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Stripe's remote engineering hub, one year in (stripe.com)
137 points by dochtman on May 31, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 69 comments

The points under "Cultural improvements" can't be stressed enough:

* When only one member of that team is remote, they often suffer a combination of isolation ... and organizational burden ...

And their approach to foster inclusiveness is a great checklist:

* We nominated a site lead ... to be responsible for the overall happiness and productivity of the hub. * We ensure that our leadership regularly visits the hub via Zoom meetings to lead discussions, answer questions, and provide a sense of connection. * We encourage virtual coffee chats to promote a sense of belonging. * We survey the team regularly and review feedback and people data, so that we can understand both the shared needs of our employees and the particular needs of a hub.

Remote doesn't have to mean work from home, and I can attest that having too few remote employees and not enough cultural investment is a recipe for failure.

An ole employer had a satellite office with just a few employees. The main office was in a city in a different state. There were many occasions where we were in the dark about talks that'd happened at HQ, activities, and even some times when the owners would let folks leave early on Friday! Without dedicated leadership and effort to make sure employee are included, even a small satellite office can feel isolated and neglected.

In the end there were just 3 engineers total, all in different teams. I left a year after the company restructured, closing the satellite and everyone was WFH.

To add another story... a previous company I worked at had an HQ of about 700 people in Chicago with satellite offices of 20ish people in a number of locations, one of which I worked at. After a couple years it was extremely obvious that the satellite offices were not only left out of important discussions and considerations from HQ, but were also treated very poorly in comparison when it came to bonuses and promotions. This despite many of the satellites being more percentage-profitable with higher growth than HQ. It led to a toxic environment and a personal lesson to be wary of working away from an HQ.

Am I the only one thinking that "remote" would mean "anywhere in the world", but most of the times mean "anywhere in the country" (in Stripe's case, the US)? Is it even possible, due to legal/logistics, to have really "internationally remote" workforce?

Broadly, there are tradeoffs, including organizational risk tolerance, and which margins one is permitted or not permitted to take which risks on.

For example, some software companies are regulated in some jurisdictions. A not-too-hypothetical regulation is "regulatee understands and enthusiastically consents to unannounced site inspections by regulator at any time of our choosing." Thankfully, this doesn't apply to most software companies, but ones who it does apply to have hopefully long-since had a chat with their competent legal professionals about precisely what the definition of a "site" is.

There are many, many issues like this, and they're fractally complicated. Even the basics of "How do I hire a full-time white collar employee with the standard package plus equity?" vary substantially between jurisdictions. Setting up the infrastructure for it in a jurisdiction can take the better part of a year. (It would be an excellent thing, for everyone, if jurisdictions decided to compete on ease to employ their residents.)

A lot of smaller companies elect to onboard international employees as the employee’s country’s equivalent of a 1099 rather than setting up the local infrastructure. I am not sure at what point this no longer becomes viable because it’s obviously not a practice followed by larger corporations for the most part.

Its certainly a lot harder to hire someone in a country that you don't have a presence in, usually this means setting up things like employer tax arrangements, pensions, health benifits etc. Some companies get around this by having their remote employees in countries where they don't have a legal entity become independent contractors, and there's a couple of startups looking to solve this problem as a service.

However seeing as Stripe are advertising office based Roles in 6 different countries having all the remote roles as "North America Only" just seems plain lazy. I get that timezones might be an issue for some roles, although its better to then advertise a remote role as "GMT-8 to GMT-5" or whatever rather than a geographic location

I think GitLab does a decent job of that. I think There is a list of countries and how you could work with them. I.e. employed vs contracted vs not-at-all

From a legal perspective I get the limitations to local countries. I considered hiring remote (currently not easily possible due to company policies on eg in presence card pickup and activation) and would’ve scoped to the EU only in that case.

There are great people available outside of the EU, but the additional legal hassle makes the trade-off not worth it unless you expect a large amount of remote employees in that country.

