Do the benefits make up for the lack of work/life balance? Everything you need to know about working at Coinbase.
As the world’s number-one cryptocurrency exchange platform, Coinbase is on a mission to champion financial inclusion by allowing anyone with an internet connection to buy, sell, and manage digital currencies. Founded in 2012, the company is worth an estimated $50.8 billion, and has over 68 million users.
In May 2020, a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Coinbase declared itself a “remote-first” company. Before the pandemic shuttered offices across the globe, being physically present in the office was important in order to excel at Coinbase.
“Sure, employees worked from home here and there, but doing so always carried the risk of leaving you slightly out of the loop,” L.J Brock, chief people officer at Coinbase, wrote in an article for Protocol.
After going fully remote, the company sought to reverse that stance altogether. After shuttering its San Francisco office, Coinbase billed itself “a decentralized company,” with no official physical HQ that might afford employees in certain locations an unfair leg-up.
“Remote-first means that after we can safely return to in-person work, 95% of our employees will still have the option to WFH, in office, or hybrid—their choice,” Brock explained in a blog post detailing the decision.
In fact, Coinbase recognizes that remote work has broadened its talent pool—an important win for diversity and inclusion. In March 2020, 69% of employees were based in the Bay Area. Now it’s 30%, even though the company doubled its total headcount in that time and went public on the Nasdaq. In Q1 of 2021 to date, 58% of new hires between now and the previous year were from outside of California.
“While we will continue to provide offices for employees who prefer to work in them, designating one location as our headquarters feels counter to our culture,” Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong wrote in a blog post. “Forgoing a formal headquarters is also more in line with the spirit of crypto, built on the inherent benefits of decentralization.”
Many companies struggled with the shift to remote work, especially those with inflexible WFH arrangements before the pandemic, but Coinbase was already partially primed for these changes. Because Coinbase maintains offices in different countries (including Canada, India, the UK, Singapore, Japan, the Philippines and Ireland), management was already in the habit of sharing agendas and background documents ahead of meetings, and capturing meeting discussions and decisions in writing.
Employees say the company has made a concerted effort to offer the same employee experience for every staffer regardless of their location.
“Whether it has been an IT-related question or ordering an ergonomic chair, Coinbase has made the WFH transition seamless and truly paved the path as a remote-first company,” one current employee wrote on Glassdoor, who also mentioned receiving a generous stipend for career development.
Management also devised new ways for employees to connect remotely:
👍 Coinbase has a 4.3 rating on Glassdoor and a 4.4 rating on Indeed, with employees praising the competitive compensation, the privilege of working with incredibly smart teammates, and the ability to do meaningful work to advance financial inclusion.
👎 However, the company loses points on work/life balance, support from management, and the proverbial growing pains of a high-growth startup.
The most prominent feature of Coinbase’s culture doc is its repudiation of the clichéd “family” label which many companies have tried to impose on their teams. Like Netflix, Coinbase prides itself on maintaining an all-star workforce and isn’t afraid to trim the fat if necessary (with a generous 4-6 month severance package, of course). Every hiring panel contains a bar-raiser—an objective third party—and, in Armstrong’s words, “if you’re not a hell yes, you’re a no.”
“We are a winning team, not a family, and have high expectations for performance and delivering results,” Armstrong wrote in a blog post about culture at Coinbase.
Similar to Facebook, there is little to no micromanagement at Coinbase, with the expectation that hiring top-notch talent means employees are self-starters who can produce results with little supervision.
The ownership mentality is commonly valued in early-stage startups, but larger enterprises tend to operate on more concrete processes. Not so at Coinbase.
“There is a lot of autonomy, so if you’re the kind of person who needs the work to be handed to you, you’ll have to adjust,” wrote one current software engineer on Glassdoor.”
“Figure it out” is something you’ll hear often, said another. However, employees note that management does make an effort to improve the employee experience in certain ways, such as introducing remote-first best practices, reorganizing the company, and setting clearer OKRs (objectives and key results).
