Open-Sourcing Company Culture at Artsy

Remy Ferber
Oct 21, 2015 4:00AM

We believe open-source isn’t just about code, but about sharing how we learn to scale company culture and operations as we grow.

Open-source isn’t open enough. The underlying philosophy behind the engineering model—universal access to one’s work in an effort to share, critique, and improve it—has the potential to inspire any team and transform any company culture. So, why limit open-source to just your code?

At Artsy, we encourage our teams to think about openness by default. By promoting openness, we mitigate fear of judgment and embrace our mistakes as positive experiences to learn from and share with others. The Artsy Engineering Team leads by example through their aggressive promotion of open-source, but we believe universal access should be a universal model.

In a recent talk to our team, Artsy engineer Ash Furrow emphasized the benefits of openness and iteration in all things:

Only make mistakes once

Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone has to make the same mistake. Being open with your errors and identifying the insights gained can help others avoid the same blunders and keep your team on-track.

The best way to learn is to teach

There are countless opportunities for team members to learn from each other, regardless of your organizational structure. One of the greatest benefits to promoting an open community is that in teaching others, team members will inevitably teach themselves.

Ash explains, “there’s never going to be someone more qualified to write [or talk] about your experience of learning something new than you in that moment.” Map out your path of understanding from the initial problem to the final solution. By retracing your steps, you will not only make it easier for other team members to absorb this knowledge, but you will also identify shortcuts for learning, mistakes to avoid, and opportunities for improvement.

Publish your learnings to minimize repetition

When processes or necessary information are not shared openly with a team, a bottleneck forms and dependencies emerge around individual team members.** Avoid having the same conversation over and over by creating a repository of institutional knowledge and enabling any team member to take action. Moreover, publishing processes and the lessons you glean from their development makes a strong statement to existing employees and potential hires that you are committed to open communication and constant improvement.

**To be clear, we advocate for openness by default, not by demand. Some information—compensation, performance reviews, detailed company financials—deserves to be kept confidential and should not be shared internally or externally. By thinking about openness by default, however, you foster a positive company culture where employees feel more comfortable asking questions and providing feedback.

Ash talks about blogs as the ultimate vehicle for open-sourcing ideas, experiences, and takeaways. The Life at Artsy blog is our first attempt to open-source the lessons we learn everyday as we grow and scale a business. 

Remy Ferber