History & The Hub

These Best Places to Work offset a high cost of living with flextime and rich benefits.

Theres a lot to like about the Boston area and New England in general. The Hub, as greater Boston is affectionately known, oozes history, has a dynamic arts community and boasts perhaps the highest concentration of college students per capita of any metropolitan area in the U.S. No wonder the area also carries the nickname of the Athens of America.

In addition to hosting some of the more successful professional sports franchises in the U.S., New England (the six-state region that stretches from Connecticut to Maine) also offers residents and visitors a wide variety of recreational activities, including sailing, skiing and hiking, as well as relaxing at breathtaking beaches.

But with so much to offer, its little surprise that the Boston area is also one of the most expensive places to live and work in the U.S. According to Salary.com, Bostons cost of living is 33.8% higher than Denvers (but 2.2% lower than San Diegos). According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the median household income was $61,333 for the Boston-New Hampshire metropolitan area in 2004 and $45,892 for city residents that same year. Project managers in New England pulled down an average of $96,556, according to Computerworlds 2006 Salary Survey, while database administrators and systems analysts hauled in $84,600 and $75,322, respectively.

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With high-tech hubs such as the Route 128 corridor and Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass., New England is home to a variety of biotechnology, financial services and health care companies, which offer diverse employment opportunities for IT professionals.

Partners HealthCare

  • IT head count: 1,300
  • CIO: John Glaser
  • Current IT projects: Compass, an initiative to implement a single set of patient administrative systems and revenue cycle processes across the entire health care system; a service-oriented architecture (SOA) to drive commonness of clinical data in applications and to encapsulate knowledge and rules to make change easier, quicker and safer.
  • Current IT openings: Programmers/developers, applications analysts, project specialists, and team leaders/managers for various groups.

Healthy Choices: After Chris Gervais graduated from Ithaca College in May 1995, he jumped on the dot-com bandwagon and became chief technology officer at an e­-learning and knowledge management company called VIS Corp. in Waltham, Mass. Although the experience was an adrenaline rush and taught Gervais a lot about business, it pales in comparison to the values he has embraced since joining Boston-based Partners HealthCare System Inc. as a technology researcher in October 2001.

One of the things that makes this place great for me is the overall charter of Partners [as a nonprofit humanitarian organization] and moving the health care agenda forward on a local, regional and national level, and how IT has and will transform health care, Gervais says.

Knowing that she has made an impact on patient wellness is one of the main reasons why Jennifer Rogala has remained at Partners since 1991 three years prior to the merger between Brigham and Womens Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, which formed the organization. For someone that doesnt have a clinical background, IT people feel theyre doing work that helps make people healthier and increase patient safety. Its pretty important. says Rogala, who is corporate manager, clinical systems development, at Partners.

Last fall, Gervais became Partners enterprise architect for its SOA initiative. But the continuous evolution of his role is just one of the reasons he has stayed with the company. His wife, who also works in the health care field, is expecting their second child in October. The flexible work schedule that Partners offers Gervais enables him to help care for his son something he considers a huge benefit.

In the Boston area, which is an expensive market, youre going to have more and more employees with both spouses working, said Gervais. You cant put a dollar amount on [flextime]; its an intangible.

Rogala, who has also grown from her start as a program analyst to team leader and now corporate manager of clinical systems development, also appreciates the benefits that Partners offers. The work can be very stressful, says Rogala, a lifelong Boston area resident. If you put a semicolon in the wrong place in a line of code, a patient can get hurt. Partners makes sure you get ample time off, so that when you come back to work, you feel refreshed.

Training is also a big area of focus within Partners IT organization. We have put a goal out there that every [IT] employee should receive 40 hours of training per year, says Laurie Connors, lead human resources generalist at Partners in Charlestown, Mass. The training could include a help desk worker shadowing a network engineer for a day, or an engineer receiving external Cisco or Microsoft training, Connors says.

One of the more creative career development programs offered to IT professionals at Partners since the fall of 2005 is called the Innovation Program. Here, 16 IT staffers are assigned a mentor and a business problem to solve. The workers are taken out of their normal work routines for 20% of their time over a 16-to-20-week period to work on solving a particular business problem by conducting research, interviewing high-level executives such as hospital CIOs and subject-matter experts, and even going on field trips to organizations such as Monster.com.

The idea is that you can come back to your regular job and think about things differently and spread that kind of innovative thinking throughout the IS organization, says Connors.

L.L.Bean

  • IT head count: 300-plus
  • Vice president of information services: Jean Wilson
  • Current IT projects: Retail expansion, and business process efficiency.
  • Current IT openings: Quality assurance architect, software configuration management tools developer, senior network engineer, AS/400 developer, and Web developer.

Discovering the Great Outdoors: Its common to see employees of L.L.Bean Inc. biking or running at lunch time. Theres a group that regularly plays soccer on an athletic field adjacent to the companys corporate offices. Another group, which includes IS manager Donna Lamberth, has been training together for a New England sprint triathlon. In fact, many L.L.Bean employees ride their bikes to work and leave them unlocked in bike racks provided at many of their office buildings.

Weve got expensive bikes that people just leave there, says Lamberth. Its a wonderful thing about living here.

Here is the outdoor outfitters home base, Freeport, Maine, along the southeastern coast of the Pine Tree State. This is a company thats big on values, and one of the top ones it adheres to is to support its six primary stakeholders: L.L.Beans customers, employees, shareholders, vendors and communities, and the environment.

The companys commitment to its employees is evident in the generous perks that theyre offered. For starters, salaried employees receive three to five outdoor days each year that they can use to go hiking or participate in other outdoor activities with colleagues without having to use vacation time.

L.L.Bean also holds an online lottery for employees who would like to use of one of the eight cabins the company owns on Rangeley Lake in western Maine. At $75 per weekend, the largest cabin, which sleeps 10 people, is a steal. You cant beat the price or the setting, says Martha Cyr, vice president of human resources.

Of course, theres more to working in IT at L.L.Bean than the company-sponsored volleyball games and barbecues on its campus. It offered 4.5 days of training for each of its employees in 2006, and this year the goal is for 85% of its IT staffers to reach that target, says Jean Wilson, vice president of information services.

Of course, it can be a challenge to recruit IT professionals to work in one of the northernmost parts of the continental U.S. Some people would say that were at the end of the Earth in Freeport, Maine, and we do have our challenges in respect to attracting talent, says Lamberth, who oversees IT staff development. But once people come here, they dont want to leave.

This will be the fourth company Ive worked at, and L.L.Bean is like no other in terms of impressiveness, says Wilson. The work is very challenging, in a good way its a very innovative company.

This includes recent IT-business projects aimed at expanding L.L.Beans multichannel retail presence, ensuring we are ready to do business with customers when, where and how they would like to shop, says Lamberth.

A sage strategy for a company thats constantly on the go.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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