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Chapter 11:

Making a Career

Next: Our Internal Systems

Your First 90 Days

Congratulations! You’re a Basecamper!

In your first 90 days, you’ll be getting aligned with your manager on approach and expectations. You’ll get up and running, do real work, in real circumstances, with real coworkers, for long periods of time. It’s your manager’s responsibility to give you proper opportunities to demonstrate your skills and fit for the job. This includes your technical expertise, your engagement with coworkers, and your ability to take feedback and adapt to the Basecamp culture. Similarly, it’s on you to take advantage of those opportunities, and to show that you’re capable of meeting the team standards.

When you start, you’ll receive an outline of expected performance metrics for your first 3 months. Those standards will be clear and attainable, and your manager will give you frequent, candid feedback. On occasion, despite our collective best efforts, it’s not a fit. We don’t do full-scale performance improvement plans during the first three months. So if during that time it starts looking like your long-term employment won’t work out, your manager will let you know early and why.

We hope, and fully expect, that your first 90 days will confirm what we learned in the hiring phase — you’re well suited for this job, this team, and you’re invigorated by the work to be done. Just put in your best effort, make sure you reach out if things aren’t feeling right, embrace the feedback you get from your manager, and openly share your feedback with them!

Mastery & Titles

Advancing your career at Basecamp doesn’t mean giving up on your craft. Whether you work in programming, design, ops, support, or whatever, you can become better at the work itself and level-up that way. This is especially important since we’re a relatively small company with just two layers of managerial cake: executives and team managers. And both the executives and managers still spend the majority of their time doing technical work.

Within each of our job functions, we’ve mapped our trajectory of mastery to five different levels. That title structure is shared amongst all departments, but the particulars of what characterizes one level from another will of course be different. Here’s an example of the titles for programming:

While this is how we recognize mastery, it’s by no means an expectation that everyone will start as a junior and end up as a principal. Basecamp needs people and perspectives from all levels of skill. And for those who do end up progressing all the way through this path, it may well be a journey of many, many years, if not a decade+.

But these titles make it clear to everyone where someone is in their career progression at Basecamp. Note that these titles are about a particular role at Basecamp. Someone may well have been a “Senior Designer” somewhere else with a different assessment criteria and a different workflow, and then still start at Basecamp as a “Designer”. We recognize mastery and titles at Basecamp for the work done at Basecamp.

Day to day, though, these titles aren’t really much of a factor. But they do give newcomers another way of orienting themselves at the company and it gives everyone a clear way of tracking their personal career progression at Basecamp.

You can see the specific titles and proficiencies expected for: Designers, Ops, Programmers, Support, Data.

Pay & Promotions

Basecamp pays at the top 10% for our industry at San Francisco salary levels, regardless of where you live. The comparison data is provided by a company called Radford that polls compensation data from all the major companies in our industry and plenty of our smaller peers as well. Because we don’t pay bonuses, we match our base compensation to the base + bonus of our peer group.

Some jobs at Basecamp are not matched to Radford comparison data. Compensation for common technical roles like programming and design is reliably competitive in a market like San Francisco. For non-technical roles, compensation is much lower, much less competitive. To compensate for that industry disparity, we instituted a $70,000 salary floor.

The Radford data is reviewed once per year at the end of November. If it’s warranted, that is if the market rates in the top 10% have gone up, we’ll increase pay on January 1st to follow suit. We don’t decrease pay, even if the market rates may have dropped. If that happens, we’ll hold them steady until they come up again.

In addition to raises based on Radford market data, we’ve also in the past given raises in excess of those based on core price index inflation numbers, if the market didn’t move upward. This is not a guaranteed practice.

Everyone in the same role at the same level is paid the same at Basecamp.

When you get a promotion, that is you move from one level to another, you’ll get a corresponding pay raise effective on your next pay cycle.

Performance Reviews

At least once a year, you’ll meet with your manager for a formal performance check-in. It’s up to each manager to determine how best to approach that meeting, but we ask that whatever process they use, they use the same process for every team member. Your manager should have a conversation with you about:

Managers document performance reviews along with any action items with deadlines that come out of the meeting. The timing and cadence of performance reviews is up to each individual manager.

Performance Improvement Plans

If your work performance is not meeting expectations, you may be put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). We only initiate PIPs if your manager’s concern is correctable in the short term. We do not initiate PIPs for fundamental performance issues that relate to your core job skills. If you’re a Programmer whose coding skills are not at the level they need to be, we’d forego a PIP. However we may initiate a PIP to help you improve your performance in a coachable skill like project management. In those cases, we’ll follow our performance plan process.

We don’t just make Basecamp, we run our entire business on it too. It puts all our project communication, task management, and documentation in one place where everyone can work together seamlessly.