Spotify Culture: We Ask Spotify’s VP of Engineering What It’s Like to Work There (2022)

Table of Contents
Our interview on Spotify Culture with Former VP of Engineering Kevin Goldsmith Hi Kevin! Spotify uses phrases like “tribe” and “squad” and “alliance”. Our first question has to be does Spotify just not like the word “team”? If a new developer would join Spotify, what type of team would they join? So squads are designed to give team members autonomy. How is this implemented logistically, in terms of office space and design? How is work divided between squads? Who is responsible for the squad? Does Spotify have managers? What are the benefits of this vertical leadership? How does the tribe connect to the squad? How many tribes are there and what are some examples of how they are divided? How do you encourage communication between tribes? Let’s talk a little about you. Before you joined Spotify, you had some experience with big companies, like Microsoft and Adobe. What attracted you to Spotify? You joined Microsoft in 1994. What were you doing there and how would you describe the company culture? After a couple of years with some start-ups and a brief return to Microsoft, you joined Adobe. Did the culture there differ from Microsoft? What does the culture at Microsoft or Adobe differ from Spotify What doesn’t work at Spotify? What is your attitude towards failure? This whole Spotify structure seems a bit chaotic for a manager. How is it for you? What is your ultimate goal with this model? What companies do you admire? What books can you recommend about company culture? FAQs Videos

According to Kevin Goldsmith, VP of Engineering at Spotify, the Swedish music-streaming mammoth’s success all comes down to its team culture. We sat down with the Carnegie-Mellon educated, Chicago-native at MobiConf Krakow. Over a weak coffee and prior to a strong vodka, he told us all about the fine balance between autonomy and chaos, preserving start-up culture in a large organizations, his escape from Microsoft and why failure is all part and parcel of the life of a continuous improvement organization.

[UPDATE] Kevin is no longer VP of Engineering at Spotify. in June 2015, he became CTO of [Avvo]

Our interview on Spotify Culture with Former VP of Engineering Kevin Goldsmith

Hi Kevin! Spotify uses phrases like “tribe” and “squad” and “alliance”. Our first question has to be does Spotify just not like the word “team”?

Ha! I get asked this question a lot actually. We choose these different names because any individual can be a member of multiple teams (at minimum they are a member of a squad, chapter, tribe and guild) and it all depends on the context. Honestly, we had to create these new words to be able to talk to each other.

If a new developer would join Spotify, what type of team would they join?

They would likely join a squad. A squad is an autonomous, full-stack team composed of six to twelve people, usually containing a Product Owner, UX, iOS, K&M [keyboard and mouse], QA, Android, Backend, and a Scrum Coach. Squads are essentially Spotify’s mini-start-ups with full responsibility for a single feature or component, and Scrum teams have full power to make decisions. This is the fundamental unit of Spotify’s organizational structure and is designed to optimize autonomy.

So squads are designed to give team members autonomy. How is this implemented logistically, in terms of office space and design?

Squads are housed in squad rooms with 12 desks, a chill-out area and a meeting room.

(Video) Spotify Engineering Culture (by Henrik Kniberg)

How is work divided between squads?

A squad is started to fulfil a particular mission. Missions can be open- or closed-ended. Search for example is an open-ended mission. In the case of a close-ended mission, to upgrade a feature for instance, squads dissolve once the mission is complete. Teams aren’t dependent on other teams. They don’t need to coordinate with anyone else to get their job done, so they are continually innovating.

Who is responsible for the squad?

The squad is collectively responsible. Larger organizations who are attempting to implement the Spotify model often overlook this point: individually accountable, collectively responsible.

Does Spotify have managers?

This is another common misperception. Spotify does have managers, it’s just a different perspective. Instead of having team managers, we have line managers, which we call Chapter Leads. They look after all those people with the same skillset across the squads. For example, I might be the Chapter Lead for all Android developers. The cool thing is Chapter Leads are part-time developers, they usually sit on one of the squads themselves.

