Ellis Miller is the co-founder and Managing Director of CodeCrafters International, a Dhaka-based international technology development company. Founded in 2007 by Ellis and Lynita Miller, CodeCrafters provides customized software solutions to businesses in the USA and other parts of the world. The company maintains a development team in Dhaka, Bangladesh with a U.S.-based sales and support team.
CodeCrafters International is known for its excellent company culture in the software industry in Bangladesh that empowers and helps people to grow. Over the years, the strong culture has helped the company consistently innovate and grow, build a team that takes ownership, and is happy to go to work.
In an interview with Future Startup published in 2021, we asked Ellis about the culture at CodeCrafters and his experience in creating a meaningful company culture. Below we share his answers from the interview. You can read the full interview here.
What do you think it takes to build a company culture, as you mentioned, where people stay for 10-15 years?
Ellis Miller: We reflect who we truly are through our behavior and it comes back to us. If we take advantage of other people, people are going to take advantage of us.
Children turn out a lot like their parents. The same thing happens in a company. And it takes a lot of time and energy to build a culture where people stay for a long time. To build a culture like that, you have to be very intentional about it from the beginning. For that, you should keep in mind what your values are and how you can communicate those values to people. It makes us who we are.
Surround yourself with good people. None is perfect and I do not look for perfect employees. I look for technical excellence. At CodeCrafters, we do complex tasks. Our software engineers take in millions of lines of code. So we need top-notch excellence regarding technical skills. I also look for character and integrity. But I do not look for perfection. We try to figure out if a candidate fits our culture. I love taking initiative. But sometimes there are people who are bright, but aggressive. They try to get whatever they can as fast as possible and jump to the next thing. That kind of mindset can not bring any value to the company or them.
One of the few things we have done in the last few years is, establishing a provident fund plan with a company match with vesting over 3-5 years. I think our employees understand that we are investing in them and it gives them a sense of security. Because every month they are putting their percentage and we are matching their percentage and they can see that it is progressing. So we invest in our employees. We honor and reward longevity, but not only longevity. You can have an employee working here for ten years and they do not have experience equal to ten years, rather ten times of one year of experience. So our other goal is to help people develop their skills including technical skills and soft skills.
I am proud of the people I am working with. We have fantastic developers and they are also good people. I enjoy working with them.
Could you tell us about your organizational culture at CodeCrafters?
Ellis Miller: The core value that we keep repeating is excellence. Whatever we do, we try to do it l in the best possible manner. That starts from how we design a task, how we work with the clients to how the software is coded. We train our developers, which is more like on-the-job training. We do code reviews very heavily.
We have engineers who now work in big companies like Amazon or Microsoft and they still say that in CodeCrafters they learned to code software correctly. That’s very rewarding for us. So excellence is really at the heart of what we do.
We try to learn constantly. In my early days, I learned technical skills. Then I learned how to manage. Now I am learning how to lead managers. I have managers who manage other employees and I am learning how to build them up. There are so many things that I don't know. So I want to continue learning.
We are 8000 miles away from our American clients. It doesn’t matter if they see us or not. I want to give them good value by doing the right thing. I want us to do the right thing no matter what. I want that to permeate our culture.
I value the connection as a community. I grew up in a tight-knit community and I still feel like a part of that community. We are also creating a community here because business is meant to be a community. People often see the business sector as secular, commercial, and cold which is full of money-hungry people. But the truth is business depends on the community. Business means providing something which someone needs or getting something that I need from someone. It’s the dynamic sharing within a community that helps a business to flourish and remain healthy.
We want each of our employees to be flourishing. As individuals, they are growing as well as their families are prospering. What we do here, which I learned from the Investortools, is we work 40 hours a week. In many software companies, even after the startup phase, when a project runs late, the employees have to work overtime. Eventually, this becomes a way of life. They start to become late in everything.
But I refuse to persistently consume the life of my employees and their families. Of course, I need their time and that’s what they get paid for. So when they come here I just tell them to give me 8 focused hours and then go home. The fact is that when people work 50-60 hours a week, they don’t really work 60 hours. So I prefer a good 40 hours to that. So that’s part of who we are.
You have mentioned excellence as your core value. How do you ensure and maintain excellence?
Ellis Miller: We do have daily check-ins, often via email and I try to give feedback to my employees on what they are doing. I think positive feedback goes a long way. There’s peer review as well which is more like a code review. That is a lot of feedback as well. Hopefully, I am leading by example.
We have a formal review process, such as sitting down twice a year to review things.
We reflect and focus on our excellence. For example, if a bug slips through a customer, we ask ourselves what went wrong and how we can prevent that from happening again.
As an organization, how do Codecrafters learn? And as an individual and leader, how do you learn?
Ellis Miller: As a company, we do several things to learn, such as formal learning sessions twice a month, which are on technical skills. Sometimes we learn soft skills too. We watch Patrick Lencioni's “Five Dysfunctions of A-Team” and then we split up into groups to discuss how we are doing. We try to find our strengths and weaknesses in those sessions.
We watched “The Infinite Games” together and our engineers asked what that meant for us. So I thought about how to apply that to CodeCrafters. So I did a second presentation on that.
I think we learn a lot from each other informally. We have connections with our US developers. I want to be quick to show appreciation to the idea of one of my team members. I have been in this sector for around 25 years. But when they have a better idea than I do, I want to let them know. Because when the leader learns, everyone feels comfortable learning as well. Learning requires safety and when there is no safety, people tend to put walls around them to avoid any humiliation. That’s how we learn as a company.
We have a number of people who have done their post-graduate studies. Three of our current engineers and several of our past engineers have done MBA from IBA. One of our employees is doing an MSc in Computer Science. I like to encourage those kinds of things.
There’s practical learning as well. So we provide both on-the-job and outside learning.
For myself, connecting with others is helpful. I have regular phone calls with 5-6 people including my colleagues at Investortools, my brothers, one of the executives of Investortools, and a salesman who connects us with the sales in the US. I am regularly connecting with them and we are often just swapping stories. We talk about the things we are working on and the challenges we are facing. So there’s a lot of pure learning.
I do not read many business books. Because most business books can be fantastic articles for business magazines. But I love podcasts and cycling. So I often listen to podcasts.
This is an excerpt from a much longer interview with Ellis, you can read the full interview here.