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A former SpaceX employee gives a fascinating account of what it is like to work there

Link here. The account is everything you would expect. The work culture is open, efficient, and aggressive. You need to provide value and be self-motivated or you will not survive.

This one story reveals a lot:

[I]f I was in a meeting and it was adding value to what I did daily, stay, or if I was adding value based on my expertise, stay — but if neither of those things were happening, you should get up and respectfully walk out.

In one instance, a government customer came in with a 50-slide deck. Six slides into the presentation, 75% of the room had walked out. I had to tell him that if he didn’t get to the point, I’d be the only person left in the room — and only because I had to walk him out. He skipped ahead to his last five slides. That kind of environment makes you much more efficient.

I bet there are a lot of corporate workers reading this that fervently wish they had the right to walk out of a meeting that was wasting their time. Furthermore, consider that government customer: He or she brought a slide deck where 90% of the slides were fluff. That indicates the kind of work atmosphere he or she comes from.

For smart people who want to be creative, it would be an incredible pleasure to work in such an environment. No wonder SpaceX produces such good products.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Catch Thirty-Thr33

    Amazing. Yes, I would have loved such an environment. Working in logistics I was subject to all sorts of meetings that barely involved me that I could not get out of. Walking out of them would have led me to much greater productivity, allowing me to solve problems rather than talk endlessly about them.

  • M Puckett

    RE:, the power point…

    If you can’t blind them with brilliance, dazzle them with BS….error, does not work at SpaceX.

  • Edward

    From the article:

    My time at SpaceX has helped me run my own company

    Quite a number of companies have been started or are being run by former SpaceX and Blue Origin employees. SpaceX seems to still be creating leaders, and Blue Origin seemed to hemorrhage several leaders after Bob Smith took over. This makes it even harder for Bezos to return his company to its former glory.

    I ultimately left in February 2022 because I felt I was no longer learning.

    You might think it is bad for SpaceX to lose good people because they are no longer learning or because they are no longer challenged, which is true. These are the kind of people you want to have on your staff. You want people who will leave if you don’t keep them challenged or don’t keep them improving themselves. It is hard to lead people, because the ones you want to keep are the ones who are hardest to keep. The qualities that make them desirable are not teachable, they are innate; however, you may be able to awaken these qualities if they are already within your employee. Where I do some volunteer work I am trying to get a couple of volunteers to wake up their inner self-starter, if they have one.

    Robert wrote: “I bet there are a lot of corporate workers reading this that fervently wish they had the right to walk out of a meeting that was wasting their time.

    I once held a meeting to review a 400 page thermal vacuum test procedure. 20 or so people were involved, and the object of the exercise was to do a team discussion over any issues that affected multiple disciplines. We had a new quality engineer, who had not provided any inputs before the meeting, and he insisted that we spend meeting time on the “boilerplate” general information section of the procedure before we got into the important part of the procedure. Among other topics, the boilerplate contains instructions that informs the workers how to work safely and how to assure quality work, and it is supposed to be the same on all procedures. The new QE did not like the generalized information and references to the most recent versions of other procedures; he wanted the relevant instructions spelled out in the boilerplate and he wanted references to the specific versions of referenced procedures (e.g. A or B revision), so that when any of those other procedures were updated, my boilerplate became out of date and wrong, and there were people whose jobs it was to update those procedures. So I was always updating boilerplates on all my procedures, and most of the procedures were already wrong by the time they were performed.

    That drifted a bit off topic. The problem was that we spent the entire meeting with 20 people listening to the QE’s issues, which had nothing to do with anyone else’s issues, and everyone else’s time was completely wasted. Had the culture allowed for them to walk out, I would have ended up with the meeting that the QE and I should have had several days earlier and I could have rescheduled the general meeting for later. Instead, no one wanted to attend meetings with that QE, and I never did get my general meeting with everyone for that procedure or for any other procedures after that. Thus, procedural errors were discovered during the test rather than before the procedure was released, not just for that procedure but for many other procedures that the QE was involved in on that project.

    I suspect that design reviews with that QE went similarly poorly.

    So, yes. Robert is right. Many people do wish they could walk out of useless meetings.

    Come to think of it, being able to walk out of the meeting could have informed the QE that his methods needed changing.

  • M Puckett

    “Come to think of it, being able to walk out of the meeting could have informed the QE that his methods needed changing.”

    As I have been wont to say of late, that sends a signal.

  • Ray Van Dune

    “…Blue Origin seemed to hemorrhage several leaders after Bob Smith took over. This makes it even harder for Bezos to return his company to its former glory.”

    With all due respect, what “former glory” was that?

