Best Places to Work in IT 2020

Investment in employee development is a common theme among the top organizations on this year’s Best Places to Work in IT list.

Insider Pro / Computerworld  >  100 Best Places to Work in IT [2020] [COVER]

What are the best ways to attract and retain talented IT professionals? Outstanding benefits and top salaries certainly help, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

For our 27th annual Best Places to Work in IT report, Insider Pro and Computerworld surveyed large, midsize and small organizations across the U.S. — and their employees — to find out which ones deserve to be called the best. As in previous years, we discovered that IT pros value challenging projects and the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technologies. A positive corporate culture that emphasizes teamwork is also highly prized and has become more important than ever as organizations have pivoted to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And there’s a common thread running through the organizations that made it to our 2020 list: a willingness to invest in employees through training and career development initiatives. Part of what makes IT workers feel appreciated and engaged with their work is knowing their employers support their long-term goals.

Read this special report to see which U.S. organizations are the Best Places to Work in IT and what it is that makes them such desirable places to work.

Continuous learning a hallmark of top places to work in IT

At Central Minnesota Credit Union, IT employees sounded the call to make training and career development part of their daily routine when CIO Neal Kaderabek first took the reins more than a year ago as part of an enterprise digital transformation push.

The credit union, ranked the #2 small organization on the 2020 Best Places to Work in IT list, was cited No. 4 overall in career development and No. 8 in training. CMCU offers reimbursement for college classes and IT certifications, subscriptions to online technical training as well as shadowing opportunities to expose incoming IT staffers to how other parts of the credit union operate.

neal kaderabek cmcu Central Minnesota Credit Union

“We’re letting people run their own careers.” —Neal Kaderabek, CIO, CMCU

IT staff first made the case for more time for training when Kaderabek’s opening shot was to ask about what stood in the way for staying motivated as employees. With the credit union about to power through a series of critical technology deployments, including standing up a new call system and contact center and rolling out CRM and data analytics, the time was ripe to beef up training. However, Kaderabek was committed to doing so with one caveat: Employees needed to self-direct their own training and development, as opposed to relying on managers to assign specific courses or formalize long-term career pathways.

“The opportunity for education is huge, but we’re letting people run their own careers,” he explains. “My job is to make sure to advance the organization on its strategy, but in creating transparency, employees can see where the opportunity is for training and education.”

Employee development a common denominator

Regardless of size, most of the highest-ranked players on this year’s list are allocating substantial dollars to employee development and training. Some of the larger players — for example, Ultimate Software, this year’s No. 1 large company — are earmarking several-million-dollar budgets to their employees’ personal and professional development. The investments are far ranging, from formal college reimbursement and paid technical certifications to ready access to self-service learning platforms, specialized innovation centers, internships, mentorships, and partnerships with universities.

Among the companies favored as top places to work in IT, the investment in development and training appears to be a win-win for employees and their employers. IT staffers participating in the Insider Pro/Computerworld survey said the ability to stay current on the latest technologies and fill in the gaps in their technical, leadership and soft skill profiles makes them more marketable while greatly elevating job satisfaction.

At the same time, a well-architected career development and training program helps nurture a positive IT culture built around advancement and continuous learning — both essential for success in today’s highly competitive, digital-driven markets.

While the workforce seems to favor employers bullish on training and talent development, dollars spent in these areas are turning into a sound investment for companies across all industry sectors. With so much riding on digital transformation, the emphasis on career development and employee enrichment has become a crucial tool for developing and retaining a solid talent bench capable of meeting core business objectives, survey participants said.

In a 2018 LinkedIn survey on talent management, 94 percent of responding employees said they would stay longer at a company if it invested in their career.

Moreover, the LinkedIn survey revealed that employees don’t maximize participation in continuous learning programs mostly because they aren’t afforded the time or they are not readily accessible. Employers that carved out opportunity and provided ready access to learning initiatives were generally viewed as preferred workplaces that are committed to their employees’ best interests.

From the company perspective, training for soft skills and the identification of industry trends to prevent internal skill gaps were the top priorities for businesses as they grapple with the short shelf life of skills while aiming to attract the best talent to achieve core business objectives, the LinkedIn survey found.

