Valve Corporation Reviews

Updated July 29, 2015
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4.1
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Gabe Newell
10 Ratings

15 Employee Reviews

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  1. Helpful (3)

    Innovative Entertainment

    Current Employee - Volunteer Customer Support
    Current Employee - Volunteer Customer Support

    I have been working at Valve Corporation (More than 10 years)

    Pros

    Growing company and great minds.

    Cons

    Not enough time in the day


  2. Helpful (1)

    Fun

    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    Pros

    it was fun for the time being

    Cons

    Not enough time to play games.

    Advice to Management

    nice


  3. Helpful (13)

    Great with the right fit, hard to anticipate fit

    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - None, Thanks for Asking in Bellevue, WA
    Current Employee - None, Thanks for Asking in Bellevue, WA
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Valve Corporation full-time (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    Valve hires very smart people with a shared core set of expectations about communications and problem solving. Individuals and groups at the company act with customer goals identified, and sort tasks and product choices accordingly. The employee handbook and occasional articles about how the place runs are true. There are no bosses. No one, including Gabe, has the authority to tell someone else what to do. Proponents must recruit people to projects by explaining why the task is important and how it is important, and convincing people to share time or prioritize over other competing needs. The lack of hierarchy and titles is a conscious design to minimize bureaucratic resistance to getting work accomplished (and bureaucratic authority to get the wrong work accomplished). It's also a design to keep valuable employees indefinitely. No one has to leave because a peer got a promotion into a job he/she though he/she deserved. No one has to become a manager because it's the way to get paid more. Individuals can get more and more valuable over years and decades of work, get rewarded as such, and have no particular forcing functions to trigger them to leave. Great to individual and company. The scarce resource at Valve is people's time. Capital is available for most any purchase need, if you can make the case for what you're doing and why. Routine purchasing decisions are devolved to employees. This system, hiring great people, giving them resources and great colleagues, and getting out of the way between them and their customers, has produced a lot of value for customers and the company. Last pro: Valve takes good care of employees and their families. Benefits are generous and sometimes astonishing. Most anything that can keep employees happy and productive will be considered.

    Cons

    To succeed at Valve, you have to be a self-starter. No one will tell you what to do -- if you ask, people may give you an opinion about what they think you should do, but no one hands you a list of your five most important tasks for the next review period. Beyond being a self-starter, you have to come up with ways to judge yourself, or to gather feedback from customers, partners (developers/publishers/vendors), or other employees. I think the comp system works reasonably well, but the feedback system has never functioned well for all employees. When an employee is having trouble, the system (which is really just a group of peers, sometimes guided by HR or more senior colleagues) is more focused and effective at gathering and communicating specific feedback for people. Some people are just driven nuts by the uncertainty of this kind of management and feedback system. Some people thrive and delight in the absence of semi-annual self-evaluation forms. At Valve, it's hard to get a grand project started. It's easy to get a clever, valuable, smaller project started. Turning the latter into the former requires great communication skills or a clever plan of laying out small projects to take the company in the direction you think is smart (and which is confirmed by the outcomes of prior small projects). There are no patrons to make things happen for you. I disagree with a few other (typically former employee- ) reviews that suggest there is secret management structure that controls everything. There are certainly more senior people (who may or may not be more experienced by years of work) who can give great feedback on what is worth doing, or how to do something. But there is incredibly little control, and shadow management is just not true. I think that is often a projection by people who can't believe the uncertainty of radical freedom.

    Advice to Management

    Hmm. This is really advice to all of Valve, since no one has buck-stopping authority. People should consider part of their job to sweep through other parts of the company, either working on some projects, grabbing coffee or lunch, or just asking people to explain what they're working on. At the size of the company (~350 at this writing), projects and individuals can become isolated, and feedback can dry up unless teams actively seek it or unless others come around looking to see what's up. That feedback cycle is the biggest gift at Valve, but it takes energy and repeated focus when there are no lines of reporting.


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  5. Helpful (27)

    Valve is theoretically utopia, but the reality falls short

    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - No Job Titles in Bellevue, WA
    Current Employee - No Job Titles in Bellevue, WA
    Doesn't Recommend
    Positive Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    I have been working at Valve Corporation full-time (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    Valve is a hugely profitable company filled with brilliant developers. They try hard to understand what their customers want, and their steady revenue stream (from Steam and other sources) gives them the luxury of taking their time and doing the right thing. The lack of management can be liberating. As long as you don't make stupid choices you get huge flexibility in deciding what you want to work on. You can change projects and, within reason, decide what to work on within a project. The resources needed to do your job are generally always available, as they trust you to make responsible decisions with the company’s money.

