Best Places to Work in IT 2021

The world of work has changed but what has this meant to job expectations? In our 28th annual Best Places to Work in IT report, we reveal what IT pros really want from their job and which employers are investing in their futures.

Insider Pro | Computerworld  >  2021's 100 Best Places to Work in IT [COVER]
IDG / Tavarius / Shutterstock

What determines a great place to work? The disruption of the past 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic has re-shaped how organizations approach work and how employees engage with their employers. Creating great, physical workplaces may become a thing of the past for many organizations but what will always be key to be an attractive company is remuneration and benefits.

But it doesn’t stop there. Other factors, such as job progression, training, diversity and sustainability are playing an increasing role in how organizations sell themselves to existing and prospective employees. Some do it better than others, and despite the upheaval caused by the pandemic, opportunities for development remain fundamental when determining the best places to work.

What we have found in our research is that some things remain constant. As in previous years, IT pros value challenging work, working in an enjoyable environment and for a socially and environmentally responsible company. Given the challenges of the pandemic, this has taken on new meaning but of course, employees still want to be valued and enjoy prospects regardless of whether or not they are working remotely.

Maintaining culture and delivering benefits regardless of employee locations has been a particularly challenging hurdle for most organizations and how this has been managed has attributed in some way to rankings. Although we cannot rank organizations on their response to the pandemic, the ability of organizations to manage the process has, to a greater and lesser extent contributed to the overall sense of employee happiness over the past year.

The COVID factor

While not dwelling on this too much, we wanted to at least gauge reactions to the pandemic and how employers have performed in terms of enabling IT pros, who, after all, have been at the forefront in delivering and supporting remote working tools. Thoughts are now turning to the future and the possibility of longer-term hybrid working capabilities. Across many organizations, IT pros have concerns about levels of resourcing to meet the demands of supporting hybrid working environments and keeping them secure.

When asked; What do you think is the most important issue facing your organization’s IT department today? And what do you think is the most important issue facing the IT profession as a whole? COVID-19 dominated the responses. From impacting skills development through to reduced company cohesion and interaction, IT pros are feeling the pinch from the pandemic. There have also been concerns about the levels of technology deployed to remote workers.

So, how have organizations reacted? How have they helped IT pros do their job and stay sane? As you would expect, this is a bit of a mixed bag. From providing employees access to corporate Uber Eats accounts for virtual lunches, as one respondent from RPA firm Accelirate told us, through to creating “work-from-home ‘To Go’ boxes" to set up a remote workspace, as #1 small company Baxter Credit Union (BCU) told us, organizations are making efforts to address the unique challenges of COVID-19. But can you judge whether a business is a great place to work from how it responded to the pandemic?

While it will certainly have some impact on employee morale, these are unusual times and our research shows that IT pros are influenced by more traditional factors. Like last year’s survey, training, remuneration and career prospects are key when it comes to determining whether or not a company is a good employer. Most IT pros view COVID-19 as a temporary inconvenience and not necessarily a stick to beat their employers with.

Career development

Having the opportunity to further their career ranked as important for 88% of IT pros. Although the majority of survey respondents (95%) unsurprisingly placed salary at the top of their most important factors list, the desire for career development remains strong.

Having the opportunity to further their career ranked as important for 88% of IT pros. Although the majority of survey respondents (95%) unsurprisingly placed salary at the top of their most important factors list, the desire for career development remains strong. This has clearly been a central theme at Altria Group, a tobacco corporation located in Richmond, Virginia, ranked number one for career development.

Altria didn’t feature in the top ten last year but this year’s standing suggests considerable progress in providing opportunities across its stable of businesses, which includes STE Michelle Wine Estates, as well as other tobacco companies, such as Philip Morris USA.

“Altria is a great place to work in IT because it is a stable company and it works with cutting edge technologies,” said one respondent. “There are interesting projects and tough challenges to overcome, as well as opportunities to work in so many different areas of the business that it can keep you from growing bored with your job.”

