Valve is one of the world’s greatest computer game developers, making groundbreaking titles like “Half-Life,” “Portal,” and “Left 4 Dead.”
It also runs Steam, the hyper-successful software distribution platform.
As a private company, Valve doesn’t disclose financials. But in a 2011 Fortune profile, founder Gabe Newell said that Valve was “tremendously profitable,” with estimated revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
In fact, he claimed that Valve is more profitable per employee than Apple or Google.
The key, of course, is the employees themselves.
The increasingly famous Valve handbook for new employees says that since Valve has a non-hierarchical or “flat” structure, “adding a great person can create value across the whole company,” while “missing out on hiring that great person is likely the most expensive kind of mistake we can make.”
What makes for a great Valve employee?
They’re “T-shaped.” As in:
The handbook defines T-shaped employees as:
People who are both generalists (highly skilled at a broad set of valuable things — the top of the T) and also experts (among the best in their field within a narrow discipline — the vertical leg of the T). This recipe is important for success at Valve.
If either side of the T is missing, then a candidate won’t make it at Valve.
“An expert who is too narrow has difficulty collaborating,” the handbook states, while “a generalist who doesn’t go deep enough in a single area ends up on the margins, not really contributing as an individual.”
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