Due to the company’s massive growth—in July, Coinbase reported upping its support staff headcount by 500% to support its expanding client base—junior-level engineers report spending 2-10 hours per week interviewing candidates instead of coding, while senior-level engineers can spend 20 hours or more, especially those who are in charge of mentoring new engineers.
“So you then have to work evenings and weekends or your work just won't get done,” according to one senior software engineer in the Bay Area. “And don't think they won't notice if you skip a Saturday, they will.”
Last year, the CEO of Coinbase instituted a culture of “political neutrality” in the workplace in response to pressure from employees to publicly issue a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Coinbase reportedly lost 60 employees (equivalent to 5% of its workforce at the time) over the controversy, while additional employees had expressed a desire to leave as well.
Three percent of the company’s employees are black, which is less than half of the average in most of the tech industry.
However, one employee noted that many women at Coinbase hold leadership roles. Two of the seven members of the executive team are female, with the same proportions in the board of directors, which is roughly equal to the industry average of 28% of leadership roles in the tech industry being held by women.
Due to the fast-paced nature of crypto, the company emphasizes working smarter, not harder. “We focus on the 20% of work that will get us 80% of the impact,” reads the culture deck.
That said, reports of nonexistent work/life balance run rampant, with employees regularly working 55+ hours per week, with some even claiming to put in 80 hours a week. One employee said this is commonly called “the tour of duty.”
“I've had two-week sprints with over 100 hours of work scoped out (on top of any meetings/last minute requests from upper management, etc),” one analyst wrote on Glassdoor. “I told my manager I was overloaded once and their reply was ‘I thought you wanted to be the man?’”
While some employees say they weren’t forewarned during the interview process about the excessive overtime expectations, management maintains that the grind is attributed to the dual growing pains of Coinbase being a late-stage startup and the rapid mainstreaming of cryptocurrency—particularly in developing economies.
“We’re a hyper growth company, and this means we’re regularly pushed out of our comfort zones,” Brock wrote on Glassdoor in response to a 2.0 star-rated review on Glassdoor. “We encourage employees to “sprint and recover”— to do great work quickly, but to also take the time they need to rest and recharge. To help make this possible, we offer flexible PTO and flexible work hours.”
In 2021, Coinbase began implementing “recharge weeks”(a total company shutdown)—one in July and one in December—to enable employees to rest and recover after “sprints,” which refer to periods of consistent overtime in order to meet a pressing deadline, “as well as a handful of recharge days to ensure that no one goes more than 6 weeks without a recharge break,” according to a post from Coinbase on Glassdoor.
Employees are assessed on a quarterly basis, with a grading of “on-track” or “off-track.” If you’re considered “off-track,” you have 60 days to fix it.
“It’s quite an aggressive stance, similar to Amazon's PIP program which is notoriously toxic,” according to one NY-based software engineer.
Although the company states that performance is the primary basis for career progression (rather than location or visibility), workers say it’s not as cut-and-dried in practice.
“Throw meritocracy out of the window. I was called a bar raiser for my line of work and have been told I was "performing at a higher level" but was passed on a promotion with the primary reason being that I wasn't in my role for long enough (this was explicitly mentioned multiple times during my official review),” wrote another employee. “There are no clear lines to distinguish the difference between levels.”
That said, if you can move up, there are lots of opportunities for you.
“There is infinite cool work to be done and executing at a high level unlocks even more opportunity. If you are a high performer this is THE place to be working right now,” said one current employee in the legal department.
Above-average compensation and comprehensive benefits are winning factors at Coinbase, with software engineers earning an average base pay of $152,985/year.
In May, the company announced it would end salary negotiations for new hires in a bid to promote pay equity.
“All employees in the same position, in the same location, receive the same salary and equity offer. No exceptions,” wrote Brock.
Employee benefits at Coinbase include:
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