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

Josh Baker, an IT support engineer at Dallas-based Axxess, doesn't work directly on the cloud-based software systems his company develops for the home healthcare industry. His focus is internal IT support. Yet Baker, 38, knows the products his company sells inside and out.

"We all know what we sell," Baker says, referring to his 59 co-workers in IT at the rapidly growing software company, which was new to Computerworld's Best Places to Work in IT list last year and managed this year to nab the No. 1 spot among small employers this year. "We're all kind of salespeople for our software," Baker says. "We all make the effort to know the software."

Sonya Sobush, 51, a senior product manager who started out in product support, recalls how she asked to test-drive the Axxess software during her initial job interview four years ago.

"I didn't want to go into a company where I hadn't seen the product," says Sobush, then a 17-year veteran of the home healthcare industry, specializing in operations. "They provided me with a demo, and I loved the usability of it. It felt right." Since then, Sobush, who works remotely, helped launch the company's software implementation team and developed the training manual for AgencyCore, the company's flagship product, before moving into product management and now product development of a new home care software application.

"I expressed interest and took it upon myself to work in different areas and see where I might find what I like to do," says Sobush. "As the company grows, the opportunities in IT are expanding. There's really the opportunity to go wherever you want to go."

Employees say career opportunities abound at Axxess, which doubled its overall head count between 2015 and 2016 to about 150 and expanded its IT staff by about 25% during the same time period.

The company's cultural hallmarks of innovation, openness and transparency are reflected in everything from the glass walls, the open floor plan and the light-filled atmosphere of its new seventh-floor offices to the twice-weekly all-company meetings, where anyone and everyone is expected to contribute their observations, experiences and suggestions. It's all part of what's known internally as the "Axxess Way," which CTO Andrew Olowu says boils down to "the best ideas win."

"Ideas ride to the top because we know ideas change the world and can come from anywhere," says Olowu. "We place a high value on innovation.

"My job -- in addition to delivering products and managing performance -- is to propagate that culture into teams," he says. "I tell people to be an idea person, but not to get too attached to any one idea because a better one may surface."

It's the opportunity to collaborate and contribute across a variety of projects that makes Tyler Howes glad he relocated to Texas with his fiancee to join the company a little less than a year ago.

Axxess recruited the 23-year-old mobile engineer when he was a newly minted computer science graduate from Neumont University in Salt Lake City last June.

"The culture here is so diverse, and I get to work with almost everybody," says Howes, who is currently working on a mobile application and a new notes feature for AgencyCore.

"If you have any questions, you just talk directly to [other] engineers. You don't need to go through hoops to get answers. People are friendly and always in a great mood," says Howes, who also appreciates the company's open-door policy. "If you have a better solution to the current way of doing things, you can feel comfortable about bringing it up and explaining it to upper management."

Jeff Linton, a 26-year-old Web engineer also recruited from Neumont, is one of six developers on a highly collaborative team where ideas flow freely. He says he got a favorable impression of the company during his first six months on the job, because even though he was new he had the opportunity to work closely with Olowu.

"He was helping us release a new product," Linton recalls. "He would listen to me and let me make decisions. For tech people to be given that [trust and responsibility] is pretty remarkable. That's huge."

One thing that sets Axxess apart is the fact that it has an unusually diverse IT organization -- more than 30 nations are represented on the team. Yet despite that range of backgrounds, virtually every employee interviewed for this article mentioned feeling like they're among family at work.

"We celebrate so many different cultural holidays and festivals," says Shradha Aiyer, 27, a lead mobile engineer, who says she particularly enjoys Diversity Day, which -- naturally -- celebrates the diversity of the staff with food, music and festivities.

"We get to travel the world for two or three hours without leaving work," Aiyer says. Most recently, the IT group celebrated Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year. "We all went out and had Vietnamese food and decorated our colleagues' desks with lucky yellow flowers," she says.

The company's year-end employee appreciation day to "going back to your grandparents house; they make you feel comfortable and relaxed," Aiyer says. "There are treasure hunts and games and mind puzzles designed for each team. Last year, we did indoor skydiving."

Flexible working hours and 15 days of paid time off (in addition to state and national holidays like Thanksgiving and Labor Day) in the first year of employment, and days off for birthdays are also much appreciated perks, IT staffers say.

"I was able to take off a bunch of time to get ready for my wedding," which is coming up soon, says Howes.

"Oh, and every Monday we get food catered for free," Howes quickly adds. "Free lunch is a good thing. I'm a guy who likes free food."

Aiyer says she most appreciates the feeling of being valued by the company. "Working here, there is a lot of freedom. You're not just another cog in the system. You're valued for your talents, and the company invests time, money and energy training you in areas where you may be lacking," says Aiyer, who joined Axxess three years ago after earning a graduate degree in computer science from the University of Texas in Dallas.

Aiyer says she has been able to attend various user experience camps as well as several mobile technology conferences "because I was interested and I asked. Whatever [conferences or training] we need from an engineering perspective, we go. We don't get pushback from management as long as we're adding value by attending," she says.

Official Axxess policy is to reimburse employees for tuition costs up to $2,500 per person per year. But there's no set maximum reimbursement for continuing or executive education or for earning technology certifications.

Beni Celoach, 41, a senior product manager who has been at Axxess for three years, just returned from a scrum master certification training course.

"It wasn't cheap, and Axxess is paying for all of it," she says. "They're willing to invest in people, and who doesn't want free education"

IT employees are also satisfied with their pay, describing their overall compensation as "very competitive." Many have received performance bonuses during their time with the company.

Overall, Axxess has budgeted for an average 10% salary increase for IT employees for its current fiscal year. It also has budgeted an undisclosed amount for performance bonuses, which Olowu says can often be more lucrative than a regular annual salary increase.

"We don't have [automatic] annual salary increases because we don't want our engineers to get conditioned to getting raises every year after a performance review," he explains. Instead, salary bumps are always tied to performance, and they can happen at any time throughout the year.

"We measure the impact on the business. We reward hard work and going the extra mile. That's rewarded instantly. When our engineers perform well, we instantly provide a salary increase or spot bonus, so you could be part of Axxess for three months and your salary goes up," Olowu explains. "Even though your base salary is at a certain point, it can rise dramatically if you deliver an important project or have been a leader."

Next: Welcome newbies! A look at the 21 organizations new to the Best Places ranks


Julia King

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