Another respondent claimed that “throughout my 20 years with the company I have been able to learn many different business areas (either by supporting them or as a project manager).  The CIO, shows an interest in his people, and personally helped me think about my future goals at the company over the last 10 years.”

These views echoed many others and reflect the organization’s $10m investment in 2019 in training and career development programs. Clearly this is now bearing fruit.

New Jersey-based Holman Enterprises, which runs a number of automotive businesses, is another company that has grown on investment in the past 12 months. Ranked #4 this year (up from #7 last year), Holman has developed personalized career development programs and backed them up with continued investment in its global training and career development scheme called Holman University. The majority of respondents from Holman cited the organization’s culture and providing a good career path and opportunity to grow.

Like Altria, Holman is a large organization with big IT teams and many operational subsidiaries that can offer broader career prospects. For a smaller business, such as Resultant, ranked #3 in career development, this becomes more of a challenge. And yet, Resultant is clearly doing something right. Resultant has an IT team of 69 and many comments from the survey suggest an environment that is willing to develop careers as much as possible.

“We know individual development is vital to maintaining top talent—especially our team of curious, lifelong learners—and we’ve been intentional about fostering a culture of growth,” says a Resultant company respondent to the survey. “Professional development is a collaborative effort between the employee and the organization, rather than a prescribed path that gets handed down.”

Career development opportunities in any organization can be an essential ingredient in shaping culture and employee satisfaction. Aligned with training, it can also lead to improved retention, as we shall see later.

Training and skills

Access to training and skills development was chosen as a top factor in what makes a great company by 91% of IT pros in our survey. Most organizations would agree and this is reflected in the continued spending on IT training, across the board.

Leading the stack is Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) which had a training budget of $1,413,700 last year, equating to $3,382 per IT employee. According to the organization, which provides research and technology development, its IT function is core to enabling innovations in cybersecurity, healthcare and space exploration, to name just a few. The organization is growing – grants have increased to more than $10.4m in the past year – and sees skills development as key to designing and delivering cross-Lab innovation initiatives.

The employee feedback matched the ambition, with IT staff at the organization enjoying the “challenging, cutting-edge work” and claiming APL is “an organization that truly wants its staff to develop.”

Johns Hopkins APL 'Central Spark' innovation space / Dariush Delossantos/Erin Fleming/James Robinson Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab / Ed Whitman

Dariush Delossantos, Erin Fleming and James Robinson explore new concepts in the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory ‘Central Spark’ innovation space, which has been adapted for pandemic social distancing and remains open around the clock for staff members to learn or refine skills in robotics, additive manufacturing, design thinking, virtual reality and computer processing.

Of course, this could be applied to many organizations, but wanting it and doing something about it are different things. Investing in training and skills development should reflect that desire but it’s also a cultural attitude. Creating a learning environment through collaboration and mentoring is much better than just throwing a few online courses at people. Clearly APL has got it right.

For MetroStar Systems, a small government-focused tech company, ranked #3 in our top ten organizations for training, skills development is built around a mix of peer collaboration and online courses. With a budget a third of the size of APL at $500,000, it’s interesting that MetroStar spends more proportionally ($2,049) on training its IT staff.

The company claims this is built into its ethos of putting its people first (interestingly also reflected in the fact it does not have a cap on employees' paid time off) and developing a sharing, collaborative culture where employees learn from each other as well as from its 300 courses provided in its Learning Management System, MetroStar University.

In a similar vein to MetroStar Systems, Cloud for Good, a Salesforce partner and integrator for non-profit clients, based in Asheville, NC, maximizes its training budget on its relatively small IT team of 79. It spent $3,354 on training per IT employee last year and retained its #5 ranking. Interestingly, the business also features in the top ten for staff retention at #4 (last year it was #6).

