How to Be Successful at SEP

November 21, 2022
software developers smiling and working

The following document is based on advice shared with all new employees (SEPeers) on their first day at the company.

Here at SEP, we all come from different backgrounds; some of us have years of experience at other companies, and others have come straight from school. We are not just engineers, but also testers, designers, project managers, software producers, and customer & employee experience makers.

Since our founding in 1988, we’ve been a company where makers–not a sales team–work directly with clients to build great software. It’s part of what makes us different.

Let’s dig into the culture we’re working to cultivate and how to be successful at SEP, whether this is your first professional job or your fifth.

It’s Simple

  • Always Be Learning
  • No Brilliant A**holes
  • Act Like An Owner
  • Stay Human
  • Build Your Network
  • Serve Others
  • Do Great Work

Always Be Learning

Designers and engineers are curious creatures. We want to know how and why things work the way they do. We like exploring new ideas, tools, and techniques – always searching for a better way.

We encourage you to be curious and to ask questions. Bring new perspectives and challenge norms. Be respectful. Trust others to act with good intentions and extra context. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

We value continuous professional development. We take the initiative to seek out new ideas from across our industry. We dive deep and evaluate how we can use new concepts to improve our work and company. We seek out ingenuity in many ways–in books, conferences, blogs, world-class trainers and speakers, and more. We have the freedom to explore areas that interest us personally.

No Brilliant A**holes

There is a term in the industry for a genius employee who can’t work with others: the “Brilliant A**hole.” There is no place for this archetype at SEP.

  • We do everything in teams.
  • We work on projects as teams.
  • We plan events as teams.
  • We experiment with new company initiatives as teams.

Technical chops are a necessity, and so is empathy. Assume and believe that everyone you work with is doing their best, given what they know, their abilities, the resources available, and the project’s needs.

We have the opportunity to work with clients from a variety of industries and backgrounds. Sometimes they are very technical (working alongside other developers or designers), sometimes they are not so technical (subject matter experts or executives). It is our duty to treat everyone with respect, to communicate our ideas in a way that others understand, and to ensure others’ perspectives are heard.

Act Like An Owner

Our company is owned by everyone who works here, literally. Acting like an owner comes with a set of responsibilities that isn’t typical in most other jobs:

  • Owners speak up when there is room for improvement.
  • Owners actively look for ways to be more effective—on project teams, in meetings, with physical efficiencies around the building—you name it.
  • Owners sometimes make tough decisions for the good of the company.
  • Owners “own” things–if there’s a problem to solve, owners ask, “If not me, then who?”

You’re also a stakeholder in your own career here. As you grow at SEP, you will find plenty of support and encouragement. But we are not mind-readers. When you are ready for new challenges or to take on more responsibility, you should feel empowered to start those conversations with your team, manager, and peers. Be prepared to reflect and demonstrate that you are capable and ready for more responsibility.

Stay Human

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone here has written bugs, said something foolish in a meeting, or been wrong big and little decisions. That’s okay.

Staying human means owning the words you speak, the actions you take, and how you interact with others. The people that thrive at SEP are not the ones who don’t make mistakes but rather those who own their mistakes. Acknowledge your error, take responsibility for the fallout, and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

And when mistakes are made, plan to treat yourself and others with compassion. Remember we’re all on the same team. Your kindness and words of encouragement can go a long way within these walls.

Build Your Network

Our culture’s foundation is built on sharing. When someone has a problem, we help them solve it–even if they are not on our project or outside your lane. We all share the work at SEP:

  • Helping organize hackathons.
  • Cleaning the coffee machine.
  • Building the best products we can for our clients.

We share our successes and failures so that others can learn from our past experiences. In the same vein, when someone learns or discovers something extraordinary, we want to share it across the company so that we can make each other better.

We value connectedness so highly that every new employee gets a dedicated Guide to help them build their network and learn who can help them when they get stuck. When you’re not meeting with your Guide, there are a number of other ways to plug in—hackathons, book clubs, career check-ins, study groups—to name a few.

Serve Others

The most successful people at SEP make others around them better. They positively impact not just their team but also our clients and the company as a whole. Team leads at SEP aim to support their teams and help them to do their best work–not the other way around.

You will hear the term “advise and guide” around the office. We want to be more like doctors (using expertise to recommend the approach that best fits our client’s needs) and less like waiters (taking orders for exact specifications and working with our heads down). Being skilled practitioners means we sometimes make a recommendation that leads to less business for us but is the right thing for the client.

And internally, as you learn, troubleshoot, and succeed in your work, plan to share out to others through brownbags, team stand-ups, and water-cooler casual conversations. Sharing and teaching alongside your team makes us all better. Making others better is the fastest way to build up your own reputation at SEP.

Do Great Work

None of this matters if we can’t deliver quality work to our clients. We aren’t the cheapest option, and we don’t want to be. Great work is what we hang our reputation on. ‘Perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good,’ but we must bring a baseline of solid engineering practices, design practices, and quality to everything we do.

You will quickly find that balancing trade-offs is the most challenging part of your job. We are constantly trying to do what is best for our clients, which is not always what is easiest for us. At the same time, we have to consider the cost and speed of delivery. These trade-offs exist on a spectrum, constantly shifting and rarely the same between projects.

Do the best job you can with what you have. Great work leads to more trust, a wider range of opportunities, and more investment in your growth from the rest of the company.

Our Purpose

We want to build a healthy company where people can do great work and live a life they love.

We love to make.
We strive to make an impact on our employees, customers, our customers customers, and our communities.
We constantly push the boundaries of our craft.

This isn’t easy work, but it is meaningful.

We build software that matters more.

To you. To us. To the World.

See how we tackle our toughest problems together.

Learn more about our collaborative culture at SEP.

Explore SEP Culture »

Based on original post by Matt Swanson.