Monday, June 14, 2010

A lot to like about working at IBM

I think in most workplaces, people tend to focus on the negatives of their work environment especially when things are hard economically. I found myself being asked a lot recently about what it is like working for IBM or why I like working for IBM. I think we need to focus on some of the good things and, for this reason, I felt the need to list some of the benefits to working as a software engineer where I work, at IBM. Caution: The views below are my own and do not represent my employers

1. Water cooler time. This varies depending on your position in IBM, but for the organizations I have been a part of this is a benefit which is extremely valuable and would be tough to adjust to something different. At IBM, the expectation is that you will get your work done - whether it takes 40 or 60 hours. Checking your personal email, facebook, youtube, instant messaging, blogging, etc is allowable during this time as long as you get your work done. While people will complain that other employers are a more strictly 40 hours, I hear that most of those employers are also more strict about people being heads down working during those 40 hours and those 40 hours are typically on a more rigid schedule.

2. Flexible schedule. If you need to get home early, go to the doctor's, run an errand, or whatever - just as long as you get your work done its no big deal. IBM used to call this part of their work life balance (work life integration now) initiative. Here is a snippet on that initiative:

Today, the interactions of a global workforce—with 24/7 activity spanning the world’s time zones and accommodating a range of local holidays—require a far more flexible environment. Flexibility matters just as much to individuals. Our 2007 Global Work/Life Survey confirms that as IBMers’ flexibility increases, their difficulty in balancing work and personal life decreases. And we’ve also learned that flexibility is a key reason people choose to remain at IBM. So we are innovating again. IBMers now have a range of flexible work options, called Flexibility@Work, enabling them to create the lives they want by devising individual work schedules and integrating their professional and personal responsibilities. Our Global Work/Life Fund provides IBMers’ families with resources such as day care, elder care and summer camps. We’re doing more to enable IBMers to find new assignments with fresh challenges.

3. Opportunities. IBM is not only a company with 400,000 employees worldwide, it is also a company with enough projects for 400,000 employees. If you are a motivated individual looking for challenges and new learning opportunities, there are few companies with the number of different opportunities that we have as IBMers. While mobility within the company can be a little more restricted during times of economic trouble, IBM still offers more opportunities than most companies.

4. Cultural diversity. The product I used to work on, called WebSphere Application Server, had over 10 development groups in 6 countries at one point. The opportunity to work with people across the world is a mind opening experience that you get at few other places. Sure, many companies are "international" but often being "international" means they have 5 sales people in Europe rather than having a development team spanning the globe. At one point, I had the holiday schedule of three countries on my calendar which alone is a learning opportunity.

5. Compensation. IBM has a great set of benefits and is very competitive when it comes to base salary. The 401k starts employees today at dollar for dollar matching for the first 6% of their money. Every year we have a bonus opportunity as engineers called Growth Driven Profit-sharing or GDP for short. IBM rewards engineers for the patent applications they file and the issued patents they receive. Also, IBM gives out a fair number of cash and stock based awards, more when the economy is strong obviously. Overall, IBM is a great compensator and tough to comparable compensation for the same job in the same city.

6. Time off. IBM starts its employees with 3 weeks paid time off plus 12 holidays, 4 of which become "personal choice holidays" in the group I work at in Raleigh. That essentially if 4 weeks off as a starting employee. At ten years, which i hit this year, you get another week off. When a lot of employers start at 2 weeks plus some holidays this ends up being an additional two weeks off. Official external text on time off is here.

7. Life support. As a large company, IBM has many programs that we take for granted. We get discounts on cars, TVs, mobile phones, computers, vacations, and more. IBM helps families with adoption and education expenses. They give employees life insurance, short term disability, and inexpensive long term care options. Leave for education, paternity, maternity, and other life events are also baked into their employee well being plans. Oh yea, and reasonable medical, dental, and vision - especially when I compare it to what my friends pay for similar plans in the area.

There are more benefits than those listed but off the top of my head, this is what I could think of. We need to spend some more time thinking about all these great benefits rather than focusing on the stuff that bothers us. Thoughts?


Amy said...


I am currently an Army wife and about to finish a MA in Organizational Change. My husband and I are planning to move to Raleigh in May and I have been doing a lot of background research on different companies. I really enjoyed reading your post about how you feel as an IBMer. Having been there for 10years it was refreshing to read you are still enjoying your job! It says a lot about the company. I hope that someday I can become part of the IBM team. Thanks again for your thoughts :)

Arif said...

Hi Erik,

I joined IBM few months back & find your blog very informative & accurate.



Arif said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anne Marie said...

As a fellow IBMer (14 years this summer), I generally agree with your comments. I do not, however, care for the performance ratings system. Management is forced to give the best rating to the fewest number of people, despite the fact that there may be more employees deserving of a higher rating. It's a numbers game and not fair. That being said, I am overall pleased with my compensation and benefits. The best part of my job (aside from the work), is the ability to work flexible hours from home.

Erik Burckart said...

Thanks Anne Marie, I understand and agree. Stack ranking systems are not ideal. That is why when I left IBM 18 months ago and had the opportunity to create my own culture, I avoided stack ranking systems. The company has changed in the 3.5 years since I wrote this even.

an article on the bad use of stack rankings