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The Donut Rule

At Startup companies, some of the most important team practices are not necessarily strategically conceived or planned out – they just grow organically within the team and gradually turn into a core part of your team culture.¬†At Plastiq we follow a Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery model. We have had an informal practice, since early 2016, of prioritizing a working build above all other work (i.e. there is no higher priority development task than fixing the build when it breaks). If the build breaks and an Engineer caused it with their change, they brought donuts to the office the next day. I kicked off the practice by bringing donuts in myself when I broke the build in early 2016. Since then it’s been a practice we have just followed.¬†Last week one of our Engineers posted a profound question in our #team-engineering channel on Slack, after they had made a change that broke a test within our large automated test suite:

I am confused about the requirements for our “bringing donuts” initiative. Do we bring donuts if we break production, leave tests broken overnight, or just any time any test turns red for any reason? Because if so, I am going to have to go back to stopping by dunkin every day on my way to work…Maybe we can go over the donut bringing guidelines at our next eng meeting? Is there a wiki?¬†Also what kind of donuts does everyone like? Do I need to include gluten free donuts?

This really made me realize that (a) we had never formalized this practice and (b) this practice is a part of our team culture and something we should solidify and share with the world. So I decided to spend an hour of my time that evening to write-up a page on our internal Wiki to formalize the practice. After a few iterations with members of the Engineering team, we finally centered on a rule definition that we voted on (that’s what we to for major team-impacting process changes):

‚Äú‚ĶIf an engineer (Software Engineer/QA Automation Engineer/robot/other) breaks a Product build on our formal build system and the break is not resolved within 1 hour, said engineer MUST provide a minimum of a dozen donuts at the next scheduled Engineering Team Check-in at 10am PT. Providing Vegan and Gluten free donuts is optional, providing a variety of donut types is strongly recommended…”

This exercise reminded me of why I love working at a startup. At large companies, when you join the culture is set for you, and you need to adapt to fit (and if you are lucky to have a position of significant authority you may be able to subtly steer the culture a few degrees over time). At a startup company, every engineer we hire is a cultural addition that adds their own unique style and perspective to our team (we love bringing new people with new ideas to our team – come join us!)

At Plastiq we hold a regular ‚ÄúPlastiq Engineering Open House‚Äù event, where we welcome Engineers from all backgrounds to come and visit our offices, meet some of the team and talk tech over some beer/wine/pizza. If you’d like to come along, just reach out to our¬†recruiting team¬†and they will add you to the invite list for our next open house.


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