The No. 1 small place to work in IT: Axxess

Challenging work, supportive colleagues and a culture that prioritizes collaboration keep IT professionals engaged at this fast-growing startup.

Andrew Sumido was used to hearing on a regular basis from headhunters looking to entice him away from his job as a senior .NET engineer. So he didn’t give it much thought when a recruiter messaged him about a position at Axxess, a Dallas-area provider of cloud software and services for healthcare organizations.

Sumido’s interest quickly spiked when he checked out the firm’s website.

“They presented themselves as a technology company in the healthcare space, which impressed on me that engineering is a top priority for the organization,” Sumido says. “It was somewhere where I felt I could have a lot of impact. It looked like an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”

Sumido, 35, started at Axxess in August 2015, within weeks of getting that first message. He says the company has delivered on his high expectations, providing him with challenging work, supportive colleagues and a culture that encourages innovation.

“There’s freedom in how we can solve problems, there’s freedom in experimenting with new technologies, and I find that really refreshing,” says Sumido, now a senior web engineer and lead of the revenue cycle management team.

Sumido isn’t the only one impressed by the fast-growing firm, which earned the top spot among small organizations in Computerworld’s annual 100 Best Places to Work in IT for 2017, the same rank it captured last year. Axxess also ranked No. 1 for career development and No. 1 for employee retention among all 100 Best Places for 2017. 

Employees praise the company’s commitment to professional development, technological innovation, employee empowerment and work/life balance, and they rally behind its mission to deliver products that improve patient outcomes.

“We foster a culture of collaboration and working together as a team to solve problems,” says Melody Lenox, who, as vice president of operations, oversees human resources. The company reinforces this culture, she says, with its mantra, “The best idea wins.”

Companywide meetings, held Monday and Wednesday mornings and led by various departments — such as engineering, support, or sales and marketing — further that ideal of collaboration, Lenox says. 

“With our rapid growth, the meetings are a great way for new hires to quickly become familiar with all aspects of our business, but it is also an intentional way to eliminate silos and keep everyone abreast of the latest developments,” Lenox says. “Every meeting will get questions and comments from throughout the company, and it’s obvious that everyone feels comfortable in sharing insights and asking questions to better understand our business.”

A tech-first company

Axxess started in 2007 as a consulting firm specializing in the home healthcare industry. It moved into high tech the following year, when it built its Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) software to support the billing needs of home health organizations. Today it has multiple products and provides integrated software for home health agencies. Axxess now employs about 250 people, 75% of whom are technology workers. 

From the start, executives set out to build a culture where information workers would thrive, says chief technology officer Andrew Olowu. He and other managers hire staff based not only on their technical skills but also on their integrity, values and ability to fit into the company’s culture, he says.

“It starts with being deliberate and being attuned to the culture we want to create — collaborative, with a focus on innovation and excellence,” he says. “That culture is not something that was accidental. It’s something we preach, and it’s something we live,” says Olowu, who joined the company in 2008.

The company hits all the right notes in the job market, offering competitive salaries, annual pay increases, 15 days of paid time off in the first year of service, and robust benefits — in fact, the firm was No. 6 among all 100 Best Places for its benefits. Likewise, thanks to perks like tuition reimbursement and unlimited days off for technical training, Axxess was No. 4 among all 100 organizations for training.

Axxess Axxess

Axxess’ state-of-the-art Dallas headquarters has been designed to foster a collaborative culture.

Binu Varghese, 45, a senior software development manager at Axxess, joined the company in August 2016. She had worked for several other companies in the past, including a 15-year stint with a large technology firm. She was drawn to Axxess for its reputation both as a good employer and as an innovator.

“I kept watching some of the healthcare IT news and saw Axxess show up as an emerging technology company that was one of the best places to work,” she says, adding that she felt the company’s commitment to its products and clients meshed with her passion for technology and the healthcare IT space.

Now six months into her job, Varghese says she’s sure she was right to join the company. The firm’s open office layout promotes collaboration, while its smaller size, with its startup mentality and lack of bureaucracy, enables speed. 

Varghese recounts one incident where she and colleagues were discussing a particular project when another engineer joined the conversation with a few key pointers. She says the advice helped head off potential problems that could have surfaced further down the line.

“We promote a feeling that we’re a ‘company of owners,’” Varghese says. “We don’t have barriers. The engineers are very passionate and very open, and they welcome ideas.”

