The Programming Butler

hacking life with a servants heart

Being acquired doesn't have to suck

It has been a month since Ordered List was acquired by GitHub and our team of 5 joined their team of 50, and it hasn’t sucked at all. Here are some observations on how to remove the suck from acquisitions.

The Suck

My general attitude towards acquisitions the past few years has been fairly negative. I’ve seen too many people and products we love be acquired and the people only stick around until their stock vests and the products are shut down or perverted into something hideous.

With all that negative sentiment you would think I would have fought for Ordered List to remain independent, but I assure you everyone on our team was not only on board with the acquisition but also excited about the opportunity.

The number one problem after an acquisition are differences in culture. From how the individuals and teams work, to how they interact, how they are led, and how they are motivated.

We would not have even considered joining GitHub if there were large differences in culture and any company looking at an acquisition should make sure this is the first thing they research and consider.

The Reality

Both sides in this acquisition did their homework and didn’t just jump in without lots of serious consideration. Putting in this work ahead of time has made the actual integration of our teams virtually frictionless.

My day to day work has not changed and yours shouldn’t have to either. This is definitely something to think about before an acquisition. Do they know what you do best and will they give you the opportunity to continue doing it? Thankfully I’m still working on the products I love and now I have a pool of talent and knowledge 10x greater than before to draw from.

There is definitely more to keep track of since there are more people, more products, and just more going on in general, but the time I spend on that is a lot less than the time I used to spend on client work to make sure my salary got paid. Acquisitions can and should give you more opportunities to concentrate on what you are passionate about.

Yes, its only been a month, how can I be sure this acquisition won’t suck? I feel like I’ve been working with these people for a long time, and in a way I have. I have been hanging out with them at conferences, working on open source code with them, and having conversations with them on Twitter for much longer than I’ve been their coworker.

In the tech industry we have and should take advantage of those opportunities. We can follow and get to know people through their code (a great way to use GitHub!) as well as on social networks and at conferences. Do your best to know the people you are getting into bed with.

Conclusion

My attitude towards acquisitions has definitely changed, but only because it’s clearer to me what works and what doesn’t.

Avoid merging teams with drastically different cultures, understand the strengths and weaknesses of the teams on both sides and be committed to letting them do what they do best, and know the actual people you will share the future with.

posted January 8, 2012 by Hoyt