It’s all ways nice to visit an old school Red Hat office. The Waterford office is on a relatively scruffy business park on the outskirts of town, with some other tech companies , some non-tech companies (car repair shop) and rather bizarrely the Church of the Latter Day Saints. It’s not branded and there are plenty of FeedHenry mugs and since September 2014 (when Red Hat acquired FeedHenry) there has not been too much in the way of decorating. The branding is basically limited to a few notices including a couple of the toilets. There are also some nice Aeron style chairs probably bought some flush of investment. Cost effective start up offices in a town with a good Technical Institute nearby, where the guys who work there came from.
Maybe I’m nostalgic to the old Red Hat office in Guildford, which housed sales, engineers, support and training, from 2001 to about 2007. Too many people, small desks, the constant onsite present of the printer repairman, broken coffee machines and a queue for the toilet were a trip down memory lane. Luckily (as far as I know) the folks in Waterford haven’t been exposed to the unusual toilets habits of the Phantom Crapper, who’d aim the edge of the seat rather than the hole through the middle (a still unidentified assailant of the limits of geek sensibilities).
I’m glad that this culture hasn’t gone from Waterford, yet. Corporate styling, with motivational slogans and posters are all good, but there are trimmings of company identity rather than creators and purveyors of culture. It’s the strive for individual authenticity that creates a culture. In the way people code, eat, use their working hours and the way they dress as individuals. True theres some influence from peers, but its not driven by not from corporate direction top down. It’s tribal. As companies grow they refactor offices to separate the sandal and shorts wearing techies to different parts of the building from the financial, sales and operations functions. If possible to different buildings and if the opportunity arises, different cities. I’ll add that you do find the shorts and sandals in finance and operations but they are a much rarer breed.
The culture never really existed in the Baker Street office Red Hat has in London. It was never really a developer office, but one mainly used by sales people. To them the move to a new corporate office in the City cannot come quick enough and something Red Hat’s clients of the 2016 expect. The Red Hat office in Cork is in branded office up by the airport and is dominated by finance and operations teams, and is completely different from the Waterford environment. The office in Waterford brings enthusiasm and a techie mentality which is the core of what Red Hat, but to some extent has been lost at the sales fringes. Ironically enough it’s this mentality that some organisations are now craving and want to have in their own organisations. As well as recruiting good developers and getting some coaching from Red Hat on ‘doing’ software development, they maybe want to look at getting some cheap office space out on the edge of town, rather than at the corporate headquarters. Having a cafe on the business park that does curry and chips for lunch is essential, whereas a menu including salmon and quinoa salad wouldn’t quite feel right.
Whilst an environment itself cannot create culture, it can place the individual at ease and let them be authentic, in the same I cannot function wearing a shirt, maybe I’m more comfortable in an office where I have to sort through a cupboard of personal mugs in the hoping of finding one that won’t cause a storm on the office mailing list. Writing this as I’m crossing the Irish Sea back to Wales, I realise that I’m drawn to this type of environment and its surprising that the one or two offers I’ve had from smaller tech companies over the last 10 years haven’t persuaded by go back to sharing desks in an office above a laundrette. Bugger, I miss the smell, the vibe and the feeling of being directly involved in something special.