Living on the edge

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)’s mission to monitor fraud among brokerage firms and exchange markets is predicated on deep knowledge of open-source big data technologies and scalable cloud platforms, which means IT employees must consistently remain on the cutting edge. The private, self-regulatory organization, lauded on this year’s list as the #1 place to work in IT among midsize companies, made a choice early on to build its own set of technologies, underscoring the need to nurture and develop its workforce of more than 1,200 IT employees and contractors to be continuous learners and self-starters. 

finra tech FINRA

IT workers at FINRA: (front, left to right) Ian Clar, Daniel Monteiro, Shoby Varghese, Arun Loitongbam; (back, left to right) Akanksha Luthra, Rene Arellano, Apul Mishra and Samir Lipovaca.

“We developed expertise and in-house training for hundreds of employees to be able to figure this out themselves,” says Steve Randich, FINRA’s executive vice president and CIO. FINRA tapped engineering expertise at its partners, leading cloud software providers like Hortonworks, Amazon and Cloudera, to come in and train its IT staff. Randich and Rubyna Zito, the firm’s vice president, technology operations and services, also launched a number of initiatives to raise FINRA’s technology profile so it could more easily attract and retain high-caliber talent.

In addition to an online training platform, FINRA IT employees are encouraged to participate in Createathon, an annual two-and-a-half-day event designed to promote cross-departmental collaboration and innovation via a set of specific challenges. Still, the biggest boon to promoting on-the-job learning is continued exposure for IT staffers to novel and interesting projects, Randich says.

“Rather than spend millions of dollars educating people with formal training to work on a portfolio of boring, traditional IT work, we give them the tools, quality of work, and culture that promotes learning on the job,” he explains.

The focus on internal upskilling and self-reliance has also created a pipeline of future leaders. “If you look at our technology management team, it’s absolutely grown from within as opposed to acquiring from outside,” Randich says. “It is in keeping with our ‘do it yourself’ culture.”

Learning never ends

Sailaja Yellaturu considers herself a lifelong learner. That’s why she’s a huge proponent of ZEN, an online collaborative learning platform launched for employees by her firm Zebra Technologies.

Yellaturu takes advantage of ZEN (Zebra Educational Network) training whenever possible, expanding her management and leadership credentials with courses like “Learning to be assertive,” “Communicating with empathy,” and “Body language for leaders.” She’s burnished her technical chops through company-sponsored innovation workshops on emerging technologies like chatbots and robotic process automation (RPA). She’s even experimented with some of the numerous diversity and inclusion programs Zebra offers, all with an eye towards enriching her personal development and shaping her IT career path.

“Since taking these courses, I have already noticed a difference in many areas of my leadership, including my ability to lead and motivate my team members as well as display confidence in my decision-making and my own self-confidence as a leader,” says Yellaturu, who was recently promoted to senior manager, IT. “I truly believe the skills I learned from the courses on ZEN played a role in earning my promotion. The opportunities for personal development are really endless.”

Zebra Technologies’ focus on career development and training helped earn it the #3 spot among midsize companies on the 2020 Best Places to Work in IT list.

Zebra, which manufacturers data capture and automatic identification solutions for businesses, maintains close to $325,000 for its training budget for 183 IT employees. “There is generally a belief at Zebra that an emphasis on training and development will foster employee engagement and that engaged employees will drive company performance,” says Deepak Kaul, Zebra’s CIO. “Investing in talent enhances our global brand.”

Continuous learning cultures rule

Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), ranked No. 11 among large firms and second overall for both training and career development, is committed to the cause partly because its work — solving some of the nation’s most critical challenges in security, military readiness, and space exploration — demands a culture dedicated to continuous learning and cutting-edge technologies, according to Catherine Colangelo, IT communications and project manager for the lab’s innovation program.

apl photo Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab/Nick Brezzell

Michaela Kerem, Anthony Talamantes and Mel Manela of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab collaborate in the Live data, Integration, Validation and Experimentation (LIVE) Lab, which features a suite of tools to help operators detect, understand and respond to cyberattacks across many platforms and applications.

The lab’s $1.4 million training budget, which fuels development and enrichment for 398 IT employees, includes opportunities to take and teach classes at Johns Hopkins University as well as participation in programs to train the next generation of IT professionals. To the latter point, APL’s IT staff actively take part in mentoring high school students and volunteering in outreach efforts like “Girls Who Code” and the FIRST Robotics leagues.

“The culture of mentoring has been in APL’s lifeblood since the beginning,” says Judith French, chief IT strategist working directly for the CIO. “Employees have lots of opportunity to work with others to build their career, and staff members and supervisors help them find the right mentors.”