Innovation is key

Senior web engineer John Howard, 40, frequently uses the word “empowerment” to describe the culture at Axxess — both in terms of the work and of employees’ ability to advance their careers at the company. 

Tech workers are encouraged to tackle work in the way they feel is best to get it done. As an example, Howard points to his current project assignment, where developers were initially using the object relational mapper typically used at Axxess, but then proposed — and won support for — switching to a new one that they felt had better benefits.

“That is the way it is at Axxess. The best ideas win,” says Howard, who joined the company three years ago as a junior-level developer. “Our CTO is always acknowledging how great our software is but at the same time challenging us to make it better.”

Innovation days, built into the firm’s yearly schedule, give developers time to work on new technologies that they don’t use – yet, anyway — in their day-to-day jobs. And Axxess now sponsors MVP MIX Dallas, a two-day local software development conference. “This came about because a group of developers expressed interest in the conference. Axxess looked into to it, and took it a whole step forward by becoming a sponsor,” says Howard.

Beyond that, Howard and his co-workers feel free to volunteer to take on new tasks as a way to build skills and stay engaged. “You’re in control of your own destiny here. You have a lot of options to try different things and see where you can fit in best,” he says. As an example, Howard knows a PHP developer who wanted to strengthen his C# Express skills and was able to work with another team to accomplish that goal.

CW Best Places to Work in IT [2017] - Axxess employees celebrate with students after a career expo Axxess

Axxess employees celebrate with middle school students who attended a career expo hosted at the company headquarters.

Sumido, the web engineer, likewise appreciates a culture where technologists can choose their tools, and cites two examples of times when he was given permission to do just that. 

At one point, his team wanted to bring in a technology stack called ELK (Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana), which the team thought would give it the ability to easily query application log information to troubleshoot issues and visualize critical events occurring in the company’s system. (Previously, the team had had to dig through logs on a file system to investigate issues.) 

Another time, Sumido and his colleagues wanted to move to TeamCity and Octopus Deploy deployment tools to replace an older technology and hand-written deployment scripts with an eye to automating the build and deployment process, making it quicker and more efficient.

In both cases, Sumido credits Olowu and technology director Biki Raghubansh for their support, as they gave Sumido’s team the green light to try the new tools out and, when they proved successful, to go full steam ahead.

“If I have an idea that would make our processes better or something we can implement that I think would improve our software or the company, I can bring that up to Andrew [Olowu] and talk freely about that idea,” Sumido says. “He’ll talk frankly about it and support me in what I want to do.”

Everyone welcome

Trischia Khouri, 45, an engineering product manager, says she was drawn to Axxess in part because of its commitment to delivering top-quality products. But she says she came —and stays —for other reasons, too, including the company’s warm and welcoming environment along with its open, bright and varied workspaces. “You feel like you contribute to a larger purpose and bigger vision,” she says. “I feel this is somewhere I want to be and somewhere where I can make a difference.”

She points to some unique perks, such as the catered lunches that feature a range of foods —from barbeque to Italian —brought in for everyone on Mondays. She says she likes the fact that new hires, who start on Mondays, get bumped to the front of the lunch line so they know they’re welcome. It’s those kinds of social gestures, Khouri says, that help make everyone feel appreciated.

Jake Bathman agrees. The 30-year-old joined Axxess two years ago, seeking to better leverage his coding skills after working in county government as a coordinator in the public health space. Bathman, a PHP engineer, admits that the move carried some risk, both personally and professionally; he was leaving government to work for a young company, which created some level of uncertainty for him, his wife and their then 6-month-old baby. 

But Bathman saw a company where he could put his full-stack development skills to good use and help shape healthcare IT “in a very direct and meaningful way.” He saw a chance to contribute, learn from others and pursue his own ideas, yet still be able to balance the needs of his personal life. 

“I have two small kids now, and sometimes things happen. If I have to run out to take care of something, or if I have to work from home, there’s never haggling over whether I have enough PTO for that,” he says. “There’s an acknowledgement that you’ll be at your best self when the company treats you as an adult to make those decisions.”

Moreover, Bathman says, he gets to work and enjoy these benefits while having fun with co-workers, whether they’re all working on a new release or playing Ping-Pong. “Axxess really sold themselves to me,” he says.

Next: Best Places by the numbers: Top 10 rankings and more

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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