Former Valve hardware developer Jeri Ellsworth says the company's "flat management" structure is not ideal and compares its hiring and firing process to high school cliques, according to an interview with The Grey Area.
Speaking on the podcast, Ellsworth, who was fired from Valve in February along with a handful of other employees, said a "hidden management" agenda resulted in a "witch hunt" in which Valve fired a group considered to be "trouble makers."
"Now we've all seen the Valve handbook, which offers a very idealized view," she said. "A lot of that is true. It is a pseudo-flat structure, where in small groups you are all peers and make decisions together.
"But the one thing I found out the hard way is that there is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company," she added. "And it felt a lot like high school. There are popular kids that have acquired power, then there's the trouble makers and then everyone in between. Everyone in between is OK, but the trouble makers are the ones trying to make a difference."
Ellsworth described a "weird paranoia in the company that their culture would be contaminated," and after her termination she left the company — along with other high-ranking staff members including former director of business Jason Holtman — feeling "stabbed in the back." She said she had a rough time building up her hardware team because longtime staff members would reject possible new hires "for not fitting in to the [office] culture," and her termination was likely a result of friction caused by her being vocal about the difficulties.
She was also careful to note that her experience and views are not shared by all of Valve's employees.
"I should frame all of this with I have a lot of friends at Valve and there are lots of great people there," she explained. "The hardware team was very close-knit [and we worked long hours together]. I'm going to try and be careful about what I say, because my view is not 100 percent true for all the different groups in there.
"If I sound bitter, it's because I am," she said. "I am really, really bitter. Because they promised me the world and then stabbed me in the back."
A full transcription of Ellsworth's interview with The Grey Area is available on Develop.