Special Report: Best Places to Work in IT 2017

The No. 1 large place to work in IT: Quicken Loans

A strong corporate culture gives tech pros at every level of the organization the courage to take risks, innovate and grow their skill sets.

Quicken Loans
Credit: Quicken Loans

Lots of companies have corporate goals and mission statements and even go to the trouble of printing them on laminated pocket cards for employees to stick in their wallets.

Detroit-based Quicken Loans, which is Computerworld’s No. 1 Large Best Place to Work in IT for the fourth year in a row (and was also No. 1 in 2013, before the Best Places rankings were divided by organization size), has its “isms” — 19 principles at the core of the online mortgage lender’s creative, collaborative and rigmarole-free culture. 

Many Quicken employees seem to know the isms by heart. What’s really striking is how many say they live by them, not only on the job, but in their personal interactions with family, friends, neighbors, service people and whomever else they encounter in a day.

“I know it sounds cheesy, but I am a different person than I was on the day I started working here,” says Kristina Kolbas, 39. The isms, she says, “are such a positive mindset that it ultimately changes how you feel about life.”

[ See the full Best Places to Work in IT 2017 report ]

Take, for example ism No. 12, “We’ll figure it out.” In her 15 years at Quicken Loans, Kolbas, who rose from a report writer for the mortgage banking group to senior vice president of client platforms, says it has “done a 180” on her approach to any and all challenges, at work and outside.

“It’s no longer a matter of if there is a solution, but of pulling in the right folks or of asking the right questions. There’s always a solution to everything,” she says.

This mindset was especially helpful during the three years Kolbas worked on the Quicken Loans “mousetrap machine,” a sort of internal SWAT team that infiltrates different business areas, studies their processes and technologies, and then recommends changes for the better. That maps to yet another one of the company’s isms — No. 5: “Obsessed with finding a better way.”

Kolbas says that one of the changes her team suggested was creating a project management office to coordinate the many business and IT projects that came out of the mousetrap machine’s work. She eventually went on to help build and lead what blossomed into the current project management office.

CW Best Places to Work in IT [2017] - Quicken Loans' SVP of client platforms Kristina Kolbas Quicken Loans

Senior vice president of client platforms Kristina Kolbas hosts Talk IT, a quarterly live-stream show that keeps technology team members updated and spotlights team accomplishments.

At Quicken Loans, she says, “any time I make a suggestion, I better be coming up with how I can drive it forward too.” 

“It’s just who we are as a company,” she continues. “No matter where you’re at, if you have an idea for something that can be improved, or a brand new idea, you’re expected and rewarded to come through with those suggestions.” 

‘You’ve got this.’

Only a week or two after starting his job as a software/data engineer, now 10 years ago, Dan Jones found an issue with one of the company’s data feeds. “It was one of those things where I thought a more senior person should take it on because it was a system that touches a lot of other systems, and I didn’t want to break anything.” 

Jones took the issue to his leader. “He told me ‘Don’t worry. You’ve got this. We believe you can drive it to resolution.’ I was able to do it, and I learned a lot in the process. It really showed me the culture of empowerment,” says Jones, 35, who is now VP of business intelligence and leads a 220-person team.

Brian Downey, 42, a systems architect who started at Quicken Loans as a help desk staffer 20 years ago, likes the ism “A penny saved is a penny.”

“What that means is we’re not going to let concerns over dollars and cents ruin our ability to innovate,” says Downey, who has worked remotely from California for the past 11 years. “It means we need to be on the leading edge [of technology]. That’s the antithesis of saving money. We’re investing in the future,” he says.

Downey’s team is in the process of building a private cloud with an eye toward bringing back in-house IT work now running in various public clouds. An internal cloud, he says, will allow the company to enhance the programmatic development practices and move towards a DevOps model leveraging agile development practices that work well in the public cloud. “It’s a speed thing,” he says.

Big benefits and key perks

Keeping IT employees engaged and motivated with innovative projects is one of the many things Quicken Loans does well — so well that many in the 1,500-person IT organization say they wouldn’t dream of working anywhere else. The turnover rate is just 6% in IT, and hiring is on: Quicken Loans IT’s headcount is expected to grow by 10% this year, according to department managers.

