ProtonMail started as a globally distributed team and against common advice, we stayed distributed. Three years later, here are some of the things we have learned about diversity in tech.
Diversity in tech is an important and sometimes controversial topic these days. Although it wasn’t done by design, ProtonMail has evolved to become a fairly diverse company, with more than a dozen nationalities represented on our team. We have definitely learned a few lessons along the way, and today we’d like to share some of them.
Diversity = Better talent
In the tech industry, talent is by far the most valuable commodity. For most tech companies, talent is the primary factor determining success and failure, as well as the largest operating cost. In order to succeed, we need to attract and retain the best talent. What we have discovered is that hiring the top talent is very much a numbers game. Simply put, for both tech and non-tech roles, the best people are rare, and if you want to only hire the best, you need to draw from the largest possible talent pool.
If ProtonMail had grown like a typical Swiss company, only hiring candidates from Switzerland, we never would have been able to find enough talent to drive our growth. By hiring globally, and disregarding which country a candidate is from, we increased our potential hiring pool from 8 million to 7 billion. A diverse workplace also helps to attract applicants. More applicants means we can hire more candidates, while simultaneously being more selective.
Higher reliability and lower risk
Having team members 10 time zones apart ensures that for site reliability operations, there is almost always somebody around at any given hour of the day. This dramatically reduces our response time to any incidents that occur, and ensures that we’re never caught “asleep at the wheel” because, like our global user base, ProtonMail never sleeps.
A distributed team also reduces risks, because we don’t rely too extensively on any one country, and no government has an excessive amount of leverage over our operations. This is a form of insurance that helps to ensure that we cannot be easily coerced into acting against the best interests of the ProtonMail community.
Diversity = Better Ideas
Having a team consisting of people with more varied backgrounds also means that we get a more diverse set of ideas flowing through the company. This in turn allows us to be more innovative. It also helps ensure that ProtonMail is intuitive and user friendly for a larger proportion of the world. Having more nationalities on the team means that we have more shared experiences with a larger fraction of our users, ultimately leading to a better user experience.
What we’re doing to improve team diversity
From our direct experience, we believe firmly that the best tech companies are also the ones that are the most diverse, and we’re committed to doing more to increase ProtonMail’s diversity in the future. One of the initiatives we are supporting is Project Integration, a Geneva based non-profit with an unique mission. Project Integration seeks to simultaneously address two problems, the shortage of skilled IT workers and the European refugee crisis. Project Integration approaches this problem by offering free programming courses to refugees in Switzerland.
We believe this is a great approach, as economic integration through high quality employment is the key to integrating refugees successfully. As we have witnessed ourselves at ProtonMail, there is a large shortage of skilled programmers and training more software engineers will be crucial for driving future economic growth. In order to support Project Integration, we are donating server resources and also advising on the course curriculum. We are also interviewing Project Integration students for internship and full time positions at ProtonMail.
Looking back, we know that community driven efforts can in fact succeed and grow to change the world. Indeed, ProtonMail’s 2014 crowdfunding campaign reached five times our fundraising goal and helped us further develop our vision. Project Integration is looking to do the same and has started a crowdfunding campaign to help fund their courses for refugees. You can get involved with Project Integration through their crowdfunding campaign here.
In addition to our work with Project Integration, we are also working on improving our gender ratio. Women make up half of the world’s available talent pool, but currently make up only 20% of ProtonMail’s full time workforce, so there is still a lot of room for improvement. We’re committed to making ProtonMail a diverse workplace where all are welcome. If you are interested working with us on building a better Internet, please consider joining us!
For more information about open positions at ProtonMail, please visit our careers page.
The ProtonMail Team
You can get a free secure email account from ProtonMail here.
We also provide a free VPN service!