The Nerdery

What can other companies learn from the way you’ve designed and maintained your work environment?: 
 
Let’s start with The Nerdery’s stated vision, as a company, which is: “We will be the best place in the world for nerds to work.” Sounds simple, even simplistic – it is neither. We believe if we can be the best place in the world for nerds to work, everything else will take care of itself. In his recent TED Talk titled “What if everyone at your company was a Co-President?”, Mike Derheim talked about the power of distributed leadership at the company he co-founded: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDlgbncBdiY
 
Mike talks about his belief that if millennials feel entitled to autonomy and purpose in their work and lives, leaders should embrace this so-called entitlement generation by further empowering them. He challenges established leaders to consider engaged, emerging leaders as Co-Presidents, and encourages everyone to make themselves Co-President of whatever it is that they’re truly passionate about, in work and in life.
 
Mary Oakland, Nerdery UX: “The mission of the Nerdery is to be the best place in the world for nerds to work. This means that everyone is encouraged to come as you are. If you wear a kilt or a wig some days, go for it! This allows our Nerds to be relaxed, confident, and proud of who they are. This reflects in our passion and hard work in the digital space. Our core values speak for themselves: constantly push boundaries, integrity in all circumstances, win by empowering people, be humble. These values permeate our culture and ultimately yield high quality work.” 
 
The Nerdey is an environment that encourages Nerds to be visible though leaders in their field, and our UX design teams makes the most of the open opportunity to create featured content on The Nedery blog, including webinars, podcasts and written posts: http://blog.nerdery.com/ 
 
It’s an open secret that employee engagement, distributed leadership and empowerment are the keys to our success as a company, and this extends to our User Experience department. Additionally, the open environment in the UX department at the Nerdery is optimal for supporting collaboration within and amongst teams. The close proximity of team members means that inspiration is never far. All one has to do is turn to the right or the left, and he or she will be met with co-workers eager to lend a willing ear and a fresh perspective, so that we can all help each other in reaching our creative potential.
 
User Experience has become an integral part of our business, and a growing revenue source. But UX is just one example of this for us, and our Quality Assurance practice is another prime example of what happens when engaged employees pursue their passion. Nerdery CEO said this about Nerdery QA engineering at a recent talk to college students: “As you might expect, software needs to be tested before it’s ready for primetime. You have to know it works. It’s not a political statement to say that the Affordable Care Act had a rough debut online. Quality Assurance – or QA – is a specialized tech discipline. Most developers aren’t proficient as QA engineers, particularly when it comes to coders checking their own code; objectivity gets lost. Software needs fresh eyes and perspective. QA Engineers are specialists in finding bugs, and making sure software launches safe and secure. And that it works – which is kind of important. The Nerdery has built a competitive advantage in quality assurance. We have a team of 40 QA engineers. The reason this is different, or matters at all - is that many companies think of QA as only the minor leagues for developers. At The Nerdery, we think of this differently – applying the things we know about engaged employees. Our QA engineers are QA to stay – they’re career quality assurance engineers. QA is their calling. They’re great and they know it and I don’t mind telling them, or you, how damn good they are at being the last line of defense on every piece of custom software we release into the wild. We only hire people in QA, who love QA. That’s what makes them great. Also, we only have a separate QA department because one guy, Kai Esbensen, convinced us we should. Kai made all the points about QA that I’ve just now tried to convey, but he did it better and far more convincingly because QA is his passion. He eats and sleeps this stuff. He’d read books on QA even if he wasn’t paid for it. He attends classes, and learns all of the new technologies, and searches for people who love QA like him. His passion around QA has made our team one of the best in the country – creating a differentiator we never planned for and a stream of income that wasn’t part of our strategic plan when we started out. The best ideas, the game changers – come from anyone and everyone, when your people are engaged.”
What are the key aspects of your work environment that make it conducive to productivity and employee satisfaction?: 
The Nerdery’s shared, open, collaborative spaces facilitate designers’ ability to come together and problem solve in group settings. Co-located seating allows for ad hoc dialogue, peer review, and design critique. We put a high value on knowledge-sharing and personal development. Our designers have spoken at conferences all over the world, in topics ranging from content strategy, to research methods, to prototyping. Internally, we hold weekly hour-long seminars where our designers can share new processes and techniques they've developed with the entire department. We're passionate about developing ourselves as designers, while making a positive and beautiful impact on the world around us. 
 
Nerds submit proposals to a selection committee of peers to receive a Lab Grant – 40 hours of billable time, per project – time enough to test their theory. Many of The Nerdery’s projects are under NDA. We can’t show them off. We can’t even talk about them – I’ve already said too much. We collaborate with our partners to build whatever they want, and we’re grateful for every opportunity to engineer and execute on our clients’ vision. But what about what we want to make? And who’s gonna scratch our creative itches? Enter The Nerdery Lab Program. Here, we shine a light on the passion projects we choose to pursue. Then we experiment, discover, innovate, show and tell. Here’s a Lab Grant project featuring collaboration between a Nerdery UX designer and Nerdery developer: http://blog.nerdery.com/2013/09/nerdcast-41-nerdery-lab-experiment-1-fin... ; http://blog.nerdery.com/2013/09/nerdery-labs-experiment-tastemapper/
 
The Nerdery’s signature community service event gives people a unique opportunity to use their time and talent to help nonprofits in their community, and form teams to help them build better websites, literally overnight. At The Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge, more than $4 million in professional design and development services have been donated to over a hundred nonprofit organizations that received new websites they could not otherwise afford. Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar talk about recent nerdathons benefiting nonprofits: 
 
What challenges and opportunities in creating a positive work environment are unique to user-oriented practitioners?: 

UX professionals bring “design thinking” to everything they do – this creates myriad opportunities. I constantly makes us better through new and tweaked processes. Designers also bring design thinking to designing their own career path, which also leads them, and us, to bigger and better opportunities. Design thinking can move pretty fast, and in many direction, so the challenge for managers can be staying ahead of it all (file this under “good problem to have”).  

What measures do you use to monitor and maintain employee satisfaction, both at a group level and an individual level, and how has that affected how you’ve crafted your work environment?: 

The Nerdery commissioned research company Modern Survey to conduct an all-staff survey to measure employee engagement and workplace satisfaction. While the survey was not mandatory, 97 percent of our staff took it – a participation rate that astounded Modern Survey. Furthermore, 95% of surveyed Nerds said The Nerdery is a good team environment. In addition to our long-term commitment to conducting our own tailored survey each year, we participate in workplace surveys conducted by Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Business Magazine and MPLS St. Paul Business Journal; we’ve made these lists each year, and held the #1 spot (Biz Journal) twice.   

Please provide any employee testimonials and, if available, retention/turn-over data that indicates your work environment is especially healthy.: 
Here are a few quotes from recent staff survey - all anonymous. 
 
Replies to survey Q: What do you love most about The Nerdery?
 
“The people – every time I have a question I know there’s someone to turn to.”
 
“I really like collaborating with team members in other disciplines.”
 
“The ability to effect change no matter who you are.”
 
“I’ve never worked with a more dedicated group of learners.”
 
“Almost everything it stands for: the core values to people I work with, great work environment for engaging and new experiences.” 
 
“I learn something new every day and get to learn about new technologies.”
 
“The freedom to make mistakes.”
 
“The freedom and creativity to do what you think is best.”
 
“Everyone is trusted.”
 
“Freedom to gravitate toward the things that fulfill me.”
 
Reply to survey Q: What was your primary reason for coming to The Nerdery:
 
“The Nerdery is a strong force in UX and has a great UX team; it’s where I want to be.”