How to be successful at SEP

October 11, 2017

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

SEP was started in 1988 by four engineers who thrived on challenging projects and continuous learning. They wanted to build a company where software engineers – not sales – worked directly with clients to streamline innovation and encourage collaboration.

Almost thirty years later, SEPeers come from different backgrounds: some have years of experience at other companies, others have come straight from school. We are not just engineers, but also testers, designers, project managers, software producers, customer experience makers.

This document is not meant to be an end-all, exhaustive, or fixed list of what SEP values. Rather, we hope this gives you a sense of the culture we’re working to cultivate and how to be successful at SEP, whether this is your first professional job or your fifteenth.

Always Be Learning

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.

We encourage you to be curious and to ask questions. Bring new perspectives and challenge norms, but be respectful and trust that others acted with good intentions and extra context you may be missing. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

We value continuous professional development. It is our responsibility to seek out new ideas from across our industry, dive deep and evaluate how we can use these ideas to improve our work and company. We find these ideas in books, conferences, blogs, courses, and in many other ways. We have the freedom and expectation 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 at SEP 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, but so is empathy. Assume and believe that everyone you work with is doing the best job they can, given what they know at the time, their abilities, the resources available, and the needs of the project.

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

Act Like An Owner

You will make mistakes. Everyone here has written bugs, said something foolish in a meeting, or been wrong about a project decision. And that’s okay.

Our company is owned by everyone that works here, literally. Acting like an owner means not shifting the blame. It 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 that own their mistakes. They acknowledge their error, take responsibility for the fallout, and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

As you grow at SEP, you will find plenty of support and encouragement. But we are not mind-readers! If you are not getting the type of opportunities you want, you should feel empowered to talk with your team, manager, or peers. Be prepared to reflect and demonstrate that you are capable and ready for more responsibility.

Build Your Network

Our culture is built on sharing. When someone has a problem, we help them solve it — even if they are not on our project. We all share the work at SEP: from helping organize hackathons, to cleaning the coffee machine, to building the best products we can for our clients.

We share both successes and failures so that others can learn from our past experiences. In the same vein, when someone learns or discovers something awesome, 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.

Serve Others

The most successful people at SEP enable others first and help themselves grow by making others around them better. They have a positive impact on not just their own teammates, but on 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). This means that we sometimes make a recommendation that leads to less business for us, but is the right thing for the client.

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 and quality to everything we do.

You will quickly find that the most difficult part of your job is balancing trade-offs. 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.

Doing the best job you can and working to balance these trade-offs is the fastest way to build up your own reputation at SEP. Great work leads to more trust, a wider range of opportunities, and more investment in your growth from the rest of the company.