    Cons

    The idealistic paradise is ultimately undone by a flawed review system. The lack of managers means that a peer review system is necessary, and Valve is very proud of theirs. But their review model is best described as a “popularity contest masquerading as data”. You never know who will (or who has) reviewed you so you have no opportunity to remind them what you have done, or why your work was valuable. Employees react to this review system with strategies such as choosing more visible (even if less valuable) work, announcing accomplishments to the whole company in hopes of being heard by their reviewers, or just hoping that reviewers will remember the work they did nine months earlier. None of these are ideal. Valve strives for a hands-off objective review, but in reality the system is manipulated by those who run it. All employees’ opinions are equal, but some employees’ opinions are more equal than others, and those employees who run the review system have significant impact on how others are evaluated and compensated. You also receive no feedback from your review. You get a bonus, and perhaps a raise, and (rarely) some stock options, but other than those numbers in an e-mail you get no information. There is no indication as to whether you are getting better, or worse, or how you could improve. There is no information about how your performance or compensation look compared to your peers. Many employees don’t even realize when many of their coworkers are getting stock options, and the owners rely on this opacity. Those who get stock options do extremely well, and the others do not. It’s an unacknowledged two-class system. The rational response to this uncertainty is to find a patron – somebody who can guarantee you a good review if you do their bidding. These patrons (the knights) guarantee themselves good reviews by doing the bidding of a higher-level patron (a baron), and the barons pledge fealty to the board members. This unofficial structure necessarily evolved and you opt out of it at your peril. The irony of a hierarchical structure spontaneously forming in Gabe Newell’s company after he has spoken so strongly about the problems of “command-and-control type hierarchical systems” is delicious. As was noted in “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”, “structurelessness becomes a way of masking power”, and this masked power is more insidious than formal power. So, I quit in order to get better compensation, an acknowledged hierarchy, and appreciation for my work.

    Advice to Management

    The review system needs to be fixed. The moderator should be prevented from influencing people’s opinions and a way should be found to give employees better feedback about their performance. Most importantly, employees should be allowed to create a one-page summary of their year’s work, and reviewers should be required to read these. I can’t easily remember what I did nine months ago so how can my reviewers be expected to? Only then can the review system become at all accurate. Compensation in general should be more transparent, and every employee should receive a few stock options every year, instead of randomly dolling out one-time grants. The use of large and occasional grants makes stock options an even more capricious method of compensation than normal.


  6. Helpful (30)

    Company is flush with cash but is chaotic and disorganized, refuses to "grow up"

    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Software Engineer in Bellevue, WA
    Former Employee - Software Engineer in Bellevue, WA
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook

    I worked at Valve Corporation full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    Great benefits, and yearly bonuses can equal or exceed your salary. This company is at the nexus of the PC game business, so your work can have a big impact if you carefully choose the right project and people to work with.

    Cons

    Placing any bets on a long-term career at this random and cliquish company is probably as wise as betting all your life savings on a single spin of a roulette wheel in Vegas. At this point Valve has devolved into a place you work at to pad your resume and make some bonus cash. Be prepared to be let down once you're inside. The basic idea of Valve works well with small (30-50 person) companies, but utterly fails to scale to a company with hundreds of people. The board and their closest friends have become extremely wealthy, so they have very little incentive to fix the company. This organization has a purposely opaque, hierarchical, secretive, and very rigid management structure. Many of the board of directors and their friends are utterly capricious and conceited. The longer an employee is at Valve, the more they singularly focus on protecting their yearly bonuses and the less they care about basically everything else. Some projects can go on literally for 5+ years wandering around pointlessly without shipping, with little to no direction, and no accountability. This company is terrible at writing and shipping large scale software, and sneers at words like "software engineering", "architecture", and "testing". The random mass firings of 2013 tanked moral, and the stream of talent leaving the company during 2014 didn't help. The yearly review process lacks feedback, transparency, and coverage. This company has no formal HR, so good luck if you need to give genuine feedback about troublesome coworkers.

