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valveValve is well-known for its counterintuitive corporate culture, one in which bosses don’t exist and employees are encouraged to take big risks without consult. It’s helped the 17-year-old Bellevue company become one of the top game makers around.

But one ex-Valve developer says that the unique structure certainly has some glaring downsides.

In an interview on The Grey Area podcast, Jeri Ellsworth said that Valve’s company structure actually involves a “hidden layer of powerful management” that “felt a lot like high school.”

“There are popular kids that have acquired power, then there’s the trouble makers, and then everyone in between,” she said. “Everyone in between is O.K., but the trouble makers are the ones trying to make a difference.”

Jeri Ellsworth
Jeri Ellsworth

Ellsworth, who led Valve’s hardware division and was let go during a flurry of layoffs in February, spoke about a “weird paranoia” in the company of employees tainting Valve’s culture that ultimately led to a “witch hunt” in February to “remove undesirables.”

Her departure left Ellsworth feeling like she got “stabbed in the back.”

“If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. I am really, really bitter,” she said on the podcast. “They promised me the world and then stabbed me in the back.”

Ellsworth also touched on the struggles of her hardware team and problems with communication within the company. You can listen to the entire interview, which is broken up into six parts, here.

Valve’s culture of innovation and experimentation was highlighted last year when its now famous “Handbook for New Employees” leaked out, a manifesto of sorts in which employees were told that “this company is yours to steer.”

Valve’s Greg Coomer spoke at last year’s Seattle Interactive Conference and offered some interesting insight into how exactly the company makes big decisions when there’s little structure and “nobody is checking your work.”

“The actual career growth in an environment like Valve’s is incredibly accelerated and it is something that allows people to make progress exactly limited only by their own desire and ability,” he said last year. “When you spend time at Valve, you are enormously empowered and you grow a lot faster than if you were following a more traditional path.”

This is certainly a critical time for Valve, a company of over 300 employees that is diving into the hardware world with its planned “Steam Box,” a PC designed to connect to your TV and take advantage of the Steam’s Big Picture mode.

H/T Develop

Previously on GeekWire: Valve co-founder Gabe Newell: Linux is a “get-out-of-jail free pass for our industry”

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