Modular is not a typical company, and we never intend to become one. As a team, we have collectively worked at more than 50 different companies, from the largest technology companies to some of the smallest - and we’ve seen a lot of things that work well, and a lot that just don’t.
We’re building for the long term, and one of the most important pieces to get right is culture - it allows the team to stay healthy, stay aligned in purpose, and remain high functioning as the company scales. So why is it that so few companies pay attention to culture early on? We believe that building a truly great culture requires codifying it, living it, and entrenching it in all aspects of how you work as a team.
A changing world
For most of us, the world significantly shifted two years ago. I recall preparing for a TensorFlow Dev Summit when we were all abruptly told that we could no longer return to the office - we were told to work from home “for the foreseeable future.” It turned out that would be the last time I would ever go back to an office as I knew it, and the last time I would see my team physically for a long time.
Before the pandemic, you either chose where to live and found work accordingly, or you chose where to work and found living arrangements accordingly. You didn’t get to mix and match. But the last two years have certainly changed the reality of what “going to work” actually means, and for many of us, transformed how we balance life and work together.
At Modular, we believe in optimizing for the highest productivity and happiness for our team, not for maximum utilization of our real estate, location, or entrenched ideologies of years gone past. While some people prefer a collaborative shared space, others prefer zero-length commutes, and others prefer a hybrid. We know that “one size fits all” solutions are “one size fits none” in reality, and we strongly believe that this model doesn’t represent the future of work, nor does it embrace the lessons that we’ve all learned the last two years.
The nature of work has forever changed.
One thing is manifestly clear - especially if you work in technology, you can now choose both where to live and where to work. You get to optimize how you spend your time to be the most productive at work, and how to maximize your life outside it. To quote the great Steve Jobs - you only have so much time and so much life:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
The culture we practice, is the culture we keep
At Modular, we get a lot of feedback from folks who are impressed that we have already invested into culture- that we have taken the time to carefully consider and define what our culture is and that we have been directive on how we’ve implemented it. We did this because we have seen firsthand the impact of toxic cultures. We’ve also seen what happens when high-power people aren’t aligned - pushing and pulling into conflicting directions without knowing where the North Star is. We've seen environments that reward meeting time, endless presentations and misaligned “technical contributions” over actually building something meaningful for users with a focus on shipping it.
Posters on a wall or words on a website mean nothing if people at a company don’t actually use and action those words in how they work every day. We’ve seen a lot of lip service given to culture without an attempt to live it or embody the intended culture in actions. Culture must be lived and practiced everywhere. It has to be in your objectives, it has to be in your hiring, in your daily language, and in the standard you hold everyone to. Otherwise, like all things without constant practice, it fades away and becomes meaningless.
We were very deliberate about our culture when we founded Modular, from why we work, to how we work, to ensuring we aligned everything back to our core cultural pillars: Build products users love, Empower people, and Be an incredible team.
You might be wondering how we do this in practice? Here are just some examples:
Build products users love
- Customer-led products - To build products users love, we regularly listen to our customers to deeply understand their problems. Our goal is to build incredible technology that is actually useful and that solves real problems. Modular isn’t a research project.
- We write things down - This is key to enabling asynchronous, highly productive work, and it allows real-time discussions to be more powerful, thoughtful, and contextually driven. Importantly, it ensures we are scaling and leveraging our time right, so that people who join later understand why certain decisions were made.
- Use the product - We use what we build. We regularly demo, refine, and simplify it and we constantly improve the end-to-end experience along the way.
- We say no, a lot - We say no to so much more than we say yes to. The DNA we bring from Apple includes a culture of debate, a focus of what matters and a willingness to sequence deliverables. This means we aren’t afraid to say “no” or at least “not yet”, even to really appealing projects.
- Retrospective Champions - Retrospectives after sprints and milestones are a constructive way to reflect on the things that went well, the things that weren’t so great and how to improve. We take it a step further and allocate Retrospective Champions to specific Action Items to ensure they actually get done.
- Trust - We trust our people. We don't micromanage each other - we just expect stuff to get done and always assume the best intentions along the way.
- Open calendars, meetings & docs - We don’t have anything to hide. We make everything we can available to everyone. There are no “busy” calendar's here, no secret meetings or decisions made without broad communication and input.
- Career maps, planning - We already care about mapping out the careers of our team and do so via 28, 56 and 84-day onboarding check-ins. We utilize a range of tools to make sure that everyone has a chance to grow, even as we rapidly scale.
- We work smarter - You are not expected to give up your life. People who get to burnout, often give up. Our time horizon isn't measured in days. We want you to bring the best of yourself to work, so you can truly enjoy your non-work time.
Be an incredible team
- We hire & provide offers fast - We interview and extend offers for the best people with limited process. We view hiring as a bilateral exchange - we are interviewing you, and you are interviewing us.
- Technical management - We believe in managers being technical, and having a strong appreciation for the complexity of what is being built and driving the state of the art forward.
- Lightweight reviews - Big technology performance reviews are insanely time consuming and exhausting. As much as they try to be independent, they end up being popularity contests. We have regular and direct career discussions and lightweight promotion decisions that tie ratings back to our values.
- We celebrate everything - We celebrate our accomplishments and failures every week - professional or personal. You can’t be an incredible team, if you don’t win and fail together.
And this is just a few of the things we do - we are continuing to push ourselves each day to improve.
Maximizing how we work
As we continue to grow and innovate, we are constantly improving and changing. We will always push the limits to create the best possible environment for our people and teams. Today, we are sharing our philosophy on how we empower our people to be their best. We will always push the limit to enable even more choice and flexibility because we believe that when the right people are empowered the right way, we accelerate our impact on the world.
Every single person who works at Modular can:
- Work from anywhere in your country - You are able to work from anywhere we can support, e.g. at home or in a co-location office - whatever suits you.
- Compensation that doesn’t depend on which city you live in - Start in SF, move to New Orleans? Go for it - your compensation will not change. We will always pay top industry rates, no matter where you are in your country.
- Synchronous & asynchronous days - Collaborate, brainstorm, and meet with your team when you need, and work asynchronously on days where you want to get stuff done. We usually do 2-3 synchronous days a week and the rest are asynchronous.
- Regular on-sites, local meetups - We regularly meet as a company in different US locations (i.e. about a week a quarter), and people clustered together can also host local fun event meetups every couple of weeks in their respective cities. This is in addition to co-location work days. We also require that every company-wide onsite is in a different state to avoid one geolocation becoming the “defacto HQ” - it also makes life a lot more fun, visiting different places.
- Travel & work internationally - We support employees who want to visit family, live abroad for a period, or for other personal reasons, up to the legal limits. We want to support you and know productivity isn't tied to a zip code.
We do not believe that innovation is “trapped in a room with a whiteboard.” Companies are just collections of people - they succeed or fail by how well they can work together, listen and respond to their customers, build and ship products to people who want them, and keep pushing the path of innovation forward. We believe that by empowering the best in the world, who believe in our culture and values - we can innovate, build, and ship better products, faster.
In our view, to truly build the future, you need to live and work in it. The future is built by responding and adapting to constant change - where people can do their best work, and live their best life. We think the future of AI infrastructure will be built by those who believe in our new and ever changing world, and who are based all over it.
We are building a legendary team; the absolute best in the industry with a bold vision for the future. If this resonates with you, and if you want to help us enable AI anywhere, for anyone, we encourage you to join the best AI infrastructure team in the world today.