Jason Craft is a dear friend and exemplary human being. He’s also a Senior Software Developer at Pearson Education. He has a Ph.D. in fiction networks (complex distributed narratives such as comic books - really, you should read his dissertation). If you’re a comics nerd, you should definitely also check out his The Annotated Flex Mentallo. He’s also got a blog.
After working at a bunch of places, I’m convinced of a few things:
Every organizational culture is unique
We can talk about whether or not you work at “a Dell” or “an Apple” but, in the end, unless you are working at Dell or Apple, the comparisons will break down. Organizations have their own personalities, even ones that are similarly big or small or ones that compete in the same sectors.
So, you should probably not only ask “what should change about this company?” but also “what are the factors that make this change likely or unlikely?” What mechanisms are in place to allow you, or others at your level, to make change in your company? How entrenched is a given process in your company? Is the shipping-first approach in place because other approaches haven’t been tried, or is it a key part of the company’s business plan?
In the end, it will be worthwhile for you to take a good look and make an honest call about how likely a “revolution” is. In your gut, you know what parts of the company are subject to evolution and change, and which parts are intrinsic to how it works. Those answers will guide your decision.
I think you have made a good point about organizational mission
With some kicking, I’ve been turned around to the power of mission and vision statements, and I think that a company that states non-commercial interests in an explicit and real way is different from a company that prioritizes being a market leader (even when that other-focused company is the market leader). I’m working at one of those companies now and I like it a lot.
Mission and vision statements, and high-level goals of companies, can change. Dell and Apple could once be called competitors, but that’s not true any more (Dell is moving away from the consumer market (see this article at Forbes.com), while Apple is diving headfirst into consumer electronics and media. More and more it’s like comparing IBM to Sony). But those changes are long-term, strategic, and generally not driven by those at our level.
If you think about moving on, take a good look at what the next step might bring
Be ready to spend some time asking what “quality” means for any organization you talk to, and keep in mind that even quality-first or “artisanal” companies need to be taken on their own merits, and that they inevitably bring their own frustrations. Make sure you understand those frustrations as well as the positives, and be deliberate about your choice.