Valve not entirely without management. Ex-employee says “it felt a lot like High School”

valve-firing

Much has been made of Valve’s flat structure, it’s supposedly a company without managers, in which all employees take part in the running of the organisation – deciding as a group who to hire, who to fire, and what projects to work on.

This may be the case on paper, but in practice ex-Valve employee Jeri Ellsworth says “there is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company. And it felt a lot like High School.”

Speaking to the Grey Area podcast team, she said “You’ve probably seen the Valve handbook, which is a very idealised view of what Valve is like. A lot of those things are true. It is a pseudo-flat structure, where in small groups you are all peers and make decisions together.

“But the one thing I found out the hard way is that there is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company. And it felt a lot like High School. There are popular kids that have acquired power, then there’s the trouble makers, and then everyone in between. Everyone in between is OK, but then there are the troublemakers who want to make a difference.

“I was struggling trying to build this hardware team and move the company forward. We were having a difficult time recruiting folks. We would interview talented people but they would be rejected by the old timers at Valve as not fitting the culture.

“I shouldn’t say the numbers, but there were very few folks in the hardware department. We were understaffed by a hundred times for what we needed to do.”

Ellsworth was among a group of employees all fired in a single sweep, though since leaving Valve Ellsworth has continued the project she was working on for the developer. CastAR was the company’s foray into augmented reality goggles. Valve allowed her to take the technology with her when she exited the company.

Thanks, Eurogamer.