Why I Work At ThoughtWorks (and why you should too…)

Alas, we enter a new year, a time at which many people start thinking about opportunities. This was a place I found myself, three years ago today, when I made the decision that I wanted to work for ThoughtWorks. Three years, four countries, and several really great clients later, I still feel as good about ThoughtWorks as the day I made that fateful decision. This posts outlines why I am here, why I stay, and why you should consider a future here as well. I should make sure to say here, as always, these views are mine, and do not necessarily represent that of the company.

Reason #1: Lack of an “adult/child” dynamic between sales and delivery that is common at many firms

In many companies, particularly consulting companies, salespeople call the shots, have most of the respect, and take home most of the rewards. Delivery – the “programmers”, are the people who are to be managed, paid as little as possible, and controlled by management. You see this commonly in pay structures, you see this in who is listened to when it is time to try a new idea (i.e. think agile before it was popular), and you see this in who makes up the management of the company. Bluntly, what you tend to see in most consulting companies is that former salespeople make up most of the management – which helps contribute to this effect.

At ThoughtWorks, in my experience, the relationship between demand generation and supply is much more balanced. It isn’t always perfect – sometimes we may go too far to the delivery end of the spectrum here, to the chagrin of our demand generation people – but it is much better than the status quo most places, where salespeople are considered “the adults in the room”, with “resources” (aka delivery) to be managed. It has a much more egalitarian feel – which feeds into a greater sense of career satisfaction and engagement. It is not a mistake that this greater sense of engagement, frankly, is a driver of our growth.

Reason #2: We have a purpose

In most companies, consulting or no, the sole purpose of profit is to enrich shareholders. At ThoughtWorks, we have a greater purpose. When we say we want to change the world and make it a better place, we mean it. As a firm, we invest our energy, our time, and significant resources towards projects that serve the cause of social justice.

Why does this matter? I don’t know about you, but the idea that the profits that I help create for this company make the world a better place is a lot more compelling to me than the alternative, which is usually helping some rich dude buy a slightly larger yacht. It makes me more engaged in my work than I would otherwise be. And I can’t speak for everyone at ThoughtWorks, but this is true for scores of others as well.

Ironically, it is this greater engagement that increases our financial returns. Companies that lack this purpose driven engagement often have to use extrinsic means (usually cash) in order to try to achieve the same level of commitment. Because our people are more engaged, they are more likely to go above and beyond for our clients. This, in turn, drives greater financial success, greater technical innovation, and greater ability to do social impact work – starting the cycle anew. While ThoughtWorks isn’t Consultopia, a concept I described in my book about consulting, it is likely the closest company among large technology consulting companies you will find.

Reason #3 – We are truly transnational

For me, one of the chief reasons I joined ThoughtWorks was that I wanted to work for a truly global company that was global for the right reasons. There are many companies that seek to open offices in India or other offshore locales in order to do rate arbitrage. They will say they are opening offices in places like India to access the talent pool, but what they usually mean is that they need a means to do work at lower rates.

One of the things that impresses me about ThoughtWorks is that, as a strategy, when we open an offshore office, we make it a priority to find work in that market, and as a goal, make it so that market can be self-sustaining. Two years ago, we opened our first Latin American office in Porto Allegre, Brazil. Within a year, we already had clients in the Brazilian market. Our efforts in China over the years have also yielded “in China, for China” type work.

There are several benefits to this. A primary benefit is that we gain better geographic diversity in our client base. This diversity allows us to better weather the natural ups and downs that will occur in any given region. As places like Brazil, India, and China rise, we already have relationships with those respective business communities. This does not happen if you are primarily in the rate arbitrage business, as companies that do that tend to tie offshore revenue to first world economies – spending most of their energy doubling down on first world business relationships, rather than developing world relationships.

Why is this good for you, as a potential ThoughtWorker? First off, you get a chance to get involved in these emerging markets. Second, you have a better shot at getting exposed to these cultures – all of which add to your value as a consultant should you decide to learn how to work with such a diverse set of people. Third, you work for an organization that is sufficiently diversified that the potential rise of Brazil, India, and China will only create more opportunities for you, rather than fewer.

Reason #4 – We won’t do evil

As a company, we have strong values. Every client we take on, we vet to make sure we are comfortable with what they do as a business. This isn’t always easy, and there are definitely shades of gray. But chances are, if a company derives most of it’s revenue from activities related to war, uses it’s profits to fuel hate against marginalized minorities, such as blacks, women, or the LGBT community, or otherwise does not have aligned values, we will not work for them.

This does not come without cost. There have been times where our pipeline was light, and work was offered that would help the company through a slow period. And frequently, there are very vibrant conversations about exactly where to draw the line when something is a “shade of gray”. I am reasonably certain we do not always get it right. But compared to most companies, which, being polite, operate on the principle of ATM (Anything For Money) – ThoughtWorks is head and shoulders above the rest.

Reason #5 – We often work on the hardest, most difficult problems

When we engage, the stakes are usually quite high for the company engaging us. This provides a sense of meaning and purpose to the work that is compelling, frequently very technically interesting, and almost always very interesting from a social point of view. After approaching three years at ThoughtWorks, it has become rather obvious to me that many problems that are presumably software problems really have a corporate strategy or political problem at their core. This kind of work, very common here, helps you as a ThoughtWorker exercise skills that a pure software shop can’t offer – things like building coalitions, selling crazy ideas, and creating delivery climates conducive to innovation. ThoughtWorks is not just a great place to learn technology, agile, lean, or continuous delivery – it is also a great place to learn how to navigate the ropes that exist in large organizations so you can actually get things done.

It isn’t for Everyone

Look, ThoughtWorks isn’t for everyone. Most roles require extensive travel. And we have a pretty hard-core vetting process for new hires. But I believe that the opportunity to do amazing work – work that is literally “make or break” type work for many of our clients – in a manner that truly makes the world a better place – is worth it. It is a place where you will have deep respect as a technical person. It is a place that bears the costs of doing the right thing. It is a place that you will be proud to work for. If you would like to join us, please let me know, either directly (aerickson – at – thoughtworks.com), or by going to our new site for potential candidates at join.thoughtworks.com.

Why I Work At ThoughtWorks (and why you should too…)