October 8th, 2010

P'unk Culture

Geoff DiMasi

I like being on a team. I like solving problems that are bigger than one person's experience and intellect. I like having meals together. I like having enough people to play full court basketball around at all times. In my mind, people can be drafted to be on a team, but people choose whether or not to join a team.

I know that we have a deeply rooted culture here at P'unk Avenue, but it has been on my mind to try to capture it so that it can be shared both internally and externally. There are ten of us now. I know that there are many things that do not need to be said amongst those of us that have built P'unk Avenue over the past five years, but I don't want that lost as new people join us to help build into the future.

After reading Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
I was inspired to take the first step of asking everyone on the team to write up their version of what P'unk Culture means to them. On September 20th, I sent out the following email:

We have talked about what the P'unk culture is on and off from the very beginning, but never actually taken the time to get it down in words. I really want to get started on this now, and I want everyone to be involved.

I think it will be just as interesting to hear Wes's and Alex's thoughts on this.

Shoot for 100 to 500 words on the topic of what is the P'unk culture is to you. What is different about us? What do you like? What surprises you?

In the spirit of being open, I want to compile them into one blog post. It is my desire to redo this periodically and have a record of our thoughts and evolution on this topic. Please let me know if you want to publish this anonymously or be attributed.

Also, please don't share this with anyone or discuss it at this point. Once we get them all, we can go out for a drink and discuss.

Please get these to me by Friday.

Thanks, Geoff

One by one they dribbled into my inbox. I found them to be really interesting little insights into our culture. I hope you find them as useful as you think about the environment of where you work. I should say that some of them were written by people that have been with P'unk Ave from the beginning or close to it, and some were written by people that have only been on the team a few weeks.

They follow below in the order I received them. I did not edit the content, but I did bold a few sentences that resonated with me. ______

I have been aware of P'unk Avenue a lot longer than I've been apart of the team. From the outside, I got the impression that the team was a tight knit secret club. Now being part of that team, I can see it's so much more. In my first days here, everyone made me feel welcome. I wasn't just the new girl. What I like most about P'unk Ave, is how everyone here interacts with each other. The environment is immediately welcoming, inspiring and encouraging. Everyone wants to hang out together. This trust in each other is what sets us apart. P'unk Ave is a safe place to voice ideas and solve problems. It's a place I'm excited to walk to every morning.

- Dana


P'unks are passionately right, and passionately wrong, and willing to be enlightened as to which.

P'unks are nobly clueless, on behalf of the end user, who should not be expected to do mental gymnastics.

P'unks do not reinvent wheels, but they do invent hovercraft. P'unks don't ask you to drive a tank to the grocery store.

P'unks solve hard problems, but don't rub your nose in it. Easy things should be easy, and hard things should be easy. Common things should be easy to find, uncommon things should be findable. No one should need a degree in P'unkology to use something made by a P'unk. P'unks help you do what you do, not what they do.

P'unks finish things, but refuse to be stampeded. They acknowledge the 80/20 rule, then follow the 95/5 rule. Sometimes it takes nine P'unks to pull one P'unk off the remaining 5%. That's a good thing.

P'unks make time to build tools, update Wikis, and share things with the rest of the world. P'unks reduce, reuse and recycle their work. A P'unk will write the same code twice, but not six times.

P'unks are part of Philadelphia. They build Philly up, they design Philly, they refactor Philly.

P'unks dig cupcakes.

- Tom


There is this really nice groove that you can get into when you're part of a tight team working on a challenging project. People start finishing each others' sentences. The room will get punchy and excited over a tiny victory like a button getting a sexy icon. You can look over a few shoulders and begin to grasp a collected knowledge that is overwhelmingly more than the sum of its parts. Then all of a sudden you look up and realize you've created something amazing.

Some things you need for this to be possible:

You need that tight team. People who not only enjoy working with each other but who also have total confidence in what their teammates can do. Multidisciplinary at heart, specialized in practice, with respect and admiration and even a bit of jealousy at the cool things your colleagues are working on.

You need those challenging projects. Hard problems are fun to solve. Get in over your head and you'll be surprised at what you'll learn while trying to stay afloat.

You need a great environment to work in. A space that inspires you and relaxes you. Somewhere you can feel like you had a hand in creating and maybe even show it off a little bit.

When it's at is best, I see P'unk Avenue as a place that has honed these points to their fullest potential, and done so with sincerity, humility and a good sense of humor. The culture that I want to be a part of is the one that tries to achieve those moments as much as possible and each day I see us get closer to that goal.

