Best Places to Work in IT 2014: The three best organizations

What makes a company No. 1 in the eyes of its employees? We take a look at Quicken Loans, LinkedIn and Noah Consulting to find their secrets to success.

Quicken Loans employees on scooters and big wheels
Quicken Loans/Ray Rushing

Work hard, have fun

What makes an organization a Best Place to work for IT professionals? If any one element can capture "bestness," it's the combination of rewarding work in an atmosphere that encourages camraderie.

This year, Quicken Loans, LinkedIn and Noah Consulting topped our large, midsize and small rankings, respectively, by keeping employees well compensated, challenged in their jobs and supported with extras like free lunch and foosball.

In the case of Quicken Loans, at left, the occasional three-wheeled transportation option is thrown into the mix as well.

Quicken Loans employees playing pool at Mustang-inspired table
Quicken Loans/Ray Rushing

A culture of excellence

Quicken Loans, the No. 1 large organization for 2014, is no stranger to the Best Places list. The online mortgage lender was No. 1 overall last year, and also topped the list between 2005 and 2007. (Large organizations have 5,000 or more U.S. employees.) 

This year, the company additionally earned the top slot among all 100 Best Places organizations for employee retention, and was No. 4 for career development and No. 10 for benefits. (See Best Places by the Numbers for details.)

Quicken Loans proudly takes its place among firms driving the revitalization of downtown Detroit, as evidenced by this Motor City-inspired pool table.

Indoor basketball court at Quicken Loans
Quicken Loans/Ray Rushing

Building skills, on the court and off

IT staffers at Quicken Loans are offered 200 hours of technical training each year, and in 2013 the company created a training program specifically for members of its IT team, with the goal helping them further their tech careers while also teaching them a wide range of soft skills, including communication, time management and leadership. A mentoring program helps identify which skills staffers need in order to reach the next level in their careers.

Employees are invited to blow off steam on the company's basketball court, which overlooks the Detroit skyline, or enter to win tickets to an NBA game; Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert owns the Cleveland Cavaliers.

LinkedIn signage

LinkedIn: Fast-track career growth

The No. 1 midsize Best Place is LinkedIn, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company that runs the popular business-oriented social network. (Midsize organizations have between 1,000 and 4,999 U.S. employees.)

IT had a training budget of $350,000 last year for its 112 employees. Beyond that, each year employees are reimbursed up to $5,000 in tuition costs and/or the cost of technology certifications.

In addition, the firm ranked No. 7 of the 100 Best Places for employee retention, perhaps owing to the four weeks of paid time off that employees receive after one year of service, fully paid health insurance, a profit-sharing plan, stock options, overtime pay and individual employee bonuses.

LinkedIn IT support analyst D\'Artagnan Felarca
LinkedIn/Khanh Nguyen

Customer service is key for IT

LinkedIn is expanding globally, which creates opportunities for techies. IT hired 50 new employees and promoted 17% of its IT employees in the past year.

Unparalleled technical chops and a commitment to customer service is absolutely imperative for anyone working in IT at LinkedIn, according to Mike Jennings, senior director of LinkedIn's $31 million enterprise IT organization.

Per Jenning's directive, being a pleasure to do business with is a point of pride for IT at LinkedIn. IT support analysts like D'Artagnan Felarca, shown here, staff tech lounges where users are encouraged to make themselves comfortable in beanbag chairs and listen to music as they get their computing problems solved.

LinkedIn\'s Mike Jennings, Chris Arrington and Alex Lacayo

Having fun, pushing the limits

LinkedIn is now an 11-year-old company with nearly 3,500 employees, yet physically it still has the look and feel of an oh-so-cool Silicon Valley startup.

Workers cruise around the company's college-like campus on colorful beach bikes. There's free, made-to-order food in the cafe, an on-site health club, yoga and kickboxing classes, plus legendary parties hosted by IT, which has been known to transform the workplace into a full-on nightclub.

Then there is the great outdoors to conquer. Here, senior director Mike Jennings, right, goes in for extreme team-building with IT staffers Chris Arrington and Alex Lacayo. 

Noah Consulting employees
Noah Consulting

Noah Consulting: Small footprint, nationwide reach

 The No. 1 small Best Place is Noah Consulting, which specializes in the oil and gas, energy trading, and power and natural resources industries. Noah a virtual company, with consultants all over the country and just a small staff in its Houston headquarters. (Small organizations have fewer than 1,000 U.S. employees.) 

The firm bridges the physical distance with highly sophisticated collaboration tools and annual all-company gatherings like the one shown here.

With just 60 IT employees, Noah prides itself on building a culture where consultants are willing to collaborate and pool their knowledge. Senior business analyst Jim Briggs says that team spirit pays off in the form of "a virtual network of people I trust" in California, Atlanta and Chicago.

tug-of-war at a Noah Consulting gathering
Noah Consulting

All hands on deck

Tug-of-war is a highlight of Noah's annual summer gathering, where consultants and their families are flown in, put up in a hotel and treated to a weekend full of festivities, such as picnic suppers, themed entertainment and other family-friendly activities.

The summer gathering is just one way the small consultancy fosters work/life balance for employees who spend a lot of time on the road.

"Consulting is a particularly challenging environment to work in," says Shannon Tassin, who co-founded Noah in 2008 with two colleagues. "Our intention was to create a company where not only do employees feel valued and make connections, but we got to know their families as well."

principal Bob Bush and senior recruiter Jory Teno from Noah Consulting
Noah Consulting

Accessible bosses, engaged employees

Employees like Prasanna Balakrishnan, who has 13 years of consulting experience and has been a principal at Noah for two years, appreciate the firm's collaborative environment. "I don't see any kind of issue with seniority -- it's an environment where you can be comfortable asking questions. They are very open to sharing knowledge and teaching you," he explains.

"When you are at a large company, you don't have access to top-level management," Balakrishnan says. "Here, the partners are very approachable; you can book a meeting with them anytime." 

At left, principal Bob Bush and senior recruiter Jory Teno bond during a community service event.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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