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“To create a fantastic work culture promote a culture of empathy” With SitePen CEO Dylan Schiemann & Phil Laboon

“Success does not lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success.” When you have a happy workforce, productivity soars. This makes the company’s goals easier to attain, as everyone is pulling in the same direction — together. Striking a solid work-life balance further encourages health, well-being, productivity, and the bottom line. As a part of my series about about […]


“Success does not lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success.” When you have a happy workforce, productivity soars. This makes the company’s goals easier to attain, as everyone is pulling in the same direction — together. Striking a solid work-life balance further encourages health, well-being, productivity, and the bottom line.


As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dylan Schiemann. As CEO of SitePen and one of the original creators of Dojo, Dylan is an established presence in the JavaScript and open source communities. Under his direction, SitePen has become a mainstay for enterprise organizations focused on creating highly performant and sustainable, modern web applications. Through its growing engineering team, Dylan’s current focus is on the advancement of best practices and improving standards in web engineering and being an active member of the JS Foundation. When not immersed in the healthy growth of SitePen, Dylan enjoys traveling and sharing his experience at conferences around the world.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started out in science and as a chemistry Ph.D student, I started writing software with JavaScript. I realized that I enjoyed software more than the smell of chloroform and dropped out of the Ph.D program to start SitePen and focus on making the web a better place.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

For fifteen years, the extraordinary engineering team at SitePen has contributed to moving the JavaScript and web ecosystem from its early primitive days to a flexible and robust platform for building modern applications. Through its contributions to open source technologies including Dojo, feedback and inspiration to web standards bodies, and evangelizing the web, we’ve been part of the effort to make the web the universal engine for building and deploying software. That’s pretty exciting and the excitement doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon!

Beyond this, SitePen’s having a lot of fun right now contributing to and evangelizing TypeScript (typescriptlang.org) and helping to grow the TypeScript community alongside the amazing team at Microsoft.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to a recent study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

This is a big question and is difficult to answer with a few sentences as there are a number of factors that can affect employee happiness. Right out of the gate, I would point to companies treating employees as inputs rather than as people. One could probably easily find a direct correlation with decreasing employee costs and employee loyalty (presuming loyalty is derived from contentment at work and respect for the employer). Being happy at work can equate to being in an employment relationship where in exchange for a good day’s work, the employee is given a decent salary, adequate health insurance, usable vacation, and a reliable pension — all of which provide for emotional, mental and financial security for employees and their families. With the decrease in all of these things over the last 50 years, it’s not difficult to see why such a large percentage of the US workforce may be feeling less than happy.

Beyond these basic provisions — all of which increase employee productivity and promote work-life balance — employees want to have meaningful exchanges within their workspace and feel like their contributions are valid and helpful for the company. However, this need to feel valued often goes unmet when the company views the employee as an input rather than a respected collaborator.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

“Success does not lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success.” When you have a happy workforce, productivity soars. This makes the company’s goals easier to attain, as everyone is pulling in the same direction — together. Striking a solid work-life balance further encourages health, well-being, productivity, and the bottom line.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

• Practice integrity. Do the right thing and lead by example; a high integrity culture has profound outcomes.

• Promote empathy. Encouraging every team member to approach every situation with empathy fosters better communication environments.

• Set clear goals, establish open communication and fair accountability.

• Recognize and celebrate successes.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

I think that what needs to happen right now is a candid discussion between the self-named Capitalists and the self-named Socialists in every aspect of American life — individual, business, government, etc. — to find a middle ground that can be profitable and sustainable for business while also being fair and compassionate to the average American worker. There are many ways to effect change in this regard, but there are too many people unwilling start a conversation.

For SitePen, we believe in work-life balance, in providing as many benefits as we can to help our team be personally and professionally successful, while pursuing and advancing one of the greatest changes to the way we work and live in generations — the internet.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

Servant Leadership. Leaders should be focused on how to elevate teams, provide guidance and resources, open discussion, and contributing as necessary to support the individual and team so they can be successful. It’s “What can I do for you?” and not “What can you do for me?”.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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