I have seen a lot of articles and discussions about "culture" in tech workplaces this past year, but I have been lacking a really good definition of what precisely is meant by "culture".
Today I realized what exactly it means to me: Principles.
There's been a lot of talk about "culture" in terms of things like structure, consistency and routines - values that are all nice, if you can really pin them down. But it occurs to me that, in some workplaces, the business model itself can actually be so dynamic, and the work so unpredictable or varied, that those things aren't really possible, or at least not practical. And that there's nothing wrong with that, necessarily.
Personally, I can exist happily with or without structure, consistency and routines - what I can't live without, is Principles.
Whether the work is highly structured and routined or not, the principles governing daily decisions, or those principles that laid the foundation for structures and routines in the workplace, must be based on consistent principles - basic core values that every manager and employee understands, agrees with, and lives by.
Nothing is more frustrating and confusing in a tech workplace than arbitrary decision making, unfounded opinions, or even well-founded but deeply conflicting opinions. I'm not saying there's a right and wrong opinion, but in order to have a successful culture of happy, highly functioning workers, their opinions must be founded on similar principles - and so there is such a thing as right or wrong principles in the individual workplace.
To "culture" in biology means, "to maintain conditions suitable for growth" - in my opinion, you find the optimal conditions for personal and professional growth in a group that shares your principles, and lives by them.