David Reeves and his colleagues have been in their new office for a little over two months now, but they’re still not quite used to the view.
“Our productivity may have dropped off the first week that we were in here,” the director of Pivotal Labs in Seattle laughed, looking out from a window about halfway up the stratosphere-scraping Columbia Tower. On a clear day, you can see craggy peaks of the Olympic Peninsula and watch green-and-white ferries from Bremerton and Bainbridge Island cutting through the steely waters of the Sound.
In under five years, Pivotal’s presence in Seattle has grown from five employees to a team of around 50. Having outgrown their local base at Pioneer Square’s Galvanize coworking space, the company shifted to this new base in early September.
Pivotal builds software tools to help businesses through digital transformations and centers its services around Pivotal Cloud Foundry, which essentially functions as an abstraction layer for cloud native software.
“Our philosophy is to let engineers do what they’re great at — and that’s writing code, without having to worry about any of the implementation details,” Reeves said. “Even at the operator level, Pivotal Cloud Foundry allows DevOps teams to work without worrying about the physical hardware.”
Most of Pivotal’s Seattle employees work for Pivotal Labs, the company’s consultancy arm.
“Our Seattle employees have a bit more exposure than others to some of our enterprise clients,” Reeves said, adding that Boeing is one of the company’s key customers in the region. “Having the opportunity to help an organization that large navigate through a digital transformation is pretty fantastic, and exposes our consultants to some really interesting challenges.”
Pivotal’s engineers, designers and product managers pair up to learn and inform one another’s work, and clients often come into the office to pair with a Pivotal employee.
Reeves said these pairings transcend disciplines.
“If we’re working on a user interface, we’ll often pair an engineer with a designer,” he said. “That cognitive load in pairing with someone for eight hours a day is quite high, so we realize that people need a break from time to time.”
From our vantage point, Pivotal is big on work-life balance. The office is littered with spaces for zoning out and taking a mental rest — sofas, a small library, a puzzle table, board games, a ping pong table — as well as a large kitchen, where the team gathers every morning to check in and compare notes over catered breakfast.
“It’s not just bagels and fruit either,” Reeves said. “We get eggs and sausage, breakfast burritos, that kind of thing.”
That’s in addition to the extensive snacks, cereals and beverages on tap — including craft beer, chai tea, cold brew and more.
“The Pivotal 15 is real,” Reeves said, patting his stomach. “Luckily, there’s a gym in the building, which is free for us.”
Pivotal spun out of Dell in 2013 and went public in March this year. Headquartered in San Francisco, the company has offices throughout the Americas, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Reeves said he’s always thinking of ways he can expose his employees — known internally as “Pivots” — to colleagues in other cities.
“At any given time, we’ll have three or four Pivots on rotation to another office. We’ve sent people to Sydney, London — we just had an opportunity to do some work in Madrid,” he said. “I think some days I’m a bit jealous of individual contributors on the team — it’d be nice to go to Paris for a couple of months and be a software engineer again.”