- Alex


Being new to the team, my thoughts about P'unk Culture come from the couple months I've worked with everyone. I immediately got a laid back vibe from the place, but that's not to say it seemed like people weren't serious about their work. It was more that the emphasis was working in a comfortable environment and enjoying your time at the office, rather than adhering to strict rules and arbitrary guidelines. For instance, everyone may not be at their desk at nine on the dot but everyone definitely gets their work done - and sometimes that means stay a little later cause you started a little later. That flexibility leads to a much less stressful work environment. Knowing that there is that understanding and trust is really refreshing. There is also a definite sense of community in the office. The aesthetic of our space helps a lot - big open rooms with desks laid out to easily talk to one another. I guess that's why the hiring "ritual" of having the potential employee work with the team for a few days, prior to the decision to offer them a job, is such a good idea. This person will be a new member of the community, not just another programmer/designer/cog in the machine. So it's important that everyone vibes well together - and it's the reason we all like coming into the office everyday and working together.

- Matt


P’unk Avenue has it. In the first season of American Idol they were calling it the “X Factor.” Justin Guarini had it, Kelly Clarkson had it. That absolutely unmistakable but still equally undefinable quality, a hallmark of success and good fortune. At P’unk Avenue, we have it, and we know it.

In the time I have spent on the team, we have only moved forward, often times at a pace where I can actually feel a breeze. It’s a lot of fun to look back and reflect on projects passed, knowing that each year has surpassed bounds beyond the one before it.

Our team is one-of-a-kind and the work we do frequently feels “out-of-scope” in that good way where the client is floored and we are left grinning, wiping sweat from our brow after all the hard work.

We get it done, efficiently, with speed and grace, and with no bullshit. And if there’s one certainty at P’unk Avenue, we are clearly not second rate weiners.

- John


For me P'unk culture shows its self the most at the end of the day. In particular the excitement and pride surrounding what everyone has done that day. I like how something that can be so small, a css class name changing, an additional parameter to a function, still is able to generate interest from other members of the team. It think it is pretty standard for people to have pride in their work but I think what differentiates P'unk from standard is that pride in others work.

The other great thing is mixing up the people you get to work with. Everyone here is great but each person brings something unique and different to the team and each mini project is much more interesting because of this.

- Dan


I think P'unk Culture fosters a highly collaborative and cooperative approach to design and development that places the user's concerns at the top of the priority list. There is certainly a can-do attitude here, and it's really inspiring to see conversations about the best way to satisfy the user within an existing P'unk framework. It is also satisfying to spend a few more hours on design (and sometimes refactoring) so that the flexibility of the software is preserved without becoming a tangled mess of code. I have a history of jumping in on projects much the way I jumped in on Way to Health at P'unk Avenue, and in the past adding new features and refactoring was such a huge ordeal that I almost needed an hour of meditation before beginning each new task. Here at P'unk, because of the care put into every design decision, it's nice to be able to close a ticket relatively quickly and painlessly. I think all of this reflects an ideal aesthetic that permeates both the front and back-end of every project. This doesn't mean that function is sacrificed to form, it just means that the two work together to create an ideal product. I think that client-satisfaction is proof enough that there is much merit in the P'unk approach.

- Wes


The culture of P'unk Avenue is reflected in its output. There are guiding principles: ergonomics, empowerment, ease. There are also realities: clients, opinions, constraints. We work within and around our limitations, we make do. We iterate, though never as much as we would like. We improve, though never as much as we would hope. We grow, cramp, adjust. We come from different perspectives, have different expertise, pick different battles. Mistakes are made, repeated, learned from, replaced by better mistakes. The residue of our actions and interactions, our knowledge and wisdom, and our idiosyncrasies and habits becomes our culture. It's what we left behind each day.

- Rick


The thing that stands out to me about the P’unk Avenue culture is the level of camaraderie between the people in the office. It was one of the main things that drew me to the team when I came on as an intern last summer, and continues to be very strong after recently adding four new team members. There isn’t a person on the team I wouldn’t want to hang out with outside of the office. When we are in the office we feel relaxed and comfortable around each other, and the work benefits greatly from that. Because we’re all friends, there is an extra feeling of trust and freedom when doing your job that I haven’t experienced at previous jobs or witnessed at other offices. Everyone at work is passionate about what they do, and everyone respects and enjoys the company of the people they work with. It’s a simple thing, to enjoy your work and enjoy the people you work with, but I don’t think it’s an easy thing to achieve. P’unk Avenue has that kind of office culture, and I’m very glad to be a part of it.

- Jake


P'unk Ave is a place where people care about their work and their teammates.

- Geoff


Doing this exercise has been very helpful in getting started on our culture definition journey, and I see this as only the beginning. From here we are going to get together and see if we can condense this down to a list of shared beliefs that we can use to help us make decisions going into the future.

Because, hey, you have to stand for something or you will...

Geoff DiMasi

Check out another article
September 24th, 2010
Game On!