Challenges keep the best at their best

Waking up in the morning and looking forward to getting back to the technical challenges of your work is one of the most potent sources of job satisfaction. For technologists, that means intricate projects that amaze and awe.

Being part of that kind of technology, taking it to its limits and gliding on to the next generation attracts the top talent and keeps them happy.

“We want to be the engine that’s powering the action behind the scenes of the glamour of the Web site,” said Roseann Lucas, a technical delivery project manager at Electronic Data Systems Corp. in Des Moines, Iowa. Lucas said her team intends to have a new order-management system available by late summer or early fall to clients who sell merchandise on-line or through catalogues.

“It gives them the capability to interact with the end consumer on-line and in real time, through a consumer response or call centre as well as in the e-commerce realm.”

Vendors like EDS, Intel Corp. and NCR Corp. are in the business of staying on the bleeding edge, creating the technology that industry runs on.

Lucas joined EDS’s 80,000 IT employees via an acquisition in 1991. Since then, she has made her way through a variety of projects in what Dan Ward, director of organizational resource planning, describes as a matrix, or lattice, of job opportunities.

At Plano, Tex.-based EDS, IT professionals can find out what skills they need to join a particular team, get the training and let the company know when they’re ready to move ahead. “When you meet the criteria, you move up,” Lucas said. “You choose when you are ready.”

Technologists are also taking their place at the table for business-management decisions. With a full appreciation for the importance of technology issues comes greater opportunities for IT to participate on the business side.

Moving around

Intel’s IT staff had to be ready when its e-commerce investment went from zero to US$1 billion per month in six months. “It’s a combination of really smart people, disciplined management, a strong team ethic, the ability to apply resources where we need them and a culture that lets people switch gears rapidly,” said Doug Busch, Intel’s vice-president of IT.

At Intel, IT is consulting on new projects like virtual private networking, load balancing and Secure Sockets Layer acceleration products for e-commerce. The close connection to Intel’s business strategy gives IT constant feedback on how the products impact Intel’s ability to deliver in the marketplace.

George Moakley now leads a team of 16 as director of enterprise architecture in a lab spun off three years ago from IT. “We anticipate the kinds of business systems that will be built in the strategic time frame so we can understand how to make Intel products the best possible products for those businesses.”

Moakley will be tripling his team in the coming months, looking first within Intel’s ranks. Then he will cast around for outside talent who can inject new perspectives, whether fresh from graduate school or other parts of the industry.

Internally, technologists are coping with the conductivity issues of a rapid rollout to provide Internet service to 70,000 PCs in employees’ homes. Intel employees spend about two years at any given job. “You are encouraged to broaden your skills and visibility,” said Kevin D. Small, acting human resources manager for IT at Intel.

With open encouragement across business functions and IT, Intel’s technologists move into a wide range of opportunities, from Web hosting to Intel Architecture Laboratories and the IA64 Venture Capital Fund, which makes equity investments in start-ups.

“Intel makes a point of cross-pollinating, moving people between business units and IT,” giving everyone the opportunity to benefit from other kinds of experience, Moakley said.

“We’re really proud of the fact that IT is the development pool for people to develop skills that are incredibly valuable to other parts of the company,” Busch said.

“We consider NCR’s IT department a software engineering business,” said Don Hopkins, NCR’s vice-president of global application development.

Using its own Teradata warehouse, NCR pulls in company information and stores all data from the Web site, so it can analyze what customers are doing.

“That’s a directly-derived business benefit,” said NCR CIO Sam Coursen. “IT people want to know they are having an impact on the company’s success.”

Using global pools of employees with similar skills allows more employees more opportunity to work on hot projects. Taking on a variety of roles on different projects helps IT workers broaden their skills, build their r