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How We Create an Organization Driven by Our Goals & Values at Fairwinds

There was a moment while deciding on focus for my MBA that I thought I should lean into HR. I am as fascinated by how humans work as I am about how technology works. Ultimately, I went the generalist route, because the thing that gets me excited about work is how we can make a machine that creates opportunity — both in terms of the product we sell and in terms of the way we run our organization. At Fairwinds that’s something we put at the heart of everything we do, to create an organization that is driven by our goals and values.

To paraphrase (and mashup) both Christopher Kilmer (founder of Kenzan, where I spent five really excellent years), and Bob Brennan (Chair of Fairwinds' Board): my goal is to make an organization that lets each of us achieve the things that are important to us... to provide financial, educational/advancement, and social-emotional opportunity. And part of that is our Turing scholarship program, which is how we are putting diversity, equity, and inclusion into action by offering scholarships specifically for students who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

Changing The Face Of Technology

At Fairwinds, we believe that part of our job is to be a part of changing the face of technology at large. We invest deeply in, and create opportunities for underrepresented talent — especially for folx just starting out in tech through our internship program. If we want to see different faces on executive teams and in board rooms, it’s our responsibility to instigate a groundswell.

To do that, we have to create a work environment that is high performing, psychologically safe, and both goals- and values-driven. At Fairwinds, we approach this in a few ways:

  1. Our Engineering Organization’s Leadership Philosophy is public and we hold each other to it.
  2. We have a learning orientation and believe that we all have something to teach and many things to learn.
  3. We hold ourselves, and each other, accountable. We have high expectations for what excellence looks like, and we look for it in each other and in ourselves daily.
  4. We care deeply about each other and it shows — we act like and treat each other as whole humans. We celebrate and toil together. We check in on each other.
  5. Our Engineering Leadership team (technical leads, engineering managers, directors, and up) is available with digital open doors for any questions or issues. Being available and accessible are table stakes at Fairwinds.

How Do We Know If It’s Working?

Creating and maintaining culture is hard; it's something that the best teams actively work to make successful. In an organization that’s primarily remote, with employees based around the world, that can be a bigger challenge. Add in a global pandemic, when we lost the ability to meet face to face, continued to grow the team, and faced unusual challenges in our working environments - it wasn’t easy. Today, Fairwinds culture is stronger than ever, and we can see it at work in important ways:

  1. We have regular Learning Jams, open to anyone to run. A healthy organization has lots of topics and speakers who are excited to teach each other.

  2. We see response time to each other is at least as good as our external response time. When someone needs help, there’s a rapid call and response. Folx aren’t afraid to say they don’t know, and are extremely low-ego in their approach to helping.

  3. People are asking good — and hard — questions. Of leadership and of each other. They are engaged in the business and invested in its success.

  4. And finally, how does it feel to be at work? This is subjective, but it’s palpable. Is there a lightness to interactions? Is there laughter in group meetings? Are folx engaging in some of the less work-specific conversations in Slack. (For example, a recent Watercooler channel daily topic: What 5 condiments would you take with you to a desert island? This question received some very entertaining responses. )

What Are We Doing To Live Our Values?

It’s great to hear and watch how our teams welcome each person to contribute to our conversations, which means that everyone — from interns to contractors to SREs to the CEO — is part of teaching and learning at Fairwinds.

One of our previous scholarship recipients, Cyndee, worked as a paid intern at Fairwinds as a direct result of her Turing scholarship, and Fairwinds’ partnership with Black at Turing, the school’s affinity group for Black students and alumni. During her internship, Cyndee secured full-time employment as a software engineer; Cyndee’s work with our team helped her gain practical experience and put new skills into action. Fairwinds is continuing to work with the Turing School of Software and Design, and we’ve just announced our newest Fairwinds Scholarship recipients:

  • Lourdes is changing careers to pursue her interest in software development.

  • Marla is passionate about the intersection of technology and dance and hopes to support the construction of arts and culture resilience in communities.

  • Natalia is leaving a career as an adolescent case worker with her local public health department to pursue a career in software development.

As I said in 2020 before joining Fairwinds, “[I]f you’re a Black woman with a nose ring and pink dreadlocks who can crush some code or help us maximize our operational efficiency — and can make our stakeholders sing your praises while doing it — then we want to meet you. No need to take out your piercing for the interview."

Fairwinds puts its money where its mouth is with academic and cost-of-living aid scholarships for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) while they pursue an education in software development. And we’ve focused our paid internship program on underrepresented talent as another tangible way that we’re putting our goals and values into action at Fairwinds.

For those who are passionate about software development and looking to join a team committed to justice and equity nationally and within the tech space, we’re hiring.

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