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Chapter 12:

Making a Career

Next: Our Internal Systems →

The average tenure of employees working at many technology companies today is shockingly low. At both Amazon and Google, it’s just around one year. At Basecamp, it’s over five years as of 2019. That’s something to be proud of and something to ensure endures. When you work at Basecamp, it should absolutely be feasible to think about this as the place for making a life-long career.

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 actual product 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. It’s not like they’re printed on your HELLO MY NAME IS sticker at the meetups (not that we have those anyway!). 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 profiencies 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 an employee lives. 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.

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.

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

When someone gets a promotion, that is goes from one level to the next, they’ll get a corresponding pay raise January 1st as well.

Performance Feedback

Twice a year, Basecamp employees receive formal feedback on their work performance.

Annual 360 Surveys

During the month of your anniversary, you’ll participate in a 360 review process. We stagger these surveys by anniversary month to cut down on the administrative workload that would happen if we did them all at one time.

You’ll receive a request during your anniversary month asking you for the names of some peers you want to receive feedback from. Those people will receive a short survey (<10 questions) which asks them about various aspects of working with you. You’ll also receive feedback from your manager. If you have any direct reports, they’ll be asked to complete a survey too, reviewing your management practices. Finally you’ll complete a self-evaluation which asks about your overall feelings about your day-to-day work, your long-term goals, and your satisfaction with how the company is being run.

Once all your surveys have been completed, the results will be compiled in an easy-to-read report. You’ll receive that report which consists of verbatim feedback from each source, lifted directly from the surveys for clarity. Your manager will also receive a copy of your report. Then your manager will meet 1:1 with you to review the report. If your survey results suggest you need to do something differently, your manager will raise that during your 1:1 and help you take steps with deadlines to address it.

When you’re asked to complete a survey for one of your coworkers, please try to do so within a week. They shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. You won’t be asked to do more than 5 peer surveys in a year, so please take care with the ones you are asked to complete!

All 360 surveys consist of open-ended questions, as opposed to a 1 - 5 scoring scale. Answering this way takes more thought and time, but it results in a much more useful form of feedback! Your answers as a feedback-giver are never anonymous, however we offer an emergency confidential-to-Andrea option if you’re truly uncomfortable sharing your thoughts directly with the person you’re reviewing.

Manager 1:1s

Once a year, you’ll meet with your manager for a 1:1 session. 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. Managers should have a conversation with you about:

This is a two-way street! You should be offering your thoughts on these topics to your manager, and your manager should be giving you feedback about your performance in these areas. Managers will document your 1:1s along with any action items with deadlines that come out of the meeting. Your Manager 1:1 takes place 6 months after your Annual 360.

Performance Plans

If your feedback relationship with your manager and your team is where it should be, nothing too surprising should be coming out of either your Annual 360 or your Annual 1:1! Managers should be addressing performance successes and problems in the moment, throughout the year, not waiting for one of these opportunities. If some unforeseen negative feedback does come out during your 360 or 1:1, your manager could decide to initiate our formal performance plan process.

Feedback on Feedback

Both processes described above are constantly evolving (or at least they should be!). Great feedback opportunities can only be designed so much — it takes continual feedback on the process from everyone to keep it useful. If you think any aspect of the process described here could be more efficient, more practical, and result in better actionable feedback for you, please let Andrea know!

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.