So, on Friday night, I went to a reunion of a small software house I once worked at. Felspar, a company named after a mineral rock, was a company which produced two products: a telephone billing system used by telephony company NextCall, and an enterprise intranet product, TeamViews, used by two companies - one major bank, and my own website, Media UK. (I no longer use it).
It was a splendid company to work at (technically, I was never an employee, but it owned 70% of the shares of MediaUK.com Ltd, now since closed). The building was old, and not very fit-for-purpose; the IT infrastructure a rather shambolic affair, and we were all crammed into the five-floor non air-conditioned building with hardly any space to ourselves; but, for all that, it was a great atmosphere. The two owners of the company were bright, fair, and inspired terrific loyalty, which manifested itself in tremendously long hours for not particularly impressive pay. People were friends, and felt part of a family. Software engineers, project managers, designers, all worked together and regularly spent time in each others’ company, whether watching the millennium coming in from the office roof, to long nights at the local pub (frequently ending, for at least one person, on the mattress on the top floor). I started working two days a week in the office; I moved to London from Yorkshire to be, in part, closer to the team.
Talking to people on Friday night, this tremendous work atmosphere caused a problem for many people. After Felspar’s demise, new jobs weren’t “as fun”. Many within the company hadn’t worked for others, having joined straight out of university, and didn’t understand that this kind of friendship and closeness wasn’t the norm. Some found it hard to keep a job as a result; though I was lucky; moving from one “friendship-company” to another, Virgin Radio, which was interestingly similar in many ways.
Seeing my ex-colleagues - and, yes, old friends - on Friday was a great experience. It was great seeing people I had a lot of respect for; and wonderful to hear that, while many have had a complete career change (or at least a career break), they are all really enjoying their work. Six years is a long time, but virtually nobody had changed. Tellingly, almost everyone remembered everyone else’s name, and everyone spent time circulating.
It’s now very clear to me that there was something special at Felspar; and that I’ve always tried to subconsciously emulate the experience I had there with my teams. Through the magic of Facebook, I’m really delighted to have had the chance to see them again; and, while I think I’ve a fair bit to go, I’d like to ensure that every company I work for is a friendship-company.