|BACK ISSUES~ APRIL 1999|
Photo: Brent Jones
"This is One Great Place to
When you finished that final certification exam and returned to the office as a shiny new MCP (or MCSE or MCP+Internet or MCSD or ), did management roll out the red carpet? Send out email? Drop by to shake your hand and admire your transcript? Schedule a meeting to discuss a salary increase or bonus?
Or was it just another day at the office?
How you answer those questions may say a lot about how you feel about your company, how your company feels about certification, and how long you plan to work there.When we posted a reader survey on our Web site several months ago asking readers to nominate exceptional companies for MCPs, we received hundreds of nominations, ranging from tiny consulting firms with a single proud MCSE on board, to huge firms like Bank of America, Intel, Frito-Lay, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard.
On the nomination form, we asked respondents to answer a series of questions about how their companies treat them, especially regarding certification. Our questions ranged from the predictableDoes management pay for exams? For training? For materials? Do they offer extra compensation based on certification?to questions about benefits, working hours, vacation time, public recognition for MCPs, and even the sorts of high-tech toys a company supplies. In answer after answer, nominators told us that their company is truly a great place to work, and why. From that list, we picked the top companiesfirms that generated enough yes answers to make them seem truly exceptional (see the chart by clicking here). From those, we chose a handful of companies to profilehence the six firms highlighted in this article.
Rest assured that were not under any illusions that these companies are the only ones out there doing special things for MCPs. Rather, we wanted to give you an idea of just how rosy the picture can be for a Microsoft Certified Professional at the right company, by showing you how some MCPs are treated.
The IT professionals that we interviewed for this story are aware that their skills are hot and that the market is similarly toasty; in fact, several told us theyre regularly contacted by head-hunters and other firms. But virtually every one also told us they have no plans to move onthey love their jobs, their companies, and the choices theyve made. If thats not your story, maybe its time to take a look at yourself and what you want, update your resume, check out some new certificationsor slide this article under the bosss door after hours.
Its nested deep within the site, but log on to the Web site of First Tennessee National Corp., the parent company of First Tennessee Bank, and youll notice a discreetly placed hyperlink that leads to press releases touting praise from Fortune (100 Best Companies to Work For in America, rank: 14), BusinessWeek (first among non-S&P 500 companies with work-family strategies), and Working Mother (100 Best Companies for Working Mothers). Is it any wonder that FTB has ended up on our list of the best companies to work for as a Microsoft Certified Professional?
Not really, especially if you talk to Bob Robinson, a systems engineer and MCSE in the Finance and Accounting Division of FTBs Memphis branch. He joined FTB long before it decided to adopt Windows NT in that branch two years ago.
I love it here, he says, citing FTBs involvement with the community and its employee programs, which earned the bank accolades among companies much larger in size, such as PeopleSoft and Deloitte & Touche. But Robinson explains that its the companys emphasis on keeping its IS personnel well-trained that makes him regard FTB so highly.
About two years ago, FTBs key system architecture, upon which the companys applications were running, was closing in on obsolescence, especially since the company that created the software had announced no more upgrades. To keep systems working, branch departments were given free reign to migrate to new solutions.
The Finance and Accounting department at the Memphis branch decided to base its systems on Windows NT and first looked within its company for experts who could help with the migration. One of these experts was Bob Robinson, and he had the certification to prove it. Robinsons MCP title thus set an example for future hires.
Not all the branches use certification as a filter, but in the eyes of Joe Sutton, a vice president who oversees Robinsons work, its a good indicator. In the Finance and Accounting department, we demand a bit more experience, Sutton explains. We built a group that can respond quickly to problems. [A person who gets certified] is showing us initiative and a willingness to learn how to do the job better. The certification isnt a major factor in hiring, but [the MCP title] plays a part, says Robinson.
What makes the company so compelling for Robinson is that it has been liberal with his training requests, picking up the tab for off-site training and time off to attend courses, travel expenses, a few self-study products, and exam fees. As well, he has a say in where his career is headedMCPs literally write their own tickets at FTB.
We sit with our supervisors and fill out a personal development plan, Robinson says. The plan maps out the employees goals for the coming year, including training and certification to help justify raises and bonuses.