One of the more important ways APL encourages lifelong learning and discovery is through a program that lets workers continue their formal education through part-time study at JHU at no cost to the employees. Once approved by a manager, employees can take graduate-level coursework in areas like AI and cybersecurity.  “Training and development is not considered a benefit here — it’s part of the culture and ingrained from the very beginning,” Colangelo says. “It’s not necessarily something we contemplate adding, because it’s there every day for every staff member.”

For its part, Erickson Living, the #13 large company on this year’s Best Places to Work in IT list, is taking a three-pronged approach to develop and train IT employees not on any specific set of technologies, but rather to be versatile enough to pivot and learn any new competency, says Hans Keller, CIO at the company, which manages senior living communities.

erickson 13298899 corp 2018 it best place to work photo retouch Erickson Living Management

Members of Erickson Living’s technology team: (front row, left to right) Shhalu Mittal, Sedric Boddie, Andy Lee, Danielle Junker and Jeremy Bair; (standing in back, left to right) Nicole Rites, Charmaine Nokuri and Adam McMillen.

The employee transformation initiative, backed by a $365,000 training budget, focuses on three key areas: curiosity, competence, and community. The curiosity component encourages the 145 IT team members to spend two hours a month on flexible learning, targeted personal development (such as coaching or mentorship), and team-directed learning.

There is also unlimited access provided for Udemy for Business, an online learning platform with courses on job skills along with more personal enrichment like stress management skills and nutrition. The competency pillar stresses the creation of an individual development plan, and the community portion emphasizes team building and engagement with the broader populace.

Erickson’s philosophy is keyed to developing the employee, not on building a particular portfolio of enterprise IT skills. The reason for this strategy is that while jobs are safe, roles are not, Keller explains. Consider what happens when employees on a server team, trained and developed with knowledge of server technology, are suddenly directed to shift work focus to running external applications in the cloud.

“From a readiness perspective, everyone needs to be in a mindset to be able to morph,” Keller says. “It’s about how to position everyone to be change ready. IT has historically loved being the implementors of change for other people. They haven’t been open to saying how we change ourselves.”

Tactics and training initiatives

Many larger companies ranked on the Insider Pro/Computerworld Best Places to Work in IT list are leveraging their sizeable training budgets to fund a similar multi-pronged approach to employee development. Consider Genentech, a biotech company now a subsidiary of Roche Group, which landed the #3 large-company spot on this year’s list.

Genentech allocates over $5,000 per IT employee (there are 454) annually on training and career development in addition to up to $10,000 for college reimbursement and continuing education, while offering 10 training days per year. Driven by the new era of personalized medicine, there is an expanded remit for the IT organization, which in turn necessitates a focus on continuous learning so employees are adequately prepared for new career pathways, says Martin Spaene, Genentech’s vice president, U.S. Informatics and South San Francisco site IT head.

martin spaene head shot genentech Genentech

“It’s not only about the way, it’s about the how — how we deliver ... for our customers and patients.” —Martin Spaene, VP, U.S. Informatics, Genentech

“Part of my role as IT head is to support and strengthen a talented workforce and ensure they have access to career development opportunity in different areas,” says Spaene. “We need to provide the educational training, experience, and exposure so they have opportunity to be part of the bigger picture.”

A signature plank in Genentech’s learning strategy is Accelerate IT, a development program created and run in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University. Twice a year, 30 applicants are selected to participate in the four-month program where they work as part of cross-functional teams to solve real business problems. The work, some of which takes place on-site at CMU, requires an additional 20 percent to 30 percent commitment beyond an employee’s normal work load, Spaene says.

In addition, Genentech’s Personal Excellence Program concentrates on development of the whole individual, including soft skills and teaching employees self-awareness and emotional intelligence. For one-on-one development, the One IT Mentoring initiative takes advantage of the company’s global network to connect employees from different teams, sites, and backgrounds.

Throughout each leg of the training and development initiatives, the focal point is not technology, but rather on how to apply technology to tackle specific business problems. “It’s not only about the way, it’s about the how — how we deliver at the end of the day for our customers and patients and how we engage to do our daily work,” Spaene says. “Technology expertise is a given. Where we want employees to advance is how to apply technology to specific use cases instead of starting with the technology.”

