A few weeks ago, the members of Cell Zero all piled into a car with Carl Erickson and drove up to Crystal Mountain, where we spent Friday and Saturday climbing things, getting to know Carl and Atomic, and working some Extra Adventure™ into our usual routines. The trip was awesome, thought-provoking, and a great way for the Cell to get to know our new company.
Carl sent us all an informational email in the days before our trip, letting us know that he had given careful thought to making the trip worthwhile for all of us. The itinerary was full of focused conversation sessions and activities that gave us an opportunity to step away from the daily project work and learn about each other. After a car ride spent breaking the ice- chatting about our respective lives, interests, and the like; we arrived at beautiful Crystal Mountain and jumped into our first conversation session.
Session One: The Tale of Atomic
Over lunch, Carl spun us the tale of Atomic’s beginnings and early history. We learned about the roles of early players in the company, several of whom remain with us today (my personal favorite part of this discussion was Carl’s comparison of the Accelerator Cell to the original three interns- more on that later). Even with a relaxed pace and a few post-meal cups of coffee, we had barely scratched the surface of Atomic’s history before it was time to move on to…
Adventure Course: Climbing on Things
This part of the story is best told in pictures, I think. Here are some things that we climbed on that we were supposed to climb on.
Session Two: Atomic Values
After a bunch of 20-somethings got shown up by Carl on the climbing and ropes courses, we settled in with some tasty beverages to talk about Atomic culture and values. Though I can’t speak for the other Atoms, I’d like to think that during this discussion, we all developed a better idea of each other’s perspectives on the company and reasons for joining Atomic. Carl talked to us about what he looks for in Atoms, and the Cell members shared some of the things that we each value about Atomic as we traveled back to our mountain home for the evening.
Dinnertime: Mountains of the Pizza and Non-pizza Variety
We had an excellent time crafting dinner together—there were tunes, there was (my) bad dancing, there was scotch. Kudos to Mary and Terri for sending us on our trip with the fixings for a pizza: the most parallelizeable, team-oriented cooking experience possible. The final
mountainous monstrosity work of art was a sight to behold.
When we realized after dinner that we were losing daylight fast, we made a speedy climb to the top of the nearby mountain, ignoring the barrier claiming the area was “closed”, to watch the sunset. (Here are some things that we climbed on that we were not supposed to climb on.)
The return to the cabin was possibly the goofiest part of the whole trip: running downhill in the dark, singing musical selections from various movies and cartoons, and Carl straight-up vaulting over the gate we had previously wiggled through on our way up.
Session Three: Getting Real
The last session of the day was when things got more heavy. Carl had us write six-word stories about ourselves- a task much tougher than it sounds. I highly recommend giving it a shot. (Maybe we can share stories!) Dan was easily the deepest author- I’ll leave it up to him to share his writings. We talked into the night about the future of tech, and what hopes we had for it. Lots of different perspectives, and lots of thought-provoking ideas.
Session Four: Heading Home
We started off Saturday morning with breakfast accompanied by some classic rock that might have been just a touch intense for 8AM, and then hopped in the car for the journey home. On the road, we talked more about the structure and business of Atomic and how it’s changed over the last fifteen years. As we neared the end of the trip, our conversation covered lots of odds-and-ends topics while the Cell asked the rest of our burning questions for Carl.
There were a few topics discussed during the trip that I personally found particularly interesting:
Our role in the history of the company
Coming into Atomic, I was concerned that it would be hard to make places for ourselves in such a tight-knit company. I was sure that we would never become part of Atomic history in the way that those Atoms who had been with Atomic for 10+ years were. When I asked about this, Carl pointed out that in a company that would live to be more than a hundred years old, we were still part of Atomic in its youngest years—one day, we’ll be able to say with pride that we were part of Atomic when it was only 15 years old.
We’re also sitting at the very beginning of what we hope will become an important fixture of Atomic in years to come—we get to be the very first Accelerator Cell! It’s very exciting to be the guinea pigs that get to help shape the identity of the program. This brings me to…
What it means to be a member of the Cell
Carl made a comparison that I have thought about a lot since: this little squad of new grads harkens back to the original handful of interns that Atomic was started with. Personally, that makes me feel super inspired- I love participating in tradition and being involved with the shared history of a group of people. Although the program represents new growth for Atomic, it will also be an opportunity to look back to our roots and draw on the spirit of the company’s beginnings as we build our identity going forward. It will also be important to keep that value in mind as we deal with…
The Accelerator program is a deliberate choice to bring more people into the company- with growth, comes change. In conversations with Atoms who had been with the company for most of its life, I was hearing lots of references to “the pirate ship days,” and how Carl had said that the company would never grow beyond 15 in size. At first, hearing all of this made me feel insecure about being one of the newest Atoms- did the rest of the Cell and I represent growing pains to Atomic veterans who might have missed the earlier days? Had the culture changed in ways they didn’t like as a result of Atomic’s growth over the years?
Along with many candid conversations with those longer-tenure Atoms (in which I observed some nostalgia, lots of positive feelings about Atomic’s maturity, and no resentment of new Atoms whatsoever) talking with Carl cleared this misconception up significantly. He explained that, in addition to the importance of factoring in companywide turnover when thinking about the total size of Atomic Object year-to-year, there is more to the value of being “great, not big” than just those numbers.
As we continue to form more bonds (heh) between Atoms, we can use the time spent sharing culture and ideas with one another as an opportunity to both refine the values that made Atomic what it is today, and to bring in fresh new perspectives. Being intentional about how we approach this growth will help us be great—and maybe just slightly bigger.