Pros: first-class products that are literally changing the world
Cons: at one specific, off-site facility, should you choose to work there, you are entering the heart of darkness. and there's more than one colonel kurtz.
FEI makes some impressive products, and I found it to be a good and meaningful place to work, for the first couple of years. Then the rot started setting in. Headcount was actively reduced, people were not replaced when they left, and outside entities were permitted to make labor demands upon the team without paying for them. Workload skyrocketed as business boomed, but headcount was choked off. Attitudes went from professional and generally upbeat, to gloomy, to suspicious and furtive and sullen over the course of the next couple of years. Then it got WORSE.
I can't speak for what happened (or may currently be happening) in other departments, but within my own, fratricide was the norm, and an informant culture blossomed. The weak on-site lead tried to compensate for their leadership inadequacies and lack of real power by stifling any attempts to help guide the running of the facility or its organization--lip service was paid to the notion of listening to the rest of us, but it always shook out the way the lead intended, and in no other way. The actual manager was apparently weary of hearing non-stop complaints from the real villains, and instead chose to join in the pummeling of their opponents as a means to shut them up.
It should be noted that I once considered both of these people friends. I shared political and social opinions with the lead, and a lot of background similarities with the manager, who was an old smoking buddy of mine in the years before accepting the role in my team. The poisonous atmosphere of that team turned them into creatures I found difficult to recognize – more... by the end of my time there.
My experiences with this place actively degraded me. I became no better than my opponents as I became swift to anger, intolerant, and cold. I always owned my own faults and accepted my share of responsibility, but I never once saw any inkling in the opposition that they bore any responsibility of their own. For this, they have earned my censure and my contempt.
50% of my team were decent people. The other 50% were cronies who enjoyed taking overlong lunches together, spending too much personal time on the net, talking about the others behind their back, general catty and unmanly behavior, and the like. The only reason I know all of this is because these are exactly the sorts of things they alleged me to have been guilty of at one time or another, so I naturally had to start paying attention to their own behavior. They did not disappoint.
Early on in the headcount crisis, I tried on numerous occasions to get the team to see that complaints had to be lodged with our management in order to get anything done, but apparently too many people preferred to loudly play the martyr, because nothing ever happened. Lower-level managers continually bewailed their inability to affect any change in headcount, and the backbiting just went on and on.
I consider myself better off to no longer be associated with this company. I still believe in the promise of FEI, and I remain excited by the future that their clients are ushering in all around us. Some day, one of these clients is going to use an FEI tool to cure cancer or AIDS, and that's simply wonderful. But down in the trenches where the day-to-day support of the client happens, I am certain that the darkness lingers. And I am well shut of that. – less