CW Best Places to Work in IT [2017] - Quicken Loans employees Quicken Loans

Quicken Loans employees (from left to right): Jason Slater, Ninad Kulkarni, CIO Linglong He, Sue Escamilla and Jeremy Drager. Mural: "Brummel" by Jordan Nickel.

What also keeps workers enthusiastically on board are generous compensation and benefit plans and abundant opportunities to try out creative ideas and expand skills. In fact, Quicken Loans ranked No. 4 among all 100 Best Places for benefits and No. 5 for its training offerings this year.

Employees’ healthcare coverage is 76% employer-funded, and Quicken Loans contributes 50 cents on every dollar that employees invest in their 401(k) retirement accounts. There’s even pet insurance. 

Onsite childcare is a boon for working parents, and there’s also a fitness center, café, massage therapist, physical therapist, family doctor, eye doctor, chiropractor and salon, all onsite.

Other highly rated employee perks are ultra-flexible hours and the ability to work from home; 25 days paid time off after the first year on the job, eight paid weeks of maternity leave, and tuition reimbursement up to $5,250 annually. 

Quicken Loans also scores high on the fun front. Free and always available snacks, over-the-top holiday parties, free tickets to major league sporting events (Quicken Loans’ founder and chairman, Dan Gilbert, owns the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers) and a cool downtown workspace, replete with a basketball court, all contribute to the company’s work hard/play hard vibe.

What ultimately sold Michigan native Megan Baker on Quicken Loans was its rock-solid commitment to downtown Detroit. She joined the company a year and a half ago, relocating from Washington, D.C., where she had been working as a consultant on federal contracts.

“I took a trip to Detroit, and it was really exciting to see all the growth and revitalization here. Digging into it deeper, I understood the relationship between Quicken Loans moving its offices downtown and the revitalization of the city,” says Baker, now a team leader in project management.

CW Best Places to Work in IT [2017] - Quicken Loans' program for STEM-focused learning and mentoring Quicken Loans

Through its QSTEM program, Quicken Loans regularly welcomes Detroit Public Schools students in grades 6 to 8 to its offices for STEM-focused learning and mentoring.

Quicken Loans moved its offices from Livonia, Mich., to the city in 2010. Today, more than 3,000 employees live in downtown Detroit. As Baker, 37, sees it, living downtown is one of the greatest perks Quicken Loans has to offer.

“I get a rebate for living downtown and opting out of parking,” Baker says, referring to Quicken Loan’s program that gives rebates up to $150 per month to employees who do not use company parking spaces.

“I also take advantage of partnerships that Quicken Loans has with other downtown businesses, like a yoga studio that has drop-in classes [discounted for Quicken Loans employees],” she says. 

Free and unlimited technology and certification training, plus all expenses paid participation at tech and industry conferences are all also highly encouraged at Quicken Loans, IT employees say.

In his first two years at the company, Nishant Gupta, a 32-year-old software solutions architect, attended Amazon’s national conference and participated in Quicken Loans’ homegrown client experience program. Experiencing firsthand how mortgage applicants navigate the loan process afforded him a real-world glimpse of how it might be simplified and sped up.

“Before, I never got to see that. I was just an IT guy,” Gupta says.  

And last year when his wife was pregnant with their first child, Gupta says he especially valued the company’s flexibility in where and when he worked.

“Working from home is a big perk. When my wife needed me, I was there and could still contribute to work,” he says.

This year, he and his wife, their families plus members of Gupta’s software team will celebrate his daughter’s first birthday together at a party at his home. “My good friends are here,” he says. 

It was a friend of a friend who recommended Cong Fan to Quicken Loans almost 17 years ago. She started as a programmer/software engineer, then became intrigued by databases and data-intensive projects. Today, she is director of central platforms, a team that “works on and supports business data. We work with a lot of teams, supporting all kinds of applications,” including the company’s signature online Rocket Mortgage app launched last year.

“Technology-wise, we have done a lot of automation, from applying for a loan to the process of going through and closing the loan. The whole process is supported by technology,” she says.

That means plenty of opportunities to try out new ideas, learn new skills and collaborate with a variety of teams, says Fan. 

“I have been working in this company for so many years, but not a single day do I feel like it’s work. I haven’t gotten bored,” she says. “You get challenged every day.”

Next: The No. 1 midsize place to work in IT: Ultimate Software

Computerworld's IT Salary Survey 2017 results
Shop Tech Products at Amazon