But [certification] doesnt have a direct affect on bonuses or increases, Sutton says. Its more indirect.
To Robinson, the training and certification benefits are only the icing on the cake that is his job. He seems even more proud of being associated with a company that has active community outreach programs. FTB, for example, sponsors a Lesson Line phone system for teachers to use to post syllabuses, lessons, testing schedules, grades, study tips, and messages to parents. It also offers a nationally recognized Family Matters program that provides day care subsidies, telecommuting, job sharing, child- and elder-care referral services, flexible work hours, and 11 paid holidays throughout the year (After all, it is a bank). And even the IS teams, while on-call 24-7, work bankers hours most of the time.
Take its perks for IS professionals, top it
off with a record of community service and development, and youve got a
career formula at First Tennessee National Corp. thats like money in the
Joining tiny BlueRidge Solutions in 1997 might have been one of the best decisions Susan Mosby ever made. I felt that they were very sincere about giving employees every opportunity to grow, she explains. Apparently, her first impression was correct. Today, just 15 months later, shes a general manager and junior partner in the company, as well as a full-fledged MCP in TCP/IP, Windows 95, NT Server, and NT for the Enterprise. With about 15 employees, Phoenix, Arizona-based BlueRidge Solutions is a consulting services firm that specializes in Internet, intranet, and extranet solutions, custom software development, and networking infrastructures.
Mosby said the companys youth and small size were important factors in the companys appeal, and in fact, the work environment at BlueRidge is flexible and relatively free of bureaucracy. Nothings set in stone, she explains. You can negotiate your own deals. For example, she has access to a notebook computer, works at a large-screen monitor (as does everyone in the company), has her own office, and can work from home when she chooses.
Despite its small size, the company allows employees to trade bonuses and overtime for vacation time, if preferred. And although BlueRidge officially offers two weeks vacation and one week of sick leave a year, owner Michael Pandelakis confessed, We enforce neither.
The company also appears to recognize the value of certification. BlueRidge has a specific per-exam training budget for any employee interested in seeking certification. (That includes the companys receptionist/administrative assistant, who is currently pursuing certification in Access.) The budget varies depending on the difficulty of the exam and the added value that certification in that topic will bring to the company. For example, $500 might be budgeted for an employee to train for and pass a Windows 95 exam; for a Windows NT exam, the budget might be $2,000 or more. An employee can spend the allocated budget amount as he or she chooseson training, books, or CTEC courses, for example. Whatever isnt spent is given to the employee as a bonus upon passing that exam, and theres an additional bonus for passing core exams such as Networking Essentials. Im a hands-on, self-motivated person, so this works just great for me, Mosby says.
BlueRidge currently has three MCPs on staff, with several more people studying for their first exam for either the MCSE or MCSD program. Most people obtain their certification after joining the company.
Working for a small firm often brings a strong sense of camaraderie. When you leave to take an exam, youre likely to get a big good luck cheer going out the door. And once someone achieves a certification, everyone knows immediately. They make a big deal out of it, Mosby explains, mentioning it any chance they get.
The companys support doesnt end when certification is attained. Fees and travel for job-related conferences and seminars are reimbursed, as are magazines, books, and professional association dues. As long say theyre doing something that benefits the company and furthers their careers, Ill support them, Pandelakis explains. If that means sending people to TechEd, a Microsoft PDC [Professional Developers Conference], or any other conference, great.
Mosby believes that BlueRidge compensates its employees based on their overall progressincluding certification. The more knowledge and experience you gain, she explains, the more compensated you are. Ive been very well compensated as I pass to higher levels. Pandelakis insists that this doesnt make his company unique. The market is dynamic and open, he explains. You publish salary information in your magazine! Id rather know what other people are earning than not know and lose people.
When seeking new employees, Pandelakis always looks for certification. We know it doesnt necessarily mean theyre experts, he explains, but it does prove that they can learn and apply themselves. The company also actively seeks certifications through its headhunting and job placement services. Likewise, when talking with potential clients Pandelakis not only stresses the certifications that apply to that engagement but encourages the prospective clients to interview the staff directly.
Mosby is proud of what shes achieved over the
past 15 months, but shes quick to point out that a company like BlueRidge
might not be for everyone. They expect a lot from you, she says. But if
youre driven and self-motivated, it can be extremely rewarding.
