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Work and Play

Is it really possible to have both? At these companies, it is

By Amy Covington

Did you ever think you could go rock climbing at work? Or find a job in Honolulu, or practice feng-shui in your cubicle?

Many companies brag about their corporate cultures, but it’s difficult to tell which companies really do offer a good work environment and which ones only pay it lip