Blog: Xnor Named a Best Company to Work For
Erin Hancock, People Operations
As a two-and-a-half year old startup, Xnor is thrilled to have made the 2019 list of Washington’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. It’s nothing short of a defining moment for what has been a rocket ship ride from our humble beginnings to what is now a bustling hub of 60 employees on a mission to change the world for the better with Artificial Intelligence.
That mission is what makes Xnor such a special place to be right now. We can talk about culture or being a “Best Company to Work For” in terms of benefits packages, perks, waterfront views, kombucha on tap (yes), and dogs in the office, but that would only capture a small piece of what makes Xnor an awe-inspiring place to work.
There’s something more visceral to our culture — a deep passion for the work we are doing and the people we get to do it with. That passion breeds an energy and excitement that no amount of nitro cold brew on tap will ever match.
The intangible benefits of working at Xnor are at the core of our dynamic, high-performance culture. Our team comes to work not knowing all the answers and embraces that blank canvas with excitement. When you’re at the forefront of an emerging technology, there’s innate curiosity and quest for innovation in the air. As such, one of our core principles is “risk taking” and it represents how we value experimentation, failure, measurement, and iteration. In taking risks and measuring outcomes, our employees are that much more connected to each impact, each breakthrough, and each win, both individually and collectively. Daniel Pink might call this “purpose” and it’s something that drives our employees to roll up their sleeves and solve problems each day.
As a startup, a lack of rigid structure affords degrees of freedom larger companies inherently can’t provide; and we couldn’t innovate quickly or operate fluidly without such freedom. Changes can happen quickly — we can agree, disagree, and roll out a change with minimal friction. Xnor is working on extremely hard, novel problems in AI; and our nimbleness allows us to overcome obstacles gracefully and change gears when necessary.
We have an internal wiki called Slab that anyone can edit or add to based on their own experiences. If there’s a topic that an employee believes their current and future peers could benefit from, they are empowered to create a page about it. With Slab, our employees have directly helped us improve our on-boarding processes, manage resources more effectively, and created other technical documentation to bolster our operational excellence. We’ve also noticed several improvements, suggestions, and some of our most significant breakthroughs, come from a random employee showing passion for a topic outside their role and using Slab to take ownership of it.
Accordingly, at Xnor, we don’t expect each employee to fit into a fixed box, we believe in organic growth, servant leadership, and the idea that opportunities for direct impact are always within arms reach. As a People Ops leader, the chance to watch employees explore and master skills outside of their immediate role is extremely rewarding. When you allow for autonomy, self-direction, and unbounded growth, it’s amazing to see how quickly employees take ownership of their own interests and potential. We see talented engineers collaborating regularly, working directly with customers, creating a weekly tech talk series on topics ranging from solar-powered FPGA to start-up financing, starting book clubs, or discovering that they are extraordinary people leaders and moving into team or tech lead roles. In that way, growth is rapid and employees gain well-rounded insights to all sides of our business.
While the removal of barriers is key to allowing employees to do their best work, it’s also important to provide tangible benefits that support the health and well being of our team. We make every effort to create a comfortable, inclusive environment and give employees the autonomy to take care of themselves holistically.
Xnor offers flexible time off (aka unlimited PTO) which puts time off solely in the hands of the employee. In addition to vacations and family time, we know that life is demanding and believe that work-life, home-life, and everything in-between can be harmonious. When we eliminate the anxiety associated with clock watching or rigid hours, our team can spend more time focusing on cutting edge AI and solving big problems. At Xnor, we foster policies that don’t require policing, instead we hire people we trust to act in our company’s best interest.
In addition to flexible time off, premium benefits programs, and yes, an on-site massage or two each month, we stress the importance of health, enrichment outside work, and family time. Some unique benefits to support working families that Xnor offers include: maternity and paternity policies, flexible schedules, paid nanny travel, and your child’s birthday off.
While our Engineering teams are hard at work solving complex technical problems in AI, we’re collectively addressing and learning about other aspects of both our industry and culture all the time. This year, Xnor held two AI Ethics Town Halls with the entire team where we asked, “how do we address the potential ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence?”. In the spirit of our core belief in radical transparency, we approached AI ethics democratically, opening a town-hall-style forum for all employees to provide thoughts and feedback. From there, we’ve created agile touchpoints that exist within our normal working patterns. These touchpoints ensure we remain aware of potential ethical issues related to specific AI use cases without compromising the speed in which we operate as a start-up.
In Xnor’s Ops department, we measure and survey the entire company through regular Pulse Checks, Town Halls, and other forums so we regularly learn and improve. We’re asking how we can do better in hiring a diverse workforce and fostering a culture of inclusion and advocacy. We’re asking how we can better support working families. And most importantly, we’re listening to feedback and letting it inform decisions it as we scale. In addition to surfacing areas in need of improvement, survey feedback can also be a nice reminder of what we’re already doing well.
The most valuable resource at Xnor is undoubtedly its team of exceptionally bright and talented individuals working to achieve a common goal. We seek to hire individuals that are passionate about our mission, fearless in their pursuit of excellence, and willing to get their hands dirty as we evolve together. As one employee said in our latest Pulse Check:
“Working with smart, talented colleagues on an audacious mission is my favorite thing in the world. We have that at Xnor.”
That passion, coupled with humility is something we look for in all candidates. We take time each week to acknowledge each other’s contributions through recognition and awards, spend quality time together at lunch and during frequent team events, and encourage transparent communication day-in and day-out.
People are everything and the people we’ve brought together, from our very first employee to our most recent hire, are truly what make Xnor a Best Company to Work For and for that, we thank them all!