What are the benefits of this vertical leadership?

Your boss is doing the same job as you, that’s a huge benefit. They can understand what you are doing day to day. The Chapter Lead also has visibility into a number of teams and can facilitate movement of people which makes the organizational structure very dynamic. Your chapter becomes your home and your boss stays your boss and your peers stay your peers no matter which squad you are on.

(Video) Engineering culture The secret to Spotify’s success – Austin Lamon, Spotify

How does the tribe connect to the squad?

Spotify’s engineering and product organization is split into several large groups, called tribes. Multiple squads form a tribe. And Tribe Leads are the first level of full time management. The ideal size of a tribe is 40 to 150 people; 40 keeps the tribe fluid and allows for movement between squads and 150 is when you start to reach Dunbar’s number. Each Tribe has responsibility for a particular set of related features or engineering functions and is designed to encourage independent workflow and autonomy, cut decision-making bottlenecks and improve the speed at which decisions can be taken, all while keeping teams cross-functional with fluid communication.

How many tribes are there and what are some examples of how they are divided?

There are currently twelve tribes. In my organization, there are three tribes: one tribe is focused on satisfying high-intent use cases, like running and user curation. One tribe is focused on low-intent use cases, and another on product strategy. The last tribe handles the media path from ingestion from our media licensors through to playback on local devices.

Spotify Culture: We Ask Spotify’s VP of Engineering What It’s Like to Work There (1)

How do you encourage communication between tribes?

We have guilds, these are voluntary groups which span the entire organization. Anyone can create a guild and membership is optional. We have very work specific guilds – the Java guild, the C++ guild, the Android guild. Then we have more fun guilds, like the craft-brewery guild, the photography guild. So there is both structured and unstructured guilds and they meet regularly.

(Video) Spotify’s Gustav Söderström on Why Product is 100% Science and 0% Art | Full Interview

Let’s talk a little about you. Before you joined Spotify, you had some experience with big companies, like Microsoft and Adobe. What attracted you to Spotify?

The funny thing was the senior leaders at Spotify approached me because they wanted some big company experience. And I liked them for everything that set them apart from big-company culture. When they sent me over the documents about the model something clicked for me. This is what I had been working towards and trying to implement at Adobe. But at Spotify it was fully realized. My first question was does it really work this way? When I visited Stockholm, I immediately saw that yes it does work this way.

You joined Microsoft in 1994. What were you doing there and how would you describe the company culture?

I joined as a software design engineer. I worked on a number of different products there but in my final role I was working as part of the Windows Media version 7.0 application team in the Digital Media Division. At that time Microsoft were famous for their competitive engineering culture. In fact, they were quite proud of it. To move into management, you were expected to embrace that. I guess it didn’t suit my style of working. By the time I was leaving I was definitely ready for something very different.

After a couple of years with some start-ups and a brief return to Microsoft, you joined Adobe. Did the culture there differ from Microsoft?

I joined Adobe in 2004 and stayed for 9 years. Adobe had a different feeling for sure. The company was already working in an agile way. They were trying out new ideas. But this only existed at certain levels of the company; as I moved through the hierarchy and began to interact with different parts of the organizational structure it became clear that this way of thinking was not true for the entire organization. I reverted back to the mode of singular change agent and I began to feel trapped.

What does the culture at Microsoft or Adobe differ from Spotify

The way Spotify works is not fixed, unlike Microsoft. When I joined Microsoft the company had 18,000 people, when I left it had 60,000. But nothing much had changed during that time, the company still operated in the same way. I felt a similar thing after nine years at Adobe. Of course at Microsoft there was always some interest in finding better ways to work but these were always individually-led initiatives. At Spotify, culture is a constant source of debate. Organizational thinking permeates the whole organization, it’s not just aspirational or some HR-initiative. The feeling of finding a better ways to work is omnipresent at Spotify. I have been at Spotify for two and a half years and it feels like an organizational culture lab, we are constantly running experiments. And importantly, we are doing this while building a strong product in a competitive environment.

