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Cycorp Reviews

Updated January 13, 2018
15 reviews

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3.3
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Douglas Lenat
12 Ratings

15 Employee Reviews

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  1. "Good benefits"

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

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

    Pros

    Great benefits package.
    Weekly catered lunches, and stocked kitchen.
    Very passionate people who love what they do, and enjoy doing it.

    Cons

    Management can sometimes be uncertain about what they want, and change features right before deadlines.


  2. Helpful (1)

    "Consultant, 2007-2012"

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

    Pros

    Prestigious project. Company is based on trying to provide something hard that has fair value, not make easy money based on hype.

    Easily the biggest positive is the smart people who have been working there for a long time.

    New people are also held to a high standard, but their expectations of highly effective cutting edge technology may be based on fashionable software engineering practices and commotion at big name companies. SE at Cycorp is very much "none of that trendy nonsense spoken here". It's not the LISP that is IP, it's what's written down in the LISP. So people who are very good at software in one place may be confused when they get to Cycorp, even frustrated. But the company does need the infusion of their new talent, and fresh eyes, and it's important that new people try out how they do things to see if they can have evolutionary impact. (If it floats, it WILL be adopted -- people just don't do things because someone SAYS this is how things are going to float here today). Also, the top people there are introverts who have home lives and productivity objectives, so there aren't a lot of people to talk to; consequently, not a lot of self-reflection and meta-reasoning going on.

    Another big positive is that it's like a mom and pop shop. It's like joining a family, and people are nice to each other, and care, and have to forgive each other, like they are part of the family.

    It's really like being a grad student, postdoc, or research associate for the CEO back at Stanford, where you deal with personalities of smart people that can be edgy now and then, but you don't have to deal with stupid people stuff. all the time. If you don't like the CEO, you won't like being here, and vice versa.

    This is one of the original big data AI companies, if you think about it.

    Cons

    I had to get out of Austin. Hard to believe for some, but true. Too hot. Too anonymous. The workplace itself was nice and safe, but not my cup of tea. I'm much more of a people person who needs to get out of the home office a lot.

    Yes, there was a fuss or two over a deadline for a customer that could have been avoided with real project management; but I can name the same kind of SNAFU events at other places, in larger number, where the problem was more about whom to blame and less about bad timing. At other places, people might really be out to get you. At Cycorp, you can't point to a lesser performing person or group and take solace in the fact that you're doing better. People can end up in a bad place, but that's often because they tried to do too much and had no help. A bit too much sink-or-swim culture.

    It can be hard to have impact on a big ship with its own momentum. Perhaps this is a small ship with a lot of its own momentum.

    It can be hard to keep the faith in the technology as the project matures. That's because, in my experience, client needs change, and selling a tech solution does not always perfectly identify the right tool for the job in the sales phase. Be happy to have the contract, and be mature enough to realize that sometimes the wrench gets used as a hammer. It's not the tech that is any way old or outdated -- far from it. It's that customers don't understand how to buy ontology work. Every AI/ML project could use a two day ontology review by Cycorp. Meanwhile, most contracts at Cycorp are only 20% ontology problems.

    It can be frustrating to see places where you would try to monetize the IP and resources, but the company strategy is to balance risk differently.

    Advice to Management

    This CEO should do what he does best, which is to be himself. But he should work with and permit a true COO and CMO to do their thing, maybe even be surrounded by synergistic marketing geniuses. CTO/CIO functions are already in capable hands of "the elders" at the company, though always needing fresh eyes. CFO base is well covered. I would bring in entrepreneurial minds and give them some latitude to develop new practice. Sell your people's time as ontologists, not just their accumulated corporate output. Ride the AI/ML wave as the way to get sunken investment in deep learning to have broader customer impact.

  3. "Run, don't walk, AWAY from this company."

    StarStarStarStarStar
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee

    I worked at Cycorp full-time

    Pros

    In general, they have a talented group of employees in all areas, that given the opportunity to display that talent, could take the company to new heights. That would require the "old" management (two people in particular) stepping back and letting the staff do their job. I've heard that one member of the old mangement has kind of retired, but still has a security role, which is a joke and and I'm sure a way to milk the company out of more money. Regardless retirement is a step in the right direction. If you can get past the crazy stuff, the two have their moments amidst all the disruption they cause in their wake. But, beware of positive reviews close to this one. Management has been known to ask staff to write positive reviews in response to negative ones.

