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How Xero’s culture enables engineers to do the best work of their lives

Posted 2 years ago in Tech by Sarah Boaz-Shelley

We’re pretty fortunate to have a fantastic software engineering team and culture here at Xero. Its not by accident, rather it’s cultivated and nurtured. We start with smart people and give them complex challenges to tackle. They have access to the tools and skills they need to grow personally and professionally – we make sure of it. We give them #ownership over what they build. Ultimately; we invest in our people and they invest in Xero.

Xeros are just that – a collection of some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. We have many large challenges to tackle, both across the platform and across the globe. For example, my team focuses on U.S. Payroll. Our goal is to make payroll simple for the country’s small businesses. Each state is unique and has an amount of rules similar or greater than an entire country. In addition, state governments can be slower to adopt technology, which can make for quite an interesting challenge to solve.

Investing in our platform and our people

We recently made a huge investment in Amazon Web Services (AWS), which has opened up a world of possibilities when it comes to the tech we can support. We are primarily a .NET shop, but continue to grow the technologies our engineers can choose from including GraphQL, Node, Docker/ECS, Lambda, and other server-less stacks. Our company invests in training our staff to become AWS-certified because we know it takes time and resources to learn new skills. We support our people with a budget for technical training and conferences as well. We give our people room to grow and stay current with technology. If they grow, we all move forward together.

No person works in a vacuum, which is why we also invest heavily in our people’s soft skills. The whole company has access to DiSC, interpersonal communication training. All U.S. employees do TOMO training, a master class in leadership. These tools and frameworks help us navigate the emotional human landscape we all work in. They help us understand new contexts and speak a common language to get things done.

A collaborative culture

We know those closest to the work will have the best ideas. So we try to create an environment in which people can contribute on many levels. Our teams have autonomy over the products they build, from defining what we build to how we build it. So we can choose our processes, our quality, our metrics, and our operations. We weigh the trade-offs and own our choices.

We appreciate diverse viewpoints and want to ensure everyone can participate fully – bringing their whole selves to work. It’s important to hear each other in order to give everyone a voice, respectfully disagree, and see where we’re coming from. Communication and leadership training helps do just that. We invest in communication so we can listen to each other, make the best decisions, and move forward together.

We invest in our culture by encouraging diverse voices and conversations in our daily work and our local teams, as well as across our global company. Xero’s Unconference, our bi-annual internal developer conference, is a unique example of that. Unconference brings Xero’s engineers from around the globe to Wellington, New Zealand for a two day tech conference. The topics covered at the conference are decided by attendees and have ranged from ‘Machine Learning for Cows’, to GraphQL, to mental illness in the tech industry. An amazing amount of connections are made and ideas exchanged in just two days. Putting on an event of this magnitude reflects just how important culture really is at Xero.

At Xero, we know we can create more by working together than anyone can do individually. Working well together means investing in our people personally and professionally, and cultivating a great culture. Combined with smart people and leading technology, we have a fantastic foundation to build great products.

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