(Video) Spotify Engineering Culture - Part 2 (aka the "Spotify Model")

What doesn’t work at Spotify?

Big projects can be challenging. Especially given our model of autonomous teams. When we changed our UI to the new dark look. In a traditional organization it would have taken a few weeks. It took us three months and we had to pull a bunch of our developers out of normal team structures. Very un-Spotify.

What is your attitude towards failure?

Failure is part of the life of a continuous improvement organization. Failure is punished at big corporations. They want to be innovative but this attitude forces staff to play it safe. One of my favourite quotes is from the film director Kevin Smith, “Failure is success practice.” I really believe that.

This whole Spotify structure seems a bit chaotic for a manager. How is it for you?

I just have to trust we hired the right people. I have to make sure they have everything they need to make good decisions. Teams don’t need to tell me about changes. They make those decisions. This chaos works for us, mostly.

What is your ultimate goal with this model?

We want people to be happy, to build careers at Spotify, to have a sense of ownership over what they do. We want the model to be adaptable and to encourage continuous improvement.

(Video) Backstage Developer Portals with Spotify | Across the Board

What companies do you admire?

I admire Automattic, GitHub and Medium. All those companies are doing interesting things. But of course, they are also small. It’s hard to imagine them scaling, but I would be intrigued to see what they do. I also think that Zappo’s leadership structure is interesting. I don’t think this could apply to us, but it is interesting none the less in terms of organizational culture.

What books can you recommend about company culture?

Daniel Pink’s “Drive” is a good read. As is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”. The Hard Thing About Hard Things and The Advantage I also like. Currently High Output Management is on my reading list.

FAQs

What is Spotify's culture? ›

Spotify's organizational culture is open and trusting. This cultural characteristic defines communications among individual employees and teams, such as collaborative communication among project teams for mobile app development and for marketing.

What type of organizational structure does Spotify have? ›

Spotify Technology S.A. has an N-form organizational structure. This type of corporate structure is based on the key principle of sharing and integrating knowledge extensively throughout the music streaming enterprise and its operations.

What is Spotify agile framework? ›

The Spotify model is a people-driven, autonomous approach for scaling agile that emphasizes the importance of culture and network. It has helped Spotify and other organizations increase innovation and productivity by focusing on autonomy, communication, accountability, and quality.

Why does Spotify squad model fail? ›

One of the reasons was that Spotify strived for high autonomy, but without a collaboration and guidance process in place, this led to a lot of wasted time and unshared knowledge. That said, you can use the learnings from the Spotify Squads framework to implement some elements of it into your own organization.

How hard is it to get a job at Spotify? ›

Getting a job at Spotify is relatively hard. They will have lots of well-qualified candidates for each position and the hiring team will want to know you are a good fit for its culture. That being said, Spotify is an equal opportunity employer that hires people from diverse backgrounds.

Is Spotify a good company to work at? ›

Out of 132 Spotify employee reviews, 87% were positive. The remaining 13% were constructive reviews with the goal of helping Spotify improve their work culture. The Engineering team, with 100% positive reviews, reports the best experience at Spotify compared to all other departments at the company.

What is the competitive advantage of Spotify? ›

Spotify has built a competitive advantage in the music streaming industry by providing personalized playlists and music recommendations to its listeners. Spotify can sustain this competitive advantage through its strong brand name, agile organizational architecture, the volume of user data, and proprietary algorithms.

What is Spotify's philosophy? ›

Our mission is to unlock the potential of human creativity—by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.

What are Spotify employees called? ›

You're not literally making music or going on tour, but Spotify considers its business "a band" and its employees "band members." This isn't just meant to be a cool play on words, but rather a reminder to band members that their mission to create the best audio experience possible helps bring music to millions—which in ...

How is Spotify engineering culture? ›

Autonomy within the 'Spotify Engineering culture' also means that squads may choose the framework and tooling which works best for them. There is cross-pollination. If one or more squads use a certain tool that is fitting their needs best, other squads tend to also use that because it is the path of least resistance.

