For all of the great software we build, you might call Table XI a shy company. Though we've grown a truly excellent team of developers over the past 10 years, we've mostly had our heads down, quietly innovating for our clients and relishing in their success. This approach has served us well. That said, thanks to a tremendous infusion of talent lately we're learning what it takes to scale our dev culture as teams grow. A couple of weeks ago we retreated to sunny Costa Rica for a few days of internally-focused technical presentations, panel discussions, and skunkworks (R&D) projects. Hot on the heels of our trip I was fortunate enough to attend SXSW Interactive with an eye toward deepening our involvement in the external developer community, and seeing what TXI can learn from other thought leaders and innovators in the ever-percolating world of tech.

For those less familiar, in many ways SXSWi is the ultimate nerd fantasy (though simultaneously a nerd nightmare when you consider the line for cheese sticks at a conference with 30,000 attendees). Every corner of Austin is flush with developers hailing from interesting startups and dev shops, staying up all night to play werewolf, discuss languages and frameworks, and pass out t-shirts from life-changing websites. I had the good fortune of bumping into a host of awesome people thanks to my guide, Table XI’s own Jordan Ho.

One notable night he brought me to a Chicago-themed party complete with giant tins of Garrett Popcorn and authentic Chicago dogs (though the rumors of deep dish didn't pan out, so to speak). The dev presence was strong from all sorts of Chicago contenders like Google, Groupon, and the fast-growing startup Belly. The enthusiasm for building and innovating was palpable among the Chicago crowd and at SXSWi in general.

I get the sense that this energy is the common thread that unites a shop like Table XI with startups even though we ultimately build software for our clients, while startups put their efforts behind their own products. It's interesting to see the differences between these two worlds from a developer's perspective. Startup employees may devote much of their lives to the company cause, but if the product succeeds, a developer has the rare opportunity to be prog-glamorous (programmer + glamourous), especially at a fun conference like SXSWi. The downside is that glamour is often offset by a lack of beauty sleep, and most startups unfortunately hit the skids at one point or another.

The cool thing about TXI is that we get the best of both worlds. Our devs love to program and take it pretty seriously; that's why we build great software. We continually support and push each other as we learn, hack, build, and contribute to the work, all while supporting a sustainable and rewarding lifestyle. It's a delicate balance that we're devoted to striking.

Ultimately SXSW provided some very useful data points in our quest to be the best dev shop around. We love the energy and ideas that come from startups, and we aim to cultivate a similar environment, but with a unique work-life balance that eludes most product focused companies (and many companies in general). Our business thrives due to a rare blend of talent, ambition, community involvement, and lifestyle. We’re excited to continue improving in all of these ways, especially sharpening our focus on developer culture internally and externally.

In fact, we're already starting to prep for a future SXSWi where we can host the panel on how to make happy nerds and keep them that way.

Photo credit: Schwartzography

Why we sent Table XI team members to teach at Code Platoon