I begin my 29th year in the software industry. Actually, today’s a day off where I work. But it wasn’t at the company where I began my career, also on Monday, July 3. It’s why I remember the date: my second day was a paid holiday!

Spring flowers from my gardenIn 28 years I’ve worked for nine different software shops, small and large, serving many different industries and kinds of customers.

What surprises me is how little correlation there was to how good my co-workers were and success of the companies. I worked with some brilliant and visionary people at companies that struggled, and with some average people at companies that did well.

Does that surprise you? As I look back, it certainly surprises me.

Here’s what did correlate to the successful companies in my career:

  • A product vision and company direction that did not change wildly, but did evolve to meet the evolving market
  • An executive team in unity on that vision and direction
  • Good communication to everyone about that vision and direction
  • Reasonable planning to execute that vision and direction
  • Good execution in engineering and in sales
  • A work environment where people felt safe and valued
  • Transparency into company financials

Notice how none of the adjectives I used above are superlatives? No excellents or flawlesses or bests or outstandings. Everywhere I’ve worked, when people are aligned to a vision and direction, “good” and “reasonable” have been enough.

These things give brilliant engineers and visionary product people a solid platform to do pioneering work. But even the best people haven’t been able to overcome the lack of these things.

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