    Cons

    For your own sanity, stay away from this company, or at least the old management. This company has been around for a while but does not seem to have made many advancements in technology outside of cyc. You walk into a time warp. You're a technology company, get with the program. The old management lacks professionalism in the office and with the staff. One member of the management drops F-bombs with employees and even with those that they do business with. No one would admit to it, but use to take bets on how long it would take or how many that one member of management would drop in the monthly company meeting. That member of management spent most of the day playing games on the computer or shopping on line. Don't get on that one's bad side, you will never recover from the experience. They may appear to be nice around you, but don't turn your back on them...The other member of management is a Narcissistic, micro-manager that has a multiple personality thing going on. He is a dictator and a spoiled child that wants everything his way or no way with no room for anyone to speak up or say otherwise. Very impatient and prone to outburst. The staff walks around on pins and needles afraid to be the one that sets him off that day.

    Advice to Management

    Retire. You are no longer vital to the company. Without you, the company will actually prosper and grow.


  4. "Amazing Company"

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

    I have been working at Cycorp full-time (More than 10 years)

    Pros

    Actually trying to engineer a real AI that understands and reasons, not just statistically finds patterns, in order to make everyone smarter and thereby make the world a better place.
    Dozens of the nicest and most brilliant people I've ever met.
    Drama-free work environment in which everyone is treated professionally and fairly (despite what a few disgruntled trolls have said here in their reviews.)

    Cons

    Sometimes working on a project insulates me a bit from keeping up on some of the other projects going on.

    Advice to Management

    Keep up the good work! Recruiting world class talent is seen as job#1, and it should be, and retaining that talent and helping it grow is also their job#1.


  5. Helpful (3)

    "Intellectually Rewarding and Challenging Job"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • 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

    I have been working at Cycorp full-time (More than 10 years)

    Pros

    I work at Cycorp primarily as an ontologist, which means I get to represent facts and theories in a logical language (CycL) and put those theories to use in the form of query-driven, inference-engine-backed programs we develop for customers. Because Cyc is a general-purpose AI program, we are virtually unconstrained as to the kinds of projects and problems we take on. As a result, with each new project, I have the opportunity to learn about and gain a moderate level of expertise in a new subject-area, almost like being in graduate school, but without the tests and papers. Because the CycL language is so expressive, I never feel over-constrained or limited by the tools at my disposal when representing theories or crafting inference paths. The work can be difficult, and requires focus, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to think both logically and creatively. These requirements make for an environment that is both challenging and rewarding, intellectually.

    Cons

    Cycorp is a small company, and everyone on the technical staff is on relatively equal footing with respect to responsibilities, so there is little opportunity to "climb the ladder" here (which is why I only give Cycorp a 3-star rating for "Career Opportunities").
    Cycorp executes its projects with extreme agility, so tasks and milestones can be dropped, extended, or added at what might seem like a moment's notice. This way of doing things isn't for everybody - certainly not for those with a pure nine-to-five mindset.


  6. Helpful (5)

    "Bad Practices, Good People."

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    Pros

    Take the following cons below with a grain of salt. My perspective is a bit skewed for reasons unrelated to the job.
    Pros
    * Cycorp's staff and leadership are all good people. They are amazing, bright, and willing to help each other out.
    * Cycorp's compensation and work environment are top notch.
    * Cycorp is a great place if you want to take initiative and create software that *you* know will bring value to the organization. This can make it an oddly good fit for someone looking to build their resume with added responsibilities and projects, but not so much for someone just beginning a development career and looking for mentorship.
    * Cycorp will give you time for professional development. (Though they might not understand why you may choose to read, say, a "pragmatic programming" book rather than a book on formal logic in AI development written in the early 1980s.)
    * Cycorp is trying to improve on all the cons I list below.

    Cons

    * Cycorp does not use software development best practices, such as:
      * There is no software development methodology. No Agile, Not even Waterfall. Project development is ad-hoc and specifications are nebulous, not written down, and in short, are subject to whims of change, as the "urgent feature" requested one day might be the "ugly bug" needing immediate removal on the next.
      * Scores low on the Joel Test, and passes some only by technicality:
        ** Uses outdated SVN source control. Better than no version control, but does not enable rapid iteration.
        ** While components have nightly builds, final products do not.
        ** New features are requested often before old bugs have been fixed.
        ** Developers have little control over the tools they use and their work environments, to the point that Linux users do not have sudo. <-- improving, though.
        ** Most projects are created without a specification or schedule. <-- improving, though.
        ** New candidates are not necessarily asked to code during interview. <-- improving, though.
    * Cycorp tends to have developers work solo. While this does give programmers a chance to get work done in silence, it also means that development is primarily done by individuals, not by teams.
    * Not a lot of opportunity for mentorship, as stated above.
    * For non-developers, upper management really doesn't understand how to get the best out of talented people, assigning crucial non-technical staff technical assignments. This (hopefully) will change very soon.
    * Until recently, there has been no marketing department whatsoever, which means that products were conceived and years of development spent on them without trying to figure out if there's even room for the product in the marketplace. Some products are so badly designed that their flaws are obvious, but because there have been years of development spent on them, the project continues.