I am sure there are legal reasons but if I had to set up a remote company I would probably try to restrict the timezones. My current company has dev teams in South America and India. They are all good people but dealing with India [13 hours) is a big pain because somebody has to make calls during his personal time instead of work time. It’s a real burden. And in my view you absolutely have to make direct calls from time to time. You can’t resolve all issues with asynchronous communication.

> You can’t resolve all issues with asynchronous communication.

Name one?

An example is custom hardware not working as expected. To debug this you may need five different people on the line at the same time. If you do this in an async manner it will take days or weeks to resolve.

But can be resolved...

Pair programming!

This is the only one that actually is valid. Good point!

1:1 career conversations

You can't have these in slack async? (because I have)

I don't believe you can have that conversation effectively if each person gets to send one message per day due to timezone-induced lack of workday overlap.

Day 1 M> So, what do you think your next career move would be?

Day 2 E> I don't know. I really enjoy software engineering, but I think I'm ready to take on some kind of leadership role.

Day 2 M> OK, that's great. Do you need any kind of support before taking that on?

Day 3 E> I'm not sure what you mean.

Day 3 M> ...

It can work if you're not in a rush. If you need to wait overnight to get help with something that slows you down.

So its a trade off? But still can't name one..

I work at Stripe, in the remote hub, from Tokyo. Stripe has a large and growing workforce outside of North America and so far it seems to be going OK.

The biggest challenge (from a trenches perspective) is timezones, so teams end up being either NA+APAC or NA+EU.

There are two issues at least. First is working in a country whose government could demand or seize your company-issued equipment, jeopardizing privacy and corporate secrets. Second is tax regulation. If you are an working in a country where your company doesn’t have a presence, suddenly the government can make the case that now there is a reason to tax the company because your working there can constitute presence. So not only would you be potentially liable for taxed earnings but so too your employer. Also some companies have announced that they would adjust compensation in accordance with cost of living, so moving from the Bay Area to Idaho or Belize would no longer be as favorable (I’m sure it would still afford a very comfortable standard of living regardless).

Note that I am not a tax attorney nor an expert on international affairs. These are some things I’ve gathered for why I can’t sit on a beachfront property in Thailand or South America and work.

Another challenge is time zone differences.

This is definitely true for most orgs, but in some case it can actually be a benefit, with work following the sun".

I worked at a mostly remote company for 5 years. It works very well with on-call rotations but it's a big problem for product work.

In ideal world yes, but reality is that it requires significantly more effort, e.g.: "anywhere in the world" would really mean "anywhere in the world except Iran, Crimea, and other countries/regions that US thinks you should not do business with". Sometimes a company may not be even allowed to have non-US citizen employees.

Then, you have to make sure you can handle payroll, taxes, and overall operations.

It doesn't have to be all or nothing: expanding from an office-centric to all-US is a good start - baby steps.

Yes and no, depending on jurisdiction and the compromises you’re willing to make.

Hotjar, for instance, use contractor arrangements for most countries, then setup employment infrastructure in countries where there’s enough hires (or potential hires) to make the investment in overhead worthwhile.

The article says they have people in "Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, UK, and the U.S."

Definitely - see GitLab and hundreds of others.

Two things I’d be most interested in are:

1) Career Opportunities: what’s the rate of promotion, moving into management for remotes vs non remotes

2) Compensation: is an engineer an engineer an engineer? Or are there SF engineers and Tulsa engineers and Austin engineers, each with different salary bands?


We're extremely solicitous of there being advancement opportunities for everyone in every office. This is something that we're looking at over time. Companies that can't manage this will lose to ones who can, as their seasoned talent moves to places where it is valued appropriately.

Promotion isn't co-extensive with moving into management; we have senior IC tracks, too, including in engineering, and many remote engineers happen to be senior ICs. (IC = "individual contributor", meaning "has no people reporting to them." I am an IC at Stripe.)


