Interview with Emily Lannon, Director of Workplace at SoundCloud

An insight into the corporate culture at SoundCloud

JAXenter Editorial Team

“Culture is not something you can force top down on people, it’s something that needs to come up from people themselves.” We spoke to Emily Lannon, the Director of Workplace at SoundCloud, about DevOps, how to meet employees’ needs, and how to build an amazing and diverse workplace culture.

JAXenter: Hi Emily, welcome to DevOpsCon. What is SoundCloud’s general strategy with regard to culture?

Emily Lannon:  I think one of the things that is most important to us is that our culture is flexible, as we’re trying to to as an organization. We try to be a platform that is available to anybody in the world, to express themselves through the shared love of sound. So we wanted our company culture to be a place where anybody is welcome and can do the best work of their lives.

JAXenter: And how is the collaboration between devs and ops, from a DevOps perspective?

Emily Lannon: I think we really try to ensure that all teams work together in the same way. So there is a huge amount of collaboration that happens amongst all of our teams. We have monthly meetings where everybody gets together to talk about where everybody is working on and to do check-ins. So, there is a really good flow of information and process, because it is super important with any of these cross-team collaboration projects that the flow of information is smooth. You are constantly trying to prioritize a lot of different things.

JAXenter: Speaking of that. How do you meet employees’ needs?

Emily Lannon: That is a broad question. How do I meet employee’s needs? Employee’s needs – that is again, if you think about the entire spectrum from the minute an employee walks into an office in the morning, until they leave in the evening – their needs may be that they need to be feeling recognized for their work. It may be that they need to be promoted. It may be that they need to have friendships in the workplace. It may be that they need to have their ergonomics addressed, their health needs. So we actually really strive to develop programs to meet each of the life cycle needs.

For employees, the entire times that they are with us at SoundCloud, that is a very broad project. But we care deeply and we put our employees first at the center of everything. So we are striving to understand what it is that they are going through and what they need at any given time.

JAXenter: Do you perhaps have a few examples for the elements that cause friction – from a cultural perspective?

Emily Lannon: Yeah, elements that cause friction? I think that the elements that cause frictions are also the things that make it beautiful. We have 31 different languages that are spoken at headquarters alone. You have introverts, you have extroverts, you have engineers, you have non-engineers. You have got people who identify with all sorts of different backgrounds. So, just the amazing diversity of humans coming together in a single workplace for a shared vision.

There is friction in humanity, but that’s what makes it wonderful. That’s what makes it creative. That’s what makes it beautiful. And I think one of the things what we always try to do is to remove as much of the friction as possible. If you can help people to understand that everybody is there with the same purpose, and to assume best intentions at all times, then you can do radical and amazing things by working together.

JAXenter: And another broad question for you. DevOps is a lot about culture. So would you say the culture at Soundcloud is coherent, and what are the steps that you take in order to make it coherent?

Emily Lannon: I think culture is something that we try and build every single day. And it has evolved as we have evolved as an organization. Culture may look like one thing when you are seven people and you work until three in the morning. It may look very different when you are an aging organization, who has families and children and external responsibilities. I think our commitment to the employees that work there and the passion that they have for what they are doing, is really what makes our culture really special. It’s what’s going to help it continue to evolve over time.

JAXenter: And I have one last question. I was wondering, what is your most important tip, with regard to making cultural changes happen?

Emily Lannon: I think the most important tip when thinking how to make cultural changes happen, is buy-in. It’s really ensuring that they are not top-down decision that are made, but they are made for a reason. We use a variety of different tools to help us understand the emotional needs of our employees.

What are they feeling we are lacking as an organization, what do they need from leadership, what do they need from their managers? It’s using that voice to then say “alright, these are the areas we need to work on as an organization, these are the programs that we need to push forward.” When anything that you do as an organization is garnered from the employees, that is when really great things come out of it.  And that what makes culture really special and so important. Culture is not something you can top down on people, it’s something that needs to come up from people themselves.

JAXenter: Thank you very much.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.



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