What this all indicates is that IT pros do not have to look to just the large companies to improve skills. In fact, in many cases, small and medium organizations are matching if not improving on larger rivals and, of course, tend to offer greater access to more work variety due to having fewer people in the mix.


After salary, IT pros look to additional benefits offered by prospective employers to determine an overall employment package. The cost of healthcare, childcare support, flexible working hours, reimbursement for college tuition and the cost of earning technology certifications are just some of the more common benefits offered by organizations of all sizes. Interestingly, our survey found that for IT pros, the most important benefits are paid leave, healthcare provision and profit sharing / employee stock ownership.

This has barely changed over the years, although we have seen more organizations, such as MetroStar Systems, offer uncapped paid vacation time. The COVID-19 pandemic has also shaken it up a bit, with working from home and the need to try and build or maintain a culture of wellbeing, inclusion and collaboration remotely.

For a large biotechnology corporation, such as Genentech, you would expect to see generous benefits as part of the employment mix, and it doesn’t disappoint. The San Francisco-based business is ranked #1 in our benefits list for the second year running with its 470 IT employees enjoying sabbaticals, paid parental leave, flexible work schedules, healthcare and college tuition reimbursements, among many other benefits.

Genentech headquarters in South San Francisco. Genentech

Employees describe company culture as “outstanding” at South San Francisco-based Genentech, ranked #2 in large companies.

Genentech, which is ranked #2 in large companies, has an extensive list of benefits to not just entice new employees but to look after employees for the long term, with wellbeing (for example, fitness and health apps, meditation and mindfulness resources, sleep improvement tools, resiliency training, coaching and mental health therapy sessions) front and center.

Feedback from Genentech IT employees speaks volumes for the organization’s benefits policy but also its work and direction, with one respondent claiming, “company culture and treatment and care for employees is outstanding at this organization, even during difficult and uncertain times.”

For AARP, a non-profit social welfare organization, ranked #2 in our benefits list (also ranked #16 in medium size organizations), going that extra mile to encourage employees to continue learning while also giving them a sound foundation on which to grow has reaped rewards. The organization is on a mission to empower people who are 50+ to choose how they live, as they age. With a membership of nearly 38 million, technology is key to this enablement and with a recent digital transformation project, migrating the organization to cloud-based services, there is plenty of work for the IT team.

Many of its IT staff cite the organization's provision of healthcare and retirement benefits, as well as its “great employee tuition assistance program.” It’s a common theme, as you would expect, across the top ten organizations, from the leading Owens Corning (ranked #1 in large companies) through to the only small organization on the list, Baxter Credit Union. In many ways this represents the perception that great benefits are primarily but not exclusively the domain of large organizations.

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions but it’s always worth bearing in mind that large organizations have the benefit of scale. But one area where there should be a level playing field is in diversity. Around 72% of IT pros claim that cultural and ethnic diversity is an important factor in the workplace.

Diversity and inclusion

The business case for diversity is not in question, as a World Economic Forum report revealed a couple of years back. Diversity and inclusion can lead to greater innovation and increased revenues and for many employees it represents a mindset. A diverse, inclusive organization is almost certainly a more dynamic, progressive one, a mindset which can feed into so many other aspects of the workplace and employee engagement.

Interestingly, Ultimate Kronos Group last year helped set-up the Equity at Work Council, an interdisciplinary group that explores the science behind diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. It is, says the company, an attempt to find insights that can underpin actions, to drive what it says is a “focus on people”. 

Ranked #1 for diversity, Axxess, a small, Dallas-based healthcare organization with an IT team of 96, benefits from an ethos driven by the founder and CEO, John Olajide. As one employee said; “Axxess is a great place to work because of its craving for talent and the passion of the CEO. It has the very clear vision and mission to grow and everyone is working towards that goal. Axxess also encourages and respects the diversity of the people.”