    Advice to Management

    Gabe, there must be something more important to do with your time at the company than wasting it on endless multi-day DotA2 sessions and firing people. Go review a project, give some feedback, cancel some stuff, or start some new projects. Basically, do anything else. To the board of directors: Stop treating your employees like discardable widgets. Step away and let new blood in. Get a real HR team and process in place. Fix the completely broken review process, and have a clearly defined stock package. Grow the company up and get real.


  7. Helpful (24)

    Challenging, chaotic, interesting, surprisingly similar to other great companies

    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Engineer in Bellevue, WA
    Former Employee - Engineer in Bellevue, WA
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    I worked at Valve Corporation full-time (More than a year)

    Pros

    Valve offers extremely generous benefits and perqs, and affords employees high levels of trust to do whatever they need to be productive. It is a privilege to work with the folks at Valve because nearly all are exceptionally accomplished, competent and eager to build something great. The environment really encourages employees to be positive and to focus on work that will directly impact the customer. Productivity is rewarded in part by peer review which makes employees accountable to their team. Changing teams/projects is usually easy, and is usually each employee's own decision. Employee autonomy is inherent in Valve's process.

    Cons

    Many of the ways in which Valve seeks to differentiate from other companies are not actually so valid. While it's true that Valve has no official job titles or promotions, compensation varies greatly among employees and many teams have an obvious pecking order. There is no formal management structure, but it's clear that some people have substantially more control over project direction and the work of others. Even though productivity is said to be the only metric that matters, people who are already connected or are accomplished social engineers will do just fine. Denying that all of these social forces are at work makes the problem intractable and difficult to even discuss. For a company that makes so much money, Valve is surprisingly risk-averse. New projects, internal tools, dev infrastructure, and anything that doesn't contribute to a current product are met with disdain. Because teams are intended to be self-forming, it's rare that enough people will want to assume risk to all collectively embark on a new project. It's too safe and too profitable to just contribute to something that's already successful. Even though failure is supposed to be tolerated and even encouraged so that employees will try new ideas and experiments, there is little evidence of this. After a few rounds of bonuses, folks learn quickly what is rewarded, and what is not. Valve's success has made folks arrogant, and this contributes to the problem of how new ideas are considered and discussed. Dogmatic thinking is actually common because people can always point to a great success in the past and use this to justify why everything should continue as it is. Some folks at Valve do not want the company to grow. Valve already has an incredibly strong profit/employee ratio. Why dilute it? This line of thinking crops up in project discussions as well, and causes many ideas to be dismissed because they seem too niche/unprofitable (at the time).

    Advice to Management

    I think that funding separate companies would be the best way for Valve to invest in new/different product areas. Identify capable teams who already work together and let them make their own rules and set their own goals. Be more honest about management structure. It will go a long way toward helping people make better decisions and will create more trust among employees.


  8. Helpful (16)

    Great work if you can get it, and by "get it", I mean "understand it"

    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Bellevue, WA
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Bellevue, WA
    Recommends
    Neutral Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I worked at Valve Corporation full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    Good compensation, unbelievable perks. Very smart and talented coworkers with impressive high-profile experience in the game and film industries. Got first-hand experience with the fabled Valve flat hierarchy. Family-friendly schedule (at least for me). Enjoyed almost everyone I worked with directly.

    Cons

    The downside to the lack of hierarchy for me was a huge amount of confusion over roles on given projects. Employees are encouraged to take risks and chart one's own course in terms of initiating projects and/or choosing projects to work on, which sounds good, but ultimately left me constantly second-guessing my bigger decisions. I also don't think I picked up many skills that have benefited me outside this company.


  9. Helpful (1)

    my review

    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Programmer in Seattle, WA
    Former Employee - Programmer in Seattle, WA

    I worked at Valve Corporation full-time (Less than a year)

    Pros

    great culture to be working in.

    Cons

    that all companies aren't run like this!

    Advice to Management

    keep up the good work


  10. Helpful (10)

    Great Company

    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Valve Corporation full-time (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    - awesome work environment - very talented people - great benefits

    Cons

    nothing bad about this company


  11. Helpful (40)

    It's like being in high school again.

    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Bellevue, WA
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Bellevue, WA
    Doesn't Recommend
    Positive Outlook

    I worked at Valve Corporation full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    Good pay, sometimes good projects, good talent

    Cons

    The lack of solid structure in management reduces the company to schoolyard politics where bullies and loudmouths reign.

    Advice to Management

    Don't make promises to prospective employees that you're not planning on keeping. Stop pushing the hype about flat management structure. It's not true at all.



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