What is Spotify engineering? ›

Complex problems, exceptional challenges, and a direct impact on the joy of over 300 million people. This is Engineering at Spotify. We're the magic behind the audio, the community responsible for building the infrastructure, features, and experiences our listeners, creators and partners love.

What is Spotify business model? ›

It uses a freemium revenue model that offers a basic, limited, ad-supported service for free and an unlimited premium service for a subscription fee. Spotify relies heavily on its music algorithms and its community of users and artists to keep its premium experience delightful.

Does Spotify use agile? ›

Spotify is a 100%-Agile company that started with the Scrum framework, but as their teams were growing, they noticed some things on the Scrum framework that weren't working well for them. So, they decided to break some Scrum roles, artifacts, and events.

How are failures treated at Spotify? ›

To deal effectively with failure, Spotify wants to be a learning organization with short feedback loops. Communication is often an issue in larger organizations. The trick is to assure that the need for communication goes down faster than the cost of communication goes up, said Frödin.

Does Spotify still follow the Spotify model? ›

However, this model should not simply be used as a blueprint for agile adaptation of a company's own organizational structure for two key reasons. First, an enterprise structure must always be adapted to the individual enterprise context. Second, Spotify does not organize itself using the model these days.

How many interview rounds at Spotify? ›

First, you'll have a video or telephone interview with one of our recruiters - a chat about you, the role, and your background. If all goes well, we'll invite you for a second interview with one or two members of the team. The final round usually involves meeting multiple band members across the business.

Does Spotify give bonuses? ›

Spotify doesn't offer cash bonuses. The company offers performance-based stock refreshers, but they are not consistent. It is possible to go up to 4 years without a refresher. However, managers do try to give a new grant after 4 years so no employee runs out of equity.

What skills do you need to work at Spotify? ›

You must be hardworking, passionate about music, and very skilled in your field. You should also be an engaged Spotify user and possess a basic understanding of how music is streamed. If you want to get the job, make sure your application is creative.

How much do Spotify interns get paid? ›

The estimated total pay for a Intern at Spotify is $30 per hour. This number represents the median, which is the midpoint of the ranges from our proprietary Total Pay Estimate model and based on salaries collected from our users. The estimated base pay is $24 per hour. The estimated additional pay is $6 per hour.

Why do you want to work with Spotify? ›

When everyone is willing to work together and collaborate, it makes creating and innovating fun, so I love that Spotify emphasizes this, and I want to bring even more of that energy to the team. Again, focus on being genuine — and a little bit of research into the brand can help add substance to your answer.

What is the best tech company to work for? ›

Microsoft. Of the Big Five tech companies, Microsoft is the second highest rated workplace (Google being #1). Like working at Google, getting a job at Microsoft is highly prestigious for someone working in the tech industry.

What are Spotify's values? ›

Our encore
  • Values. are innovative, sincere, passionate, collaborative and playful.
  • Culture. is informed and influenced by every member of the Spotify Band.
  • Change. is our constant.
  • Growth. is our mantra.
  • Audio is global. and Spotify should be too.
  • Ideas drive us. not bureaucracy.

How is Spotify people oriented? ›

The foundations of Spotify's people strategy

The values are genuine, and employees whole-heartedly understand them, and believe in them. In addition, having an overarching goal of the company mission means that behaviours will always be linked to that objective.

What is the competitive advantage of Spotify? ›

Spotify has built a competitive advantage in the music streaming industry by providing personalized playlists and music recommendations to its listeners. Spotify can sustain this competitive advantage through its strong brand name, agile organizational architecture, the volume of user data, and proprietary algorithms.

What are Spotify employees called? ›

You're not literally making music or going on tour, but Spotify considers its business "a band" and its employees "band members." This isn't just meant to be a cool play on words, but rather a reminder to band members that their mission to create the best audio experience possible helps bring music to millions—which in ...

