Six weeks ago, I launched my website Key Values on Hacker News and got a glimpse into what Hacker News readers value most when looking for an engineering job.
Key Values helps engineers find jobs based on shared values, and allows them to learn more about a team’s culture before applying. Job-seekers can visit the site and select from a list of 44 value tags including “Team is Diverse,” “Light Meetings,” and “Open Source Contributor” (see full list here), which then filters the teams that have matching values.
I curated this values list after interviewing dozens of engineers who identify themselves as missionaries, not mercenaries. They believe that team culture and the people they work with are as important as (if not more important than) compensation or company reputation.
I then asked teams to pick the 8 values from this preset list that best describe their engineering culture, and qualify their selections in their profiles.
Whether Hacker News readers were actively looking for a job or not, these were the top 15 tags they selected:
Hacker News vs. Product Hunt
“Work/Life Balance” and “High Quality Code Base” landed the #1 and #2 spots for both communities, and we see “Flexible Work Arrangements” and “Team is Diverse” in common as well.
Not surprisingly, people from Product Hunt were more interested in finding “Product-Driven” teams, doing “Creative + Innovative” work, and joining a company that “Engages with [its] Community.” None of these values were highly prioritized by Hacker News readers.
Instead, Hacker News readers searched for “Impressive Team Members,” hoping to find a team that “Eats Lunch Together” and has “High Employee Retention.” These are in line with the idea that software engineers make up more of Hacker News’ audience than Product Hunt’s, and say something about how we’d like to change jobs less frequently and stop eating lunch alone at our desks.
Looking at the least popular values from each community, it’s not surprising to see “Design-Driven” at the bottom of Hacker News’ list, and “Thoughtful Office Layout” at the bottom of Product Hunt’s. Again, it looks like Key Values reached more developers through Hacker News, and that I’m not the only one who struggles to be productive in a noisy, open office space.
Hacker News vs. dev.to
A few weeks after launching, I published an article in dev.to about my experience going from lurker to launcher. “How I stopped procrastinating, learned to code, and launched my first product” also made it to the front page of Hacker News.
Even with the clear overlap between Hacker News and dev.to readers here, there were still differences between each community’s value selections. Notably, “Good for Junior Devs” and “Ideal for Parents” are at the top of dev.to’s list and not even on Hacker News’ top 15 (see above).
Yes, articles about learning to code and launching a product for the first time appeal to green devs, but it’s not as obvious why these same readers would be looking for workplaces suited for parents. Perhaps both junior developers and parents are better represented in dev.to’s readership.
Hacker News by Country
To look more closely at the Hacker News community, I broke down value selections by country. Regardless of what country readers came from, “Work/Life Balance” and “High Quality Code Base” were consistently ranked in the top two.
I’ve had conversations with engineers around the world as a result of Key Values, and I’ve learned that the way we define work/life balance and high quality code varies tremendously from person to person. They’re both frequently debated in Hacker News, deeply personal to developers, and deserve full discussions of their own. Nevertheless, people agree that they should be prioritized above any other key values.
Let’s look at the top values for each country. Hacker News readers in the United States choose “Promotes from Within” more than readers from anywhere else. Does this mean that Americans have a stronger desire to climb the ladder, or does it reveal something about how poorly American companies reward their employees compared to other countries? It’s hard to know.
Similarly, is “Continuous Delivery” more important to developers in the United Kingdom, or is this a sign that companies in the UK need to adopt faster deployment processes?
The least popular values also prompt several interesting discussions. We obviously don’t choose values that aren’t important to us, but sometimes we don’t choose them because they don’t help differentiate employers. Germans rarely selected “Ideal for Parents,” but likely because all employers in Germany enforce the same, generous family leave policy. Maybe the unpopular values show us what companies are doing well.
Searching for what we don’t have
When I first started Key Values, I thought I was simply polling job-seekers about their personal values and work preferences. Pretty quickly though, I noticed how hard it is for us to talk about what we’re looking for next without saying a lot about our past. In most cases, we talk about what we want by describing what we don’t want.
One full-stack engineer that I spoke to worked at a company for 3 years without being promoted. At this company, multiple people expressed interest in taking on managerial roles, but engineering managers were always brought in externally. She listed “Promotes from Within” as her #1 value.
Another engineer I spoke to had recently left his job because of how much process there was. Despite being a <100-employee company, there were 3 layers of managers between him and the CTO, the person who originally pitched and closed him. Frustrated by the bureaucracy, he quit and is now looking for a similarly sized company, minus the hierarchy. He chose “Flat Organization” in his top three.
Seeing “Work/Life Balance” and “High Quality Code Base” at the top of every list, regardless of community or country, says something about engineering culture at large. Clearly, the bar is too high when it comes to hours and too low when it comes to quality.
I’d like to point out that there are currently 38 teams on Key Values, but only one lists both “Work/Life Balance” and “High Quality Code Base”: Good Eggs. You can also learn about their agile processes, continuous delivery, and why lunchtime is especially special to them in their profile.
Key Values has given me the opportunity to talk to, work with, and learn from hundreds of engineers across the globe. I hope that sharing this data will spark interesting conversations for others the way it has for me, and help employers and employees think more about value alignment at the work place.
I’ve wondered how releasing this information might impact the way teams choose their values moving forward, and if that’s okay. My guess is that teams will continue to be as introspective and thoughtful in writing their profiles as they have been thus far. Besides, I ask teams to re-evaluate their values if they struggle to qualify them, and it is ultimately up to you, the engineer, to decide whether teams can prove that they “walk the walk”.
If anything, this data will encourage employers, managers, and employees to rethink their values and examine whether they’re being translated into daily operations. Every company desperately wants to attract, hire, and retain engineering talent. If they’re serious about hiring people who care more about making meaning than they do money, they’ll listen and meet us where we are.
Before you go
I’m Lynne Tye, the creator of Key Values. I plan to add more values to my list, profile many more teams, and write more about my learnings. I recently wrote about how I went from lurker to launcher, as Key Values is the first product I’ve ever launched.
If you want to follow my journey in building Key Values or get updates about new team profiles, subscribe to my weekly newsletter! You can also follow me on Twitter (@lynnetye, @keyvaluesio) or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get in touch. 🤗