Like most employers, we craft compensation to be competitive with what we perceive as the market. We expect that geography will continue to influence who the “marginal buyer” is for most engineering talent, which will in turn influence prevailing compensation. That said, we expect that the importance of geography in determining compensation will continue to shrink, and data suggest that candidates outside of major tech epicenters have found our offers to be very competitive.

While a lot is said and written about how geographic compensation “should” be done, tech company hiring is at root a highly competitive and vibrant market. If our (or any other company’s) strategy is wrong, the market will quickly tell us.

Are there enough remote employees who are a part of senior management (Director, VP etc)? What fraction of overall senior management do they constitute?

Great, thank you for the insight! Glad to see there’s some thought and articulation on these topics. Especially point 1 around opportunities for advancement. I’ve seen that be a problem at some companies and, as you pointed out, it caused me to unfortunately seek those opportunities elsewhere.

The compensation one is interesting. It’s absolutely an evolving space and I’m always interested in how different companies are thinking about it.

> Promotion isn't co-extensive with moving into management; we have senior IC tracks, too, including in engineering, and many remote engineers happen to be senior ICs. (IC = "individual contributor", meaning "has no people reporting to them." I am an IC at Stripe.)

This sounds great, and I wish more organisations did this - for most, it seems there is an absolute limit at which your career path stops dead.

Unfortunately, this is largely a fundamental issue. It is outrageously hard for an IC to have impact that is orders of magnitude more than their peers. Volume maybe. But in terms of impact? Really hard.

Managers get to cheat, to some degree. They instead are tasked with organizing a whole bunch of people - who can achieve things that a single person never could. So a manager has a much easier "I made the company 10% more money" story than an IC.

Some organizations try to fight this bias, but it is hard and takes a clear framework for promotion guidelines and constant vigilance.

High-level IC roles (in the companies that have them) are still leadership roles. They are just technical leadership roles instead of people management roles. They may not have direct reports, but they are still responsible for getting big projects done, usually by organizing a large number of engineers.

is your team hiring? ;)

A while back I was looking for a remote position at Stripe. I live near the Chicago area and was told I couldn't work remotely because they were starting a Chicago office and wanted me to be there instead.

Feel free to check back in the next time you're looking; our appetite for "remotes in the same city / metro area we have an office in" has been increasing over time, particularly as individual offices mature.

Are there opportunities for partial remote, or WFH when you want but go into the office sometimes as well? In my case I'd like to live in the city and go in but also work from a coffee shop or at home on certain days, to get some variety.

This was reasonably common for our office-based employees in better times. I expect it will be even more common when we re-open our offices.

Sounds good, Patrick. You'll be seeing my application later this year :)

Side note, I'm reading through your salary negotiation post again and I'm going to reach back to you with the results in a couple of weeks hopefully.

Heh Heh Heh. After the article talks up all of benefits of remote working, and how they can hire in any of 50 countries, there's a link to "these are our remote positions".

Every one of which has leading text stating:

  Remote in North America only
Something seems off. Pass.

I work at Stripe, including on this post. As we mentioned, our remote hiring is in scaled production mode in the U.S. and Canada, and in early stages elsewhere. We anticipate this will change, and are working towards changing it, as quickly as various constraints allow.

There are 212 job openings listed on Stripe's careers page as either located in the United States or remote. Of those, 17 are remote (~8%) & the rest are not. So even excluding non-US listings, it's a small percentage -- Seattle has ~30%, SF has ~50%, NYC has ~11%.

Even though a single job listing can/does represent multiple job openings, that's true for all the listings as well. So all other things being equal, I would expect Stripe to have way more remote listings if it's been as successful as this post implies. Which leads me to believe the reality is much more nuanced and that the blog post is a bit heavy with PR fluff (no shame!).

Also, big fan.

Its worth noting that this article is about the Stripe remote _engineering_ hub. Stripe intentionally scaled its engineering presence remote first. There are remote Stripes in other parts of the company but this post was about the concerted effort to hire engineers remotely. Further as patio11 mentions downthread that the math on this is hard to diagnose from the outside. I don’t have any specific information about this but I wouldn’t be surprised if the single job title “Infrastructure Engineer - Remote” will be hired into more than all engineering roles in NYC.

