IT workers' top 4 dream employers

What's it like to work at Google, IBM, Microsoft or Apple?

Companies often talk about their "dream" IT job candidate -- the type of worker they'd most like to have on their staffs. But what about the IT workers themselves -- what type of company are they most interested in?

Computerworld asked 431 IT workers where they dream of working someday. Here are the four companies that came out on top, along with snapshots of what type of environment IT workers will find themselves in if one of their wishes does come true and they do end up working at one of these "dream" employers:

1. Google

Don't let the lava lamps, free gourmet lunches, massage chairs and foosball tables fool you -- the fast-paced, unstructured work environment at Google is anything but casual. Google expects you to come to work with energy, passion, creativity and the willingness to put ideas into practice at what it calls "dizzying speed."

workers at Google
Employees gather at Google's "Tech Stop" in Chicago

"Googlers" need to enjoy stretching themselves beyond their comfort zones -- not even "great" is good enough, according to the company. No wonder software engineers are offered "20% time" within their regular work schedules to explore their passions. Employees work on small, focused teams, with a diversity of cube mates, including former neurosurgeons, alligator wrestlers and Marines.

Search is just one of Google's focuses; it also needs people with backgrounds in information retrieval, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, distributed computing, large-scale system design, networking, security, data compression and user interface design.

The company is hiring software engineers and "diverse, upbeat, creative, team-oriented" engineering operations staffers to work in areas such as data center operations, engineering management, hardware operations, intranet systems, operations/IT, partner solutions, technical writing and Web systems.

2. IBM

Despite its size and legacy, IBM doesn't want to be seen as a "gray, faceless corporation" but as an "ideas company" that nurtures a culture of support, inclusion and collaboration. An ideal employee, according to the company, is a "problem-solver, decision-maker, innovator, analytics ace, agent of change [who is] ready to make our planet work smarter."

IBM campus
IBM's headquarters in Armonk, N.Y.

To its credit, the company has worked to become less hierarchical. For instance, it has introduced online "jams," where all employees are invited to brainstorm on issues and initiatives.

Still, taking a job at IBM means accepting a certain amount of bureaucracy and "administrivia," according to members of Glassdoor, an online community that claims to offer a "free inside look at jobs and companies." However, people who visit Glassdoor also laud IBM's benefits package, work-from-home options and training programs (employees average 60 hours of training per year).

Opportunities extend across IBM's consulting, research and technology units. Through 2015, major areas of focus will include analytics, cloud computing and emerging markets, as well as the company's "smarter planet" initiative, which tackles pressing social issues such as energy production, climate change, traffic congestion and healthcare. Technology-focused applicants are also expected to have teamwork, social, communication, number-crunching and analytic skills.

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