Engineering Culture at Airbnb

Leading-culture-in-engineering-organisationsIf you’re searching for examples of disruptive companies, chances are you bump into Airbnb. Founded in 2008, the company rapidly turned into a home-sharing empire and the largest lodging provider on earth. About 20 million people have used their services; 10 million in 2014 alone. This year, their website surpassed 800,000 listings worldwide, which means they now offer more lodging than Hilton Worldwide or any other hotel chain in the world[1].

Recently I read an article about the engineering culture at Airbnb. It’s in the same spirit as the Spotify movie[2]. With this blog post I’ll share the highlights, hopefully to inspire you to read the full article, which I obviously enjoyed a lot!

Engineers own their impact

  • Hire problem-solvers. Each engineer is individually responsible for creating as much value for the users and the company as possible. Focus on hiring great problem-solvers and give them the information and freedom to take decisions quickly.
  • We default to information sharing. Engineers have transparent access to all necessary information to support autonomy.
  • Helping others takes priority. Engineers always prioritize helping each other first, especially the new ones.

Structured teams, fluid responsibilities

  • Simplicity and quantifiability. The strategy is designed for simplicity and quantifiability. The company and team goals are transparent and have a numeric target. Small teams collaborate strongly with each other.
  • Fostering collaboration across teams helps them cover the gaps. Although each team owns non-overlapping pieces of the business, collaboration across teams is common and encouraged.
  • Engineers have freedom to change teams, when the work in another group more closely aligns with their interests and ability to drive impact. Managers can facilitate this process.

Cultural standards in the development process

  • Shape good judgment in individuals instead of imposing rules across the team. The development process is flexible by design; it changes organically from within the team.
  • Engineers deploy their own changes, as soon as they’re merged. The build-and-test process takes under 10 minutes to run and they can complete a full production deploy in about 8 minutes. Because it’s so fast, they ask engineers to deploy their changes as soon as they’re merged.

Career advancement, tracks and impact

  • Managers are facilitators. Engineers can progress just as far as individual contributors as they can as managers. The pay scales are parallel, so there’s no compensation advantage for getting into engineering or management at Airbnb. Becoming a manager isn’t about getting promoted; it’s about changing the focus of your work. Managers are facilitators. They exist to get obstacles out of engineers’ way. Their primary responsibility is to support the people around them.
  • Leave it better than you found it. Every project should improve their technical foundation. Engineers are driving technical decisions and hold each other to high standards of technical works.
  • Build an individual profile. Airbnb helps their engineer’s progress by building their individual profile outside the company. Anything that isn’t core to their unique business is pushed to open source.

That’s is, the engineering culture of Airbnb in a nutshell. Again, the full article can be read here. Enjoy!

[1] http://www.inc.com/magazine/201412/burt-helm/airbnb-company-of-the-year-2014.html
[2] https://labs.spotify.com/2014/03/27/spotify-engineering-culture-part-1/