Aaron Young, a consulting engineer with Corporate Software & Technology, Inc., joined his company for three reasons: Benefits, the pay, the other perks. Although he was already on his way to certification at his previous job as a supervisor maintaining networks for MFS Network Technologies, a company that provides EZPass for electronic tolls, he found the opportunities for learning and advancement greater at CS&T. Currently, hes picking up as much as he can about SQL Server, Internet Information Server, and Exchange; hes one exam away from his MCSE title.
CS&T, a Microsoft Certified Solution Provider with 300 consultants, serves Fortune 1000 clients from its headquarters in Norwood, Massachusetts and regional offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. The company provides software procurement, deployment, license management, and technology services in Microsoft, IBM, Lotus, and other technologies.
Young is part of a group of two dozen CS&T support people working for Phizer Pharmaceuticals, Inc., an international pharmaceutical company best known for developing the drug Viagra.
According to Mike Bruzik, who as CS&Ts Practice Manager at Pfizer heads up the team that Young joined a year ago, At CS&T certification is not only valued, but is required for participation in the various bonus programs offered to employees. MCSE certification is also a significant factor in base compensation. As a result, over 90 percent of CS&T employees at Pfizer have at least one MCP certification, and theres a direct, long-term correlation between salary and certifications. We also have a management-by-objectives program, in which certification may become an objective for an employee.
For 1999 the company offers two weeks of out-of-house classroom study per staff member either at its regional headquarters in New Jersey (CS&T is a CTEC) or through outside training providers. The company provides additional work hours off for self-study and fully covers the cost of training, study materials, and exams related to certification. Self-study materials purchased for the team are put into a library for everybody to use.
Likewise, newly certified staff members get public recognition via email and company conference calls. Recently the company decided to allow its MCPs to show off their status through logos on new business cards.
CS&T values personal development, and engineers can have a succession of diverse assignments without leaving the company. For example, prior to joining the CS&T team at Pfizer, Young was deployed for six months by CS&T at the United Nations on a Banyan Vines to Windows NT 4.0 migration. Once a technical professional spends the prescribed length of time in a position, [he or she] can transfer to a different managed services account or project team, Bruzik said. But winning a new post requires the employee to develop an internal track record of successful performance.
Concludes Bruzik, CS&T values personal
and professional development. If people arent developing, theyre going
to fall behind the technology curve
[Certification] enhances the
credibility of everybody working for us, and allows CS&T to get more
complex and varied types of assignments for its staff.
The last company David Kueffner worked for offered him a financial incentive to get certified. Hed been there 10 years. And, as he puts it, if hed stuck around for another four months, they would have given him another 5,000 reasons to get certified. In spite of that enticement, hes happy he accepted his current post as a technical analyst for Sprint Paranet.
This fast-growing Houston-based computer network services company, which employs 1,500 analysts, currently operates in 25 branch offices around the U.S.
Kueffner became interested when he heard about the firms approach to training and cross-training. He sat through a rigorous four-stage interview to get hired, but once in, the fun began.
Staffers receive two weeks of instructor-led training each year, as well as access to a well-stocked library of self-study materialsbooks, CDs, and other resources. The advantage of this approach, Kueffner says, is that It gives us the flexibility to organize our scheduling and training. What the employee chooses to study is a personal decision, based on where that person wants to develop his or her skills.
Once someone achieves a certification, that persons name goes into the monthly newsletter; he or she gets recognition among peers at the monthly branch or area meeting; and a news blip goes out in the weekly branch emailer. Youre constantly being brought before your peers to show what kind of effort youre putting forth, Kueffner says.
The strategy springs from the companys goal of keeping employee turnover low. They want to make sure youre engaged in their activities. The compensation is good. The training is good.
The company also provides for cross-training by allowing people to move to new positions. Kueffner, who has a background in networking and Windows NT, intends to focus on Unix this year. His reasoning? It will benefit me when [Windows 2000] is released.
Life at Sprint Paranet is really geared
towards eagles, Kueffner says. They want that 20 percent of people who
shine and are always putting out the effort. Do you feel confident with
this? Then go do it. You dont want to fail, but at the same time [you
want to] look for the good projects that will continually help you
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