  • I applied for a SpaceX job (at the testing facility in McGregor, TX). I think I’m glad I didn’t get it. It would have been very stressful.

  • Diane Wilson

    I must have been in those meetings Edward described.

    When I learned how to conduct review meetings, the process was still based on the review process that IBM used for them Space Shuttle computers and software. There was a very clear separation of roles, with the review leader being a different person from the author, and another person assigned as reader to read or summarize the material being reviewed. The author did not speak except to answer direct questions.

    This is probably more people than most review processes would tolerate these days, but the key point is that the leader of the review needs to have authority to stop a review if it goes off track. Sidetracking issues can then be taken offline, and the review rescheduled. And the review leader needs to do exactly that. Reviews should never waste anyone’s time.

  • Jeff Wright

    There is no disconnect as in Blue–where suits stymie engineers or technicians.

    Disconnect means suits make bank… experienced men walk out to retire–not start new companies…and don’t-care employees are what’s left.

    The fish rots from the head.

  • Diane Wilson

    When I first joined IBM, there were still customers who would only talk to IBMers if they wore white socks.

  • Edward

    Ray Van Dune asked: “With all due respect, what “former glory” was that?

    Blue Origin was in two races. They won the race to be first to land a booster stage. But after they slowed down, they lost the race to be first to fly people on their rocket; Virgin Galactic sneaked in just ahead of them after Blue announced their launch date. By the time of the second race, however, both Blue and Virgin had been at it for so long that they both seemed to be the turtle.

    One of the differences between SpaceX and several other space companies is a sense of urgency. There are quite a few other commercial space companies that also have that sense of urgency, that it is important to fly sooner rather than later, and it is important to do it right enough on the first flight. As we have seen with Starliner, doing it wrong is very costly. As we have seen with Starlink vs WebOne and Kuiper, being first gets more customers in addition to getting revenues sooner rather than later.

    Blue Origin’s delay in its passenger service had been costly, not only in development costs but in lost revenue. Had they stayed on track and been able to initiate passenger service a year or two after their successful early test flights, they would have remained in their glory days, looking like a serious company rather than Bezos’s hobby.
    Jeff Wright wrote: “… experienced men walk out to retire–not start new companies…

    I’d rather have a workforce of people who will start their own companies, when they are ready, than people who are not such go-getters. Not only will they be wonderful workers while they are with me, but they will be excellent contacts when they have their own companies.

  • pzatchok

    In the last 15 years alone I think the company paid me for hundreds of hours of useless meetings plus at least a hundred hours of DEI meetings.

    Let alone all the printed garbage I had to read sign and or keep and take home just to be thrown away a week later.

    Multiply this by the thousands of world wide employees and they wasted millions.

  • Mac

    I question the claimed value of a cube-farm environment after many decades of software development. I’ve worked that way, and I’ve worked with a legit dedicated office with a door. Sometimes you need that door to concentrate. Cube farms tend to be very noisy and distracting. Of course, I’ve been a corporate code-monkey for most of those decades, and it has definitely been trending for the worse as we hire more and more D.I.E. and lowest-bidder contractors. (Don’t get me started on that completely insane “we hate our employees” trend, hot-desking…)

    I’d kill for the “get up and walk out” meeting culture, though. Especially when The Boss has 15 minutes left and starts talking about sportsball and other worthless nonsense to “fill up” the remaining time. I am fortunate that I have been around long enough that I can and do just drop the call, but I doubt actually walking out would be accepted if we were co-located for in-person meetings. Sort of an interesting spin on how that’s perceived, if you think about it.

  • Jeff Wright

    To Edward

    My point is that even go-getters can get worn down and worn out if they work at a place that doesn’t value them.

    Where SpaceX helps build steam up in individuals, many employers just destroy workers with soul crushing, soul eating conditions.

    Most of my memories are work related now….there isn’t a whole lot of “me” left. People I had forgotten remember me where memories of childhood are forgotten.

    If I ever come into some money, the first thing I do after paying off debts will be to tell employers just what I really think of them.

  • Edward

    I wrote: “ Where I do some volunteer work I am trying to get a couple of volunteers to wake up their inner self-starter, if they have one.
    Yesterday, someone whose inner self-starter I was not yet trying to wake up seems to have awakened his own all by himself. Good for him.

    Jeff Wright,
    You wrote: “My point is that even go-getters can get worn down and worn out if they work at a place that doesn’t value them.

    As I said, “It is hard to lead people, because the ones you want to keep are the ones who are hardest to keep.” Where I volunteer, we all tell the other volunteers often how much we appreciate what they do for us. We couldn’t keep the place going without them.

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