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The No. 1 place to work in IT: USAA scores a three-peat

A day spent with several IT staffers at USAA reveals a supportive work environment, great amenities and a commitment to innovation.

June 18, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - For the third year running, USAA has earned the No. 1 spot on Computerworld's Best Places to Work in IT list. There's little wonder why. The $19 billion, privately held insurance and financial services company is growing at a rate of 8% annually and has made its ongoing investment in IT talent a cornerstone of its success. In fact, CIO Greg Schwartz says USAA has "a very aggressive plan" to hire more IT workers over the next six years.

Some IT employees at USAA
CIO Greg Schwartz (left) with IT team members Josh Leonard, Seth Ethington, Lisette Guerra, Lyndsay Yerbic, Mark Thompson, Annette York, Elena Vaquera, Will McDowell and Matt Hecke. Credit: USAA.

Launch a career here -- USAA tries to sell IT professionals on careers, not jobs -- and you'll enjoy extraordinary pay and benefits, including 26 days of paid vacation after a year on the payroll, an annual holiday bonus equal to two weeks' base pay, health insurance subsidized at a rate of up to 87.5%, an 8% employer match on 401(k) contributions and an annual performance bonus that this year equaled 18.4% of worker salaries -- it was the second highest in the company's history and was equal to last year's payout.

On average, USAA's 2,157 IT employees work between 41 and 45 hours a week. The culture is simultaneously innovation-focused, conservative and family-friendly. Brigham Young University's campuses in Idaho and Utah are key recruiting centers.

"There are a lot of great benefits here, but there's a lot of hard work that goes on," says Schwartz. "We really have a culture of high performance."

The bottom line: "We believe that people should be paid well and have great benefits, but we expect a lot out of them."

Here's a peek at a day in the life of some of the IT workers at USAA's San Antonio headquarters.

5:05 a.m. Annette York, 47, arrives at one of three USAA fitness centers for her daily, hourlong workout. By 7:00 a.m., she will have showered and changed and headed upstairs to her job leading a 200-person team and the delivery of an $80 million portfolio of software projects.

"The fitness center is a must in my life," says the 26-year USAA veteran. Exercising daily also helps whittle down the amount York personally pays for health insurance. USAA subsidizes 82.5% of all employees' medical coverage, but it also chips in another 5% for those who take action to improve or maintain their health.

running trail -- bridge
Click for a slideshow highlighting some of the on-campus amenities enjoyed by USAA employees.

The daily workouts may be routine for York, but her IT career at USAA has been anything but that. Hired as a developer fresh out of college, she has moved through business analyst and project management roles to IT planning and now into management.

She acknowledges that she wasn't sure what she wanted to do when she joined the company in 1986. "But there are so many opportunities here that you can change your career if you want," she says. "You don't have to leave to have a different experience."

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