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My Dream Job Checklist and Working at Big Nerd Ranch

Ross Hambrick

I’ve been here for a couple of months now, but before I came to Big Nerd Ranch, I gave some consideration to the things that I was looking for in a new employer. I thought about past jobs and things I’d seen at other “cool” companies like Google or Facebook, and even dreamed up a few things of my own.

Doing this was a good exercise, because it forced me to think about what really makes me happy, and gave me a concrete direction when deciding whether Big Nerd Ranch fulfilled that dream.

You’d like to see my list? Well, I’m glad you asked. My dream employer would…

Hire only the best people

Hiring is arguably the most important thing a business does. If you can get the right people on the bus, the rest will fall into place. Great people adapt easily to new challenges, inspire everyone around them and attract more great people. Bad people will poison your culture, make good people leave and attract more bad people.

Promote a culture of continuous improvement

I’ve worked for companies where everyone kept their head down and focused on whatever needed to get done that day (when they weren’t putting out fires). I’ve also worked where the culture enables you to regularly step back and sharpen your saw. The latter allows you to think strategically about what you can do to improve. If employees are given the freedom to inspect and adapt, then an organization will grow better over time, resulting in fewer fires and more overall happiness. Once you’ve experienced the latter, you can never go back.

Focus on interesting and challenging work

At the end of the day, what I really want is to be challenged and to be able to look at my work with pride. What’s considered interesting and challenging is different for everyone, and each company offers a different opportunity to find a good match. So in order to do the work you want, you need to find a company that is seeking out and winning the interesting and challenging work that’s best for you.

Treat me like an adult

I am a professional. I am good at what I do, and I work hard. My employer should give me the respect and freedom to do that job as I see fit, as long as I’m delivering my results. Too many companies chain you to desks from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and micromanage every step of the way.

Promote a fun and casual environment

Plain and simple: if you’re doing what you love, work should be fun. There’s no need to put on a fake “professional” facade if you are doing great work. Great work will speak for itself, and a good employer will create an environment that cultivates the creativity and productivity required to do great work. Nothing else matters.

Supply modern tools to get the work done

There’s nothing worse than trying to get your job done and being limited by slow machines, tiny screens or outdated software and tools. At previous jobs, there were many instances where spending a couple hundred dollars would have saved me hours of time and the company thousands of dollars in lost productivity. Your employer should respect you enough to give you the tools you need and have the insight to realize it’s actually the most cost-effective strategy.

Have a diverse and sustainable business model

I’ve been at places where it’s fun, the work is great and the people are top notch. Then the company runs out of money and goes under. I want a great company that is sustainable and provides enough real value so that it will be around for a very long time.

Have an office close to my home, or let me work remotely

It’s no secret that no one likes long commutes. Nothing kills your day or your morale like being stuck in traffic, when you really just want to get your work done and enjoy your personal life. We live in a time when those in my industry can get their work done with little regard to location. So employers, if you aren’t close to me, let me work remotely.

But of course, it would be difficult to find a company that can offer all of these things, right? Let’s see how Big Nerd Ranch stacks up.

So, does Big Nerd Ranch …

Hire only the best people?

I first came across this great video talking about the types of people Big Nerd Ranch goes after and what it means to find the right people. It immediately got my attention. But could they follow through with this message?

The next thing I discovered during my research was that the founder, Aaron Hillegass, worked at NeXT and Apple, has written many top-selling books on Mac and iOS programming and was called one of the most influential people in the Mac community.

Great things definitely start at the top, but what about the rest of the company? I came to find out that many other people at Big Nerd Ranch author or co-author some of the best books on the most relevant technologies around today, and still more teach other developers at open enrollment and corporate trainings around the world. This top-to-bottom package definitely let me know they had something special going on, and now that I’ve been here for a while, I can gladly confirm that everyone here is brilliant, kind and hardworking. Check!

Promote a culture of continuous improvement?

Not only do they hire great people here, but the culture is focused on improving yourself and those around you at all times. Most people at some point write blog posts, attend and present at conferences, give Tech Talks, participate in our teaching club and book club, perform code reviews, and many other regular efforts focused on improvement. Employees can even attend the open enrollment courses Big Nerd Ranch offers. Check!

Focus on interesting and challenging work?

I noticed in my research that Big Nerd Ranch has had many big names and forward-thinkers as clients. I assumed that with names like that, the work would be very interesting and challenging. Now that I am here, I’ve found that the work is more interesting and challenging than I was expecting. Check!

Treat me like an adult?

In the Why Work with Big Nerd Ranch video, I heard a mention of allowing people to work whenever and wherever they want.

Wait, did I hear that right? Based on past experiences, I found that really hard to believe, so I dug in to find out more. I was led to what is known as a Results-Only Work Environment and before I started, I was told to read Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It to get an idea of how they work. (By the way, I highly recommend this book to everyone!)

Working at a company that treats you like an adult is one thing, but this philosophy pushes it further than I thought any company would be willing to do. Now that I’ve been here and experienced what a ROWE is really like, I seriously don’t think I could work at a non-ROWE company again. Check!

Promote a fun and casual environment?

One of the things that stood out the most when looking through Big Nerd Ranch’s website was a music video called Cocoa Got Blocks that is a hilariously nerdy take on Sir Mix-a-lot’s Baby Got Back. Seriously, you have to watch it. That video grabbed my attention and gave me an indication that these people are smart and fun—not to mention super nerdy! And being here now, I love that we have fun things like Beer Thursdays, Bacon Bonanzas and game nights. In fact, when we have clients coming into the office we are asked to “wear our nicest t-shirts.” Check!

Supply the most modern tools to get the work done?

At Big Nerd Ranch, developers are given top-of-the-line Macbook Pros, ergonomic chairs, standing-enabled workspaces, reimbursements for phones and wireless service, and the power to get what you need in order to get your job done. This is a refreshing change from begging for the tools I need. Check!

Have a diverse and sustainable business model?

Big Nerd Ranch has a trio of revenue streams including consultingtraining and our own apps. This diversity not only gives the developers the opportunity to work on a variety of projects, but each area seems to feed off the others, creating demand for our services and the well-rounded expertise needed to meet it. This magic combo creates an ideal environment for growing the company sustainably into the future. Check!

Have an office close to my home, or let me work remotely?

The Galactic Headquarters is about 2.5 miles from my house, which gives me a very quick drive and even allows me to cruise in on my bike. The proximity is nice, but I think it goes deeper than that. My wife and I carefully chose the area of town with the personality that most closely matches ours and where we want to build a life. I think it says a lot that the company that ended up being the best fit for me is in the same part of town I live in. On top of that, I can work remotely as well. Check!

Working toward The next level

Of course, no company will ever be “perfect” because challenges always arise, and that’s what makes life interesting. But it’s great to be at a place that has the right people and the right mindset to address those challenges.

Working at a company that satisfies all of my dream job qualifications is nothing to take for granted. I am truly thankful that I’ve found a place where I’m no longer thinking about my next move. Now I’m free to focus on doing great work, and pushing myself and others around me to the next level.

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