A company culture built on cultures at Wizeline

A company culture built on cultures at Wizeline

Wizeline's culture can be considered one of building cultures. Wendy Johansson, Vice President of Wizeline Academy and User Experience Design (and one of Wizeline's co-founders), is helping to take some components of Silicon Valley Culture and mix them with cultures of various countries to develop something that is democratic, that values passion in the work, and that opens up opportunities for women and others.


Own It

First and foremost, Wizeline, founded in San Francisco, is global, with offices in New York, Mexico City, Queteraro, Guadalajara (where Johansson spends most of her time), and in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It uses globally-sourced talent to deliver front-end and back-end web development solutions to companies and their brands; Wizeline helps its clients by consulting with them and subsequently building the best user experience for their customers.

One of Wizeline's driving concepts, and one that Johannson is very personally invested in is "ownership." This is a concept largely made up of the dual forces of freedom and the responsibility that comes with it. Johannson explains that U.S.-based tech firms in Guadalaraja tend to function on a rigid 9-5 schedule that involves literally punching a clock. Wizeline, however, has imported--as an example of one of the better features of Silicon Valley--a flex time approach in which people can leave work to take care of errands but that in this environment, "you have ownership, and the expectation of delivering on your project on time."

Yet, there's another component to "ownership" of work, and that is a feeling of building something over time and valuing that on its own terms. It's something that Johannson lamented being missing all too often in Silicon Valley, where she observes that people were interested in high-stakes gambles, trying to get in on the ground floor of a startup and quickly cash in on it. She says, "it (Silicon Valley culture) feels so much less focused on owning and building good product and working on a good team," and more on the potential monetary rewards.

At Wizeline, this ownership of "good product" and "a good team" is fostered through wide-open communication and widespread sharing of ideas. This is one iteration of "democratization of knowledge," another of Wizeline's key principles, which we'll elaborate on later. First, the tech company has a thriving culture of sharing ideas large and small. Occasions for this sharing may be "if someone goes to a conference or reads a new book or tries new technology." Yet it can also be knowledge shared on projects to help colleagues avoid mistakes or missteps. The person sharing only has to admit the original mistake.

Johannson emphasizes that so much of Wizeline's culture is informed by its global and multi-cultural nature. Even within one location--Guadalaraja--roughly 20% of employees are from many points on the globe. That is why a culture of sharing and pointing out possible problems isn't as easy to foster as it may sound. Team members, of course, bring unconscious and unstated cultural norms to their jobs, which is why, for example, in Mexico and in Ho Chi Minh City, they sometimes ran into trouble early on, when, in one case, a flaw in a project was discovered just before delivery. Someone said they knew about it earlier but that no one asked, and a learning point between various cultural mindset had occurred, though it came, as Johannson puts it "the hard way."


Democratization and the Tech Ecosystem

Democratizing knowledge and technology can be done in a more controlled setting through the Wizeline Academy. One of its missions is a sort of technological ambassadorship. Mexico, for example, is newly a hotbed of software engineering graduates ready to develop their talents. However, as is the case with many nations, Mexico is a bit behind in what Johannson calls "industry-trending technology." So Wizeline Academy brings in an array of people in their network from the Bay Area to teach DevOps or Open Source to the young minds in Guadalajara and other locales. This is done for students and community members, and is done for free. This way, says Johannson, her "friends and neighbors" can "continue building up the tech ecosystem within Mexico."

The instructors in Wizeline Academy are company employees rather than outsourced instructors. Bringing tech knowledge to communities in need of it is, of course, rewarding. Johannson says, "a lot of (the instructors) love giving back because, for them, you know, these are the communities they grew up in, these are the communities that supported them. So, they feel a sense of pride in the company that this is what we focus on."

Johansson says that while "potential is everywhere," opportunity is harder to come by. Many people who are looking for knowledge that will help them change their lives run into the high prices of online boot camps and similar services, and that's a niche the Academy fills with its free instruction. This spirit is also found in a concerted effort to increase opportunities for women in tech; one current initiative is teaching coding to forty high school students, with roughly half being female.


Wizeline is geographically spread out and culturally diverse. But one thing that can bring everyone together is the emoji. The company uses Disco integrated with Slack, to give kudos for work done with pride or that goes above and beyond expectations. Johansson says that as these kudos digitally travel the globe, it's fun to see dozens of team members flooding the channel with reactions in the form of emojis--recognition on a global scale.

Finally, Johannson says that she would "never want to work at a single-location company again." The cultural exchanges involved in Wizeline, along with the culture of giving opportunities and encouraging people to develop and grow has taught her "to become a better manager, become a better friend, and (improve in) giving people feedback in all these different ways."