    Advice to Management

    The company needs leadership that can force the company to adopt best practices, it needs leadership that understands the value of product design and development, and most of all, the management needs to understand that they are not an expert in all things and to listen to experts.


  7. Helpful (6)

    "Meta-review"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Member of the Technical Staff in Austin, TX
    Former Employee - Member of the Technical Staff in Austin, TX
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    I worked at Cycorp full-time

    Pros

    I haven't worked here for a while, but I do still occasionally follow the reviews of Cycorp. I imagine it must be confusing how the reviews kind of split into two groups that seem to describe two very different places. Maybe I can elucidate, at least from my perspective.

    Essentially, I don't think there's anything in any of the reviews on here that isn't *true*. As far as pros go, the work *is* very often challenging, invigorating, and rewarding, and there *is* a core group of employees who have been there for years, sometimes decades, none of whom are going anywhere else anytime soon, and they *are* all brilliant, no doubt some of the smartest people you are likely to come across in your career. If you're thinking about working here, it might be worth trying it just to come into contact with these people, if nothing else.

    Cons

    But. Then there is management. (Honestly, I'm thinking of one person in particular, who is an executive so I could name that person by name according to Glassdoor policy if I wanted to, but the company's so small that I'm just not comfortable going that small additional step. Let's just keep saying "management.")

    You might note for the most part none of the positive reviews address the comments about management that all the negative reviews share. May I submit that that silence should speak volumes to you.

    (A couple of exceptions exist, of course: one says something about "strong personalities." ...yeah, "strong" is not the word I would use. "Personality", yes, and it's very tempting to throw another word or two in there, but I'm not a psychologist. Then there's that other thing about being "overwhelmed by the requirements of excellence", which, in this context, is blame-the-victim rhetoric and borderline offensive.)

    Advice to Management

    I don't really have any advice. I've dealt with people like this before. (Again, I will stress that I am not a psychologist, but I call these people "narcissists.") They won't ever listen and they won't ever believe that they're doing anything wrong or that anything is their fault. Honestly I wouldn't have even bothered writing this if not for Glassdoor's 20 word minimum.

  8. Helpful (1)

    "Unemotional review of working at Cycorp"

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

    I have been working at Cycorp full-time (More than 10 years)

    Pros

    Brilliant technical staff as co-workers, with varied backgrounds in Philosophy, Linguistics, Computer Science. Like med school in that it is hard to get in there but, if they hire you, they will work hard to help you succeed. Management takes policies seriously and is fair and open minded, and has a very frank how-the-company-is-doing monthly meeting with all the staff. Very stable and conservative fiscally, not like your typical startup. Almost no hierarchy, everyone is just a member of the technical staff, period.

    Cons

    Sometimes I got pigeonholed and had to ask to move to a new project. They expect you to either know your stuff going in, in particular first order logic, or learn it. This goes to some extent for programmers, too, not just people doing ontology work.

    Advice to Management

    Meet more one on one with each individual employee. Make the annual review process less time consuming. Lighten up a little on the security procedures, I know that security of intellectual property matters but sometimes this can be a drag, like having to log in again if I walk away from my desk for 15 minutes.


  9. Helpful (8)

    "horrible place to work"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

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

    Pros

    There is nothing good about this place. NOT working there is the best pro you have. I wish I never accepted the offer. Beware the reviews on this place are real.

    Cons

    They will treat you like a child and blame you for everything that is wrong. He will also talk about you behind your back. Could have some head problems he needs to deal with.

    Advice to Management

    Take the time to welcome new staff. Be more open and friendly.


  10. Helpful (8)

    "Micromanagement + a Culture of Blame = Terrible Workplace"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Member of Technical Staff in Austin, TX
    Former Employee - Member of Technical Staff in Austin, TX
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

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

    Pros

    -Some of the most brilliant employees around, you can always learn from them
    -a noble goal, though the vision is marred by the necessities of keeping the company afloat

    Cons

    Extreme micromanagement - more so than any other job I have ever worked in - to the point of Management staring at your screen, trying (and failing) to tell how to do your job.

    A culture of blame. I have never been degraded to this extent, after having worked long hours and over weekends. Being told that I was to blame for past failures even though I had only joined a couple of months ago. Employees who remain, are broken beyond repair. Those who leave, end up in therapy.

    Abusive management, low pay, lots of unpaid overtime and secrecy rule the place. It is outrageous, until you leave, look back and see how ridiculous it was.

    Advice to Management

    Retire! If what you have set in motion is worthwhile, you won't be needed for its advancement - if not - let it die. No goal in life, including your self promotion, is worth destroying the creativity and lives of so many bright people.


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