The numbers from the blogpost “ Over the last year, we’ve tripled the number of permanently remote engineers, up to 22% of our engineering population.“ is a fairly straightforward way to read the posting about this.

Disclaimer, I am a “Infrastructure Engineer - Remote” at Stripe.

I'm pretty confident that we made only true claims, particularly the ones with numbers. If your model doesn't agree with our SQL, I think the maximally polite observation I can make is that one of us is probably wrong.

Or both.

> As we mentioned, our remote hiring is in scaled production mode in the U.S. and Canada, and in early stages elsewhere.

What if I'm based elsewhere, but would be happy to work North American timezones?

Time zones are not the sole constraint we have, and many of those constraints are not ones that we can simply waive by mutual agreement. For example, some activities we engage in are restricted to regulated entities in some countries, and those restrictions are things we have to thoroughly understand, sometimes negotiate, and plan for prior to onboarding employees in a particular jurisdiction.

That's the easy bit, hard is pay wages in another country and ensuring your obey all local laws and regulations. You basically have to set up an entity in the countries you wish to hire from and then become familiar in the law there which is quite a hurdle.

I would suggest amending the article, as it seems to imply positions are currently available outside the US and Canada, when this is not the case. This section in particular:

>We have increased the places we can hire remotely from. Today, Stripes are based in over 50 cities worldwide. We now have the capability to hire remote employees in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, UK, and the U.S.

I work at Stripe, though not on anything related to hiring, and will ask someone to take a look. It would surprise me if the situation was actually as strict as that text states.

Also telling - there are 17 “Remote” listings out of 270 job ads in total. For a new normal, I would expect a share higher than 6%.

I would caution people from attempting to math from a count of positions, as in some cases one job listing will result in many people getting hired (a very common case for e.g. engineers), and we do parallel listings when we accept a job in multiple offices. e.g. 33% of listings for Backend/API Engineer, Reliability Tooling are remote, not because we intend to hire 33% of that team remote but just because we'd hire for that team in Remote, SF, or Seattle.

Yes this is strange. I was so excited after reading the post and checked open positions only to get disappointed.

Yea I'd love to work at Stripe, but I prefer being able to live wherever I want in the world.

I believe this is often because of tax purposes. Dealing with international jurisdictions gets complicated and it may not be worth it to Stripe if they believe they can hire enough talent within NA.

It’s not that they couldn’t, it’s just that they don’t see the value in doing so.

The article specifically calls out:

  We have increased the places we can hire remotely from.
  We now have the capability to hire remote employees in
  Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India,
  Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands,
  Singapore, Sweden, UK, and the U.S.

Looks like they are starting with larger countries, possibly because they are actually looking into the employment law there?

I wonder what the benefits of having remote employees are, compared to remote workforce without employee status?

They're most likely outsourcing it, that list is too random and one shot to be any epxertise grown in house.

In any case, I'm still skeptical, they could have been paying people in USD as contractors since day dot if that was the real problem, but its not, its timezones.

According to Stripe employees in the thread, the problem is that Stripe works in a heavily regulated industry (credit card processing) and that introduces difficulties that couldn’t be solved by paying people as contractors

It might be due to tax reasons if the remote workers are not contractors. This has been an issue for my UK headquartered employer

Their service is not available in most countries either.

super tough to take this post seriously, it sounds very much like a company marketing/recruiting post

I wonder what the engineering comps are.

I wonder about this as well because usually the inclusion of remote engineers is usually to pay less comp than main locations especially when outside the country.

"Remote Work Is Eating The World" , next week on HN

I'm already looking forward to the front page in 2025: "What's the secret of our success? We did the unthinkable and co-located our whole team in one office."

I already saw posts with titles likes “post remote work”. Keeps workers entertained.

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