The MadCap life

Tom Johnson asked if I could post about what it’s like to work at MadCap Software. I’m not so sure it’s interesting to others, but I’ll try to describe it.

I have all this fun and I get paid for it 

First of all, this is my favorite job ever, including when I was running my own company. I require a job that has a lot of variety and different things to do. One of the biggest challenges I face in any workplace is boredom. I really need to be learning and doing many things or I get bored. A bored Sharon is an unhappy Sharon – that’s why Cultural Anthropology Grad School and running my own very successful consulting company both worked super well for me.

Perhaps I have a form of ADD – I’ve often thought that some of the best tech writers have a form of ADD because that way of managing the world works so well in a hi-tech environment, where things compete for your attention in about 10 minute increments. My husband probably has a form of ADD, he admits, and it’s worked well for him in the journalism world, which usually moves as fast as the hi-tech world.

I also need to feel that what I’m doing is making a difference. My idea of hell would look like a factory floor worker, where I’m just another cog in a big machine. I need to feel like what I’m doing matters and impacts something. That what I’m doing is valued.

This was one of the big problems with my previous job as Docs Manager – there were several but this was the biggest – at the corporate level, they didn’t value docs. What I’ve spent 15 or so years doing and teaching and learning about didn’t matter to them at all. The CEO said to me in front of a customer “No one reads the manuals.” And then dismissed the customer when he protested that no, no, he read the manuals closely and liked the changes he was seeing under my watch.

I loved my staff and the difference we were making for the customer but the corporation had no interest in helping the customer use the product and eventually, it became too much for me. I have to feel like what I do matters to the people I’m doing it for or I can’t do it. I could wait tables again and at least get the good feelings from providing people with a pleasant meal.

Our culture is better than your culture

We have a very intense, start up, culture: We’re aware that we’re building the tools that will change the direction of the Tech Comm industry. We know that our product decisions have a direct and immediate impact on people. And that’s really exciting because how often do you get to do that?

Our developers are great – they know Tech Pubs but they’re not experts at Tech Pubs. So my years of experience are pulled in for things like workflow questions. Our guys want to elegantly solve design problems (they are engineers) but applicability is important too. So it’s not just “Should the product do this?”, it’s more “What would make life easier for a tech writer?” It’s a subtle development difference but a really important one.

For example, Analyzer. We were working hard on Blaze when a discussion about reporting and the lack of in the current version of Flare came up. Next thing we knew, we decided to delay Blaze to build Analyzer because Analyzer would help Tech Pubs people solve real problems right now. And we added features based on the idea of “What would be helpful for someone to be able to fix? How can we make lives easier?” I’m pretty proud of what we did and love demo-ing the product.

All work and no play makes us, well, who knows?

We also typically work long hours – notice that I’m writing this on a Sunday morning. Our tech writer works insane hours. He’s been with us from the beginning and knows the products much better than I do.

I can count on our Chief  Technology Guy to send emails overnight or on the weekends as a thought strikes him. I also know he’s writing code like a wild man because he thinks in code. I swear he does. Don’t tell him I said so, but I think he looks at his 3 beautiful kids as interesting long term engineering problems. (It’s really fun when they’re in the office because they mostly speak Swedish to him and they’re very small and adorable and cling to him. They love their Daddy. I like listening to his tone of voice when he speaks to them.)

But we don’t just work; we’re a pretty tight knit group. For example, we have a Ping Pong room with a table and we run championships. My interest in Ping Pong was actually an interview question. (I don’t know how to play, I said, but I’m very open to learning.) People stop work and grab someone to play a game with. It helps people to relax and refocus.

We have award ceremonies at the end of a championship play and the winner gets an award. A few people have several trophies on their desk. It’s pretty fun when the entire company gathers for the awards ceremonies and applauds the winners.

We’ve also started Happy Hours, which sadly for me, happen on Friday nights, when I work from home, 100 miles to the north. I want to go, but it seems a bad idea to feed me drinks and then put me in my little Miata to fly home in the dark at 80 miles an hour. Nothing good could come from that. When I move to San Diego, I can start going. (Anyone want to buy my house? It’s a great house…)

Where everybody knows your name

I think our biggest competitive advantage in this market space is being small and customer focused. Our competition is, largely, very big companies that can’t move fast because getting all those cogs moving in another direction is just hard. All software products have “issues” but when they’re found in our products, we can usually fix them in a day or 2 and release a patch. And we contact the customer that found it and let them know we fixed it.

We also listen to what our customers want – Analyzer came out of that, for example. We were willing to delay Blaze to meet a need that our customers told us about. If you’re using our products and see something that would help you, you can submit that to us. If you do that, make sure you include specifically why you want it. Remember, our guys know tech pubs but they’re not experts at tech pubs. They need to know why something would help you.

We also get new product ideas by talking to people when we’re out in the world, at conferences, presentation, or just watching a newsgroup. We really want to build products you want to use. We don’t have a 3 year roadmap that we’re locked into so good luck on your problems. We know where we’re going but we are also very flexible about it.

In sum, one can see…

I hope I’ve shared a little about what it’s like to work at MadCap Software. Everyone is very good at what they do, we work hard and a lot to build products you want to use but make time for Ping Pong and drinking. And to admire the firemen who go to the gym across the street every day about 3pm. Or at least, several of us take that time. I think it’s important to relax and refocus.

It’s really the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I don’t want it to ever stop.


4 Responses to “The MadCap life”

  1. Thanks for posting this. I really enjoyed reading it. It’s not often that one can get a glimpse into the work culture of one of the most innovative companies in the industry. Like you, I also find that avoiding boredom and making a difference are key characteristics of a satisfying job. Keep up the great posts.

  2. I second Tom’s response above.

    I love the bit about the Ping Pong ROOM. You won’t see the likes of that here on the East Coast. You won’t even see a Ping Pong table. You’re lucky to have candy or soda machines or parking spaces.

    The West and East coasts are split personalities. Never the twain shall meet. Sigh.

  3. Amazing. This sounds so much like where I work.
    We’ve got a ping pong table in the hall and everyone knows everyone’s name too. Although we’ve got badminton which is rather popular on weekdays as well. Maybe its the repetitive nature and speed of ping pong that appeals to software development…:)

  4. I dig the ping pong room. Pictures are here.
    If MadCap were based in, say Australia or NZ or any Commonwealth where beer is the fifth food group, I could see a kegerator in there as well.

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