At Accelirate, a business process and IT consultancy specializing in robotics process automation (RPA), ongoing IT training and development is essential given that business strategy is tied to an emerging technology with a relatively limited pool of talent to draw from. Ranked as the #12 small company on the 2020 Best Places to Work in IT list, Accelirate has constructed a learning initiative that allows workers to develop at their own pace — an approach consistent with its culture built around self-direction, not micromanagement, explains Gabriela Enriquez, Accelirate’s chief HR officer.

Gabriela Enriquez, Accelirate’s chief HR officer. Accelirate

“We are ... continuously challenging employees and adding knowledge,” —Gabriela Enriquez, chief HR officer, Accelirate

Given that most incoming employees lack in-depth knowledge of automation technology, Accelirate ramps people up through a comprehensive program Enriquez likens to bootcamp training. “The seniors from the outside in [automation] are juniors in our realm,” she claims, explaining that participants run through real-world case study examples designed to test their foundational knowledge.

“By not micromanaging and instead assigning tasks and having employees deliver, we ensure they are self-driven and have the passion and drive to do what we do,” she maintains.

The training doesn’t stop after the initial bootcamp. Accelirate’s 135 IT employees are encouraged to regularly make use of the firm’s learning management system, where courses can be assigned covering areas such as machine learning, agile methodologies, and Six Sigma. “We are constantly looking at what the requirements are for each role and continuously challenging employees and adding knowledge,” she says.

A multi-year rotational program, Collegiate Onboarding and Rotational Experience (CORE), is central to the skills training and development program at International Paper, ranked the #10 large company on the Best Places to Work in IT list. Employees participating in the program go through rotational assignments every 18 to 24 months for their first five years, the key differentiator being they get an immersive experience in the business, not a glorified tour of different departments before they embark work on real projects, notes Eric Weber, business HR manager at International Paper.

international paper International Paper

International Paper IT employees collaborate via telepresence: (foreground, left to right) Kris Hartmann, Deepa Nair, Raghu Singh, Amy Leung, Charles Holt, Lynne Bethel; (on the screen, left to right) Don Harris, Lyndsey Fryoux and Katie Richmer.

In addition to CORE, the firm has an IT university, a virtual curriculum of university-level courses, and a Talent Development Council, which offers management training and helps midlevel IT employees identify and achieve actionable career goals. The overarching theme of the firm’s programs is to instill self-motivation and cultivate continuous development so the IT team is well equipped to deal with the current challenge, whether that’s digital transformation or navigating business in the face of a global pandemic, says Bob Wenker, the firm’s vice president and CIO.

“Our talent development programs are practical, useful, and they’re inclined towards moving the ball forward,” Wenker says. “That’s what works for our IT team.”

What works for Dataprise, the #14-ranked small company on the Best Places to Work in IT list, is relying on internships to school the next generation of IT professionals, as well as prioritizing the development of soft skills and leadership credentials over a focus on technical capabilities.

scott gordon dataprise Dataprise

“You can always train the technical piece, but you can’t train the personalities.” —Scott Gordon, president, Dataprise

The combination of the IT service management company’s internship program and formal job shadow program has been successful in creating a composite IT professional with strong technical chops, but who is also able to forge a connection to the clients through a keen understanding of the business. “You can always train the technical piece, but you can’t train the personalities,” says Scott Gordon, Dataprise president.

Since creating its internship program, which relies on a local community college as a feeder, Dataprise has brought on 100 percent of the interns coming through as full-time employees. “We find the energy level of people coming in through the program is fresh, and they have an open mind, which makes it easier to teach and coach,” he says.

At Zebra, the talent management and career development strategy is also predicated on finding and keeping IT professionals who are versatile and avid learners. Five years ago the firm made a point to hire IT staffers who were experts in a particular skill or fluent on a certain platform, but today the mission is to hire, nurture, and retain people who are poised to pivot and jump into multiple initiatives.

“In IT, more relevant skills have a short shelf life, so if you focus on an obsolete list of skills, the high-potential workers will walk out the door,” Kaul says. With Zebra’s approach, employees are sticking around, and the work of IT has never been better, he claims.

“These programs have benefited us in terms of quality of delivery,” he says. “Of 150 recent projects, we didn’t have a single one that was a big failure or blew a budget. That’s because our skills are current and people really care.” — Beth Stackpole

Profiles of three Best Places

Want to know what it’s like to work at a Best Places organization? Read these in-depth profiles of three outstanding IT employers:

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