What was Spotify's main goal? ›

Our mission is to unlock the potential of human creativity—by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.

What is Spotify's slogan? ›

Not sure if Spotify's for you? It is. As their tagline says, it's “Music for everyone.” Can't afford a premium subscription? No problem; you can still listen for free, albeit with some ads.

What is the main business focus for Spotify? ›

Its main revenue source comes from users upgrading to a premium subscription. Spotify is a music streaming platform that gives users access to a large catalog of music. It uses a freemium revenue model that offers a basic, limited, ad-supported service for free and an unlimited premium service for a subscription fee.

What does a good people strategy look like? ›

A good people strategy supports a strong leadership pipeline that identifies people with the potential to develop leadership skills and creates a leadership development plan together with them. A visible career path is crucial to retaining employees long-term.

Do Spotify employees get free premium? ›

Our global benefits

There are benefits to being in our band, and we're not just talking about free Spotify Premium. Our rewards reflect our inclusive values and are extended to every band member, regardless of location or seniority. Extensive learning opportunities, through our dedicated team, GreenHouse.

Does Spotify use agile? ›

Spotify is a 100%-Agile company that started with the Scrum framework, but as their teams were growing, they noticed some things on the Scrum framework that weren't working well for them. So, they decided to break some Scrum roles, artifacts, and events.

What are the key elements of Spotify's strategy? ›

This business model involves two main factors: subscription to Spotify's premium service and unlimited access to the service.
...
Spotify's Business Model Design
  • Network effects business model and network orchestrator business model.
  • Freemium business model.
  • Unlimited subscription business model.
12 Apr 2019

Who is Spotify's biggest competitor? ›

At the time of writing, Apple Music has the largest catalog with 90 million tracks, followed by Spotify at 82 million. But that's not the end of the story: The number of songs offered by a music service used to be the main differentiators, but all of the major ones offer over 60 million tracks.

What makes Spotify the best? ›

Spotify is popular because it makes streaming music so incredibly easy. You don't even have to pay. The free tier is a genius tactic for reeling users in – then, once you're sick of the adverts that make it free in the first place and long for the freedom of unlimited skips, hitting subscribe is easy.

Does Spotify pay well? ›

How much does Spotify pay? Spotify pays its employees an average of $110,878 a year. Salaries at Spotify range from an average of $67,676 to $175,152 a year.

Do employees like working at Spotify? ›

Spotify capitalized on making my time with them very efficient. The work request was well thought out and the managers were very competent and happy to be working for Spotify. You will definitely be happy if you land a role with this company! Was this review helpful?

Why do you want to work with Spotify? ›

When everyone is willing to work together and collaborate, it makes creating and innovating fun, so I love that Spotify emphasizes this, and I want to bring even more of that energy to the team. Again, focus on being genuine — and a little bit of research into the brand can help add substance to your answer.

Videos

1. Top 3 Points in Spotify Engineering Culture Vids That are not Squads, Chapters, Tribes, or Guilds
(Business Agility Institute)
2. A Brief History Of Spotify: Gustav Söderström
(MIT SHASS)
3. what it was like to Intern at Spotify
(Lillian Chiu)
4. Breaking into Data with Spotify Data Scientist
(Breaking into Data by Promotable)
5. What is the Spotify Business Model Canvas?
(Denis Oakley & Co)
6. The Spotify Technical Interview Question By Spotify Software Engineer
(Outco)

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Rob Wisoky

Last Updated: 08/17/2022

Views: 6432

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (48 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rob Wisoky

Birthday: 1994-09-30

Address: 5789 Michel Vista, West Domenic, OR 80464-9452

Phone: +97313824072371

Job: Education Orchestrator

Hobby: Lockpicking, Crocheting, Baton twirling, Video gaming, Jogging, Whittling, Model building

Introduction: My name is Rob Wisoky, I am a smiling, helpful, encouraging, zealous, energetic, faithful, fantastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.