Axxess, like Ultimate Software (now Ultimate Kronos Group and ranked #10 for diversity last year), Eriksson Living (ranked #1 last year), Kaiser Permanente (ranked #4 last year), Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (ranked #6 last year) and Planned Systems International (ranked #8 last year), has retained its top 10 ranking from 2020. However, while not all organizations may be blessed with the same vision as these diversity leaders, there appears to be some progress, at least according to some IT pros.

At The Hartford, for example, a Connecticut-based insurance business, ranked #5 in large companies (and #11 in the diversity rankings), significant strides have been made. The business, which employs a whopping 2,163 IT staff, featured in the list of best places to work for LGBTQ equality in 2021, part of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index.

The Hartford’s tech and data team. The Hartford

The Hartford’s tech and data team is on the front lines of innovation, building systems and solutions that reflect and best serve its customers, partners and communities.

Many of the comments from IT pros at The Hartford back this up. There is, according to many respondents, a strong focus on diversity and inclusion and the organization encourages ethical practices and collaboration. For IT Convergence (ranked #10 in our diversity list), a cloud technology services and integration company, diversity has fed into the organization’s rhetoric on employee happiness. Over the past two years, it has actively focused on promoting more women within the business, with women now accounting for 29% of the total workforce.

For many organizations, developing diversity within the workspace is still very new and although most organizations today have policies on diversity, as with most things, actions speak louder than words.

Staff retention

In some respects, it would be fair to expect staff retention scores to reflect rankings such as career development, which is considered a top concern for the majority of IT pros and yet just three companies feature in both top tens - Owens Corning (ranked #1 in large companies), Erickson Senior Living (ranked #17 in large companies) and Tractor Supply Company (ranked #14 in large companies).

So, what really drives staff retention? Inevitably, leadership plays a big role in generating and maintaining a culture that keeps staff challenged, engaged, respected and inspired. For Workiva, our top ranked company in staff retention (ranked #12 in medium size companies), culture appears to be the foundation for its success.

A software-as-a-service company in Iowa, Workiva claims it has established a results-driven culture that empowers employees to take and own action. “IT employees are encouraged to make their position or role their own - this is a true luxury that any entrepreneurial-minded employee can appreciate, and a key to employee retention,” says one employee.

IT team members meet at Workiva headquarters. Workiva

IT team members meet at Workiva headquarters. Our top ranked company in staff retention, Workiva is also ranked #12 among midsize companies.

With an IT team of 67 this may, in theory, be easier to do than in, say, Red Hat (ranked #3 in large companies) with its IT team of 420 but not insurmountable. Empowering employees, treating them with respect and giving them room to grow on their terms can, it seems work wonders but that comes down to trust, on both sides.

For Cloud for Good, it appears that a mix of flexible working (the workforce is now totally virtual allowing for work/life balance) and enabling its team to develop beyond the business through a $2,000 a year donation, are paying dividends. All employees surveyed had great things to say about the company, from its education and training focus (it’s also ranked #5 in training) through to enabling a positive culture despite remote working. Like Workiva, there seems to be a lot of trust between the workforce and leadership and this is of course reflected in the retention ranking.

This is also true at Erickson Senior Living, a Maryland-based retirement communities operator, ranked #17 in large companies. With an IT team of 150, the business clearly strives to be a diverse and encouraging employer (it’s ranked #7 in both diversity and training and #8 in career development). IT pros working at the company use words such as “respect”, “honesty”, “empowerment”, “openness” and “encouragement” to describe their experience and reason for working at the company.

Of course, all businesses can claim to instill ideals, create policies and throw money at tools and services but when it comes down to it, it has to mean something to those doing the actual work. While not every business gets it right all of the time, there is never any harm in putting the workforce first. That’s the long-term game. Anything else will just be found wanting.

Download the Best Places to Work in IT 2021 report as a PDF to see which U.S. organizations are the Best Places to Work in IT, including top 10 organizations for benefits, retention, training, diversity and career development, and profiles of three Best Places employers.

NEXT PAGE: See the 100 Best Places to Work in IT, listed by company size


1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2