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DigitalOcean is simplifying cloud infrastructure to empower the next generation of startups. They’ve been tremendously successful: in just over 2 ½ years, DigitalOcean has become the second-largest hosting company in the world in terms of web-facing computers, and their team has seen explosive growth. 

We sat down for an exclusive interview with Matt Hoffman, DigitalOcean’s VP of People, to learn how they make the magic happen.

Onboarding(Photo courtesy DigitalOcean)

How would you sum up DigitalOcean’s culture, mission and people?

It’s a great question to start with, because in many ways our mission is so completely tied to our people and culture. DigitalOcean’s mission is to simplify web infrastructure for software developers to help empower them and drive innovation. And since we are a company both for and of developers, that ties directly into our culture as well.   

We’ve intentionally built a culture that is based on the same core concepts that drive our product: simplicity, transparency, and love. 

We’ve built a product and community that developers love, and we want to replicate that experience for our employees.  And we translate the foundational ideas of ease of use and simplicity of our product into the way we run our company and treat our employees.  Approaches like continuous, “always-on” development-focused feedback, policies that empower rather than constrain, and an incredible sense of camaraderie and community across employees help define our culture.  We believe deeply in a “People First” environment that provides the support and structure to help everyone at DO grow, develop and reach their full potential.

If someone were writing a feature on DigitalOcean and its culture, what would be one thing impossible for them not to include?

I mentioned this in the last answer but it’s absolutely love.  We’ve created a product that developers love, we’ve created a community to support developers around the world, and our support team works 24/7 to enable them.  Everything we do on the product side is designed to make our customers feel loved, and it’s exactly the same commitment on the employee side.

At the strategic level, that means building a growth- and development- focused organization that supports people always getting better at the things they love to do most.  At a tactical level, it’s the many offsites and team-building events we run, the birthday wheel of prizes, and the recognition we share at our bi-weekly town hall, where everyone has the chance to publicly give props to another employee for the awesome work they are doing.

We make sure that employees experience the culture of love starting from their first day in the office. We have a dedicated onboarding coordinator focused on a great Day One experience with details like having their desk fully set up with their computer / monitor, a handwritten welcome note, a bottle of champagne, and tons of DO stickers and swag. (Of course we also make sure they are set up for success with clear 90-day goals and regular check-ins with their manager too!)

And existing employees feel appreciated because we go above and beyond to make them feel at home (even when they are working remotely!), whether it be through feeding them in the office 3x day, or the many events we hold to help them connect and enhance their relationships inside and outside of work.

What primary qualities are you looking for in a new hire?

We are working on some really complex and interesting challenges, and we need really smart people to help us solve them.  But I’d probably say that the best candidates, in addition to that, are people who believe that no matter how experienced you are, development is a continually ongoing process -and  you should always be learning.

Another characteristic I’ve noticed of our most successful hires is that they genuinely enjoy the process of collaboration. We have a very team-driven environment at DO and there is very little patience for brilliant divas who don’t work well with others.

What are some of the benefits of working at DigitalOcean?

We offer some really great benefits and perks.  Certainly some of the basics for a high growth startup; open PTO, full health coverage for employees & their families, 401k matching, free meals and snacks, a beautiful office in NY, a choice of any computer workstation you like, and sponsored gym memberships.

But the biggest benefit to my mind is just the experience of being involved in building something special for our employees and customers.  We’re only in the early stages of the company;  still in the process of refining our own daily operating system, and that’s often the most fun and exciting time in a business’s lifecycle, as we try to create the approach that works best and feels most authentic to DigitalOcean.

Beach (Photo courtesy DigitalOcean)

I understand DigitalOcean is also pretty big on continued learning. Can you briefly talk about the book club, DigitalOcean University, and what employees love about it?

We are absolutely a learning and development- based culture in every sense of the word.  Our book club is a great example.  Co-founder Moisey Uretsky is a voracious reader, and much of DigitalOcean’s philosophy around product strategy and leadership is influenced by the books he reads. So every month he shares his thoughts on one of the books that shaped his perspective, and as a company we have a discussion on that book and related topics. It’s extremely cool — imagine him sitting in the library wearing a smoking jacket and holding a glass of scotch — and it’s also a fun way to help employees spur new and innovative ideas.

We also give every employee who joins DO a Kindle and they can request any other book they want, as long as it’s related to their personal or professional development.

DO University is a program that helps provide more formalized opportunities to learn and grow. One subset, S.W.I.M. (Starts with Inspirational Managers) is a 6-week boot camp for all DO managers to make sure they are effectively leading their teams and supporting their employees. It’s an innovative, immersive program led by LifeLabs that focuses on the most critical levers of being a great manager.  We also offer a number of one-off sessions for all employees on topics like mindfulness, presentation skills, and giving & receiving feedback.

As an executive and leader, what’s the most important aspect of your job in regards to communicating with and rallying your team?

Because we are in rapid-growth mode, there’s always way more going on than any one person can typically keep track of. I have an amazing team that I work with who are incredibly talented subject matter experts. So in many ways, my job is to help provide clarity and direction on the most important business priorities, work with them to align on how we are going to best tackle them, and then provide them the space and support to lead their respective areas.  We find it useful to have weekly team check-ins focused on how we can help each other; and then I use my 1:1 time with each of my directs to review progress against our goals and ensure I’m doing everything I can to support their success.

Recruiting(Photo courtesy DigitalOcean)

Has DigitalOcean faced any pain points as it’s grown? How have you dealt with them?

Our business, like many high-growth startups, has been growing much faster than a typical organization can scale.  It’s a great problem to have, but still one that requires intention in addressing.  For example, one of the biggest issues we’ve had is around helping employees feel that they are growing their careers apace with the business, providing as many opportunities for them to develop as broadly as possible, while also recognizing that there may still be some roles in which we need leaders from outside the company. And when that happens, it’s also really important to make sure that 1) you are still providing growth opportunities and new challenges for your long-term employees, and 2) even when you hire from the outside you still retain all the things you love about your company, letting external hires enhance the culture, not replace it.  

What’s one internal communications trend or tool you think more companies should embrace?

We do bi-weekly Ask Me Anything’s (AMA’s) with Ben Uretsky, our CEO, where we encourage all employees to ask any question they like (hence the name!) about anything related to the company.  And Ben always answers with complete candor and transparency.  

It’s a great way, as we get bigger, to ensure that all our employees feel heard and remain connected to the business.  We always close out the sessions with public peer recognition, which is a great way to demonstrate how much we appreciate each other and call out when colleagues that are most fully embodying the DO values.

What are the indicators or benchmarks for success DigitalOcean looks to when evaluating its team’s health and productivity levels?

We do a twice-yearly engagement survey to get direct feedback on how employees are feeling and what we could do better.  We share all the results with everyone in the organization, along with peer company benchmarks, and each functional team then meets to come up with action plans to drive further improvement in their areas. We publish those action plans across the company to make sure we hold each other accountable.   

And of course we care about voluntary attrition as another indicator of organizational health – happily we are far below industry norms.  People love working at DO and they’ve overwhelmingly stayed, even in a heated talent market.

What do you love most about working at DigitalOcean?

Is it too cliché to say the employees?  It’s totally true though. We have an amazing bunch of people in the company. They are smart, passionate, motivated, caring and basically just really cool people to hang out with.   I’m incredibly lucky to be a part of this organization.

Liked this post? You’ll love the other articles in our Enplug Interviews series!

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