A lot of different kinds of people work at Valve, but one group may have difficulty fitting in at first.
People who shift from working in Hollywood to working at Valve are in for some serious culture shock, according to company founder Gabe Newell. Valve, the publisher of games like Portal and the operator of the Steam, has a unique corporate structure where employees never need to seek approval to work on something. Instead, everyone is supposed to decide for themselves where they would make the biggest contribution.
In order for Valve’s work environment to function, people have to approach it differently than other jobs.
“One of the consequences is that if somebody here says to somebody else, ‘Why did you do that?’ That’s a really friendly question,” Newell explained to a roundtable of media outlets including GamesBeat. “That’s not an aggressive question. That means they actually care enough about what you’re doing to be curious about your decision-making process, and they might have something to contribute. As opposed to, I’m challenging your authority to make that decision and I’m questioning the output of your process. That’s one of the things that, when people come in from other industries to Valve, we have to train them a little bit.”
But Newell has found that people who come to Valve from Hollywood have an especially difficult time even with the training. He says that the environment in Hollywood is so controlled that no one from that business feels comfortable with working on their own. Instead, they are like a wounded animals who don’t trust their new, easygoing master.
“[Most people] catch on pretty quick, unless they came from the movie industry, and then it takes them about a year,” said Newell. “It’s just the reality of the environments they’re trained in — where even if somebody manages to trick you into showing some autonomy, you know that you’ll be punished horribly for it. It’s that beaten-dog thing. It takes a while before they think, OK, I’ll show some independent thought here, and then they go and hide under their desk.”
Eventually, even those people come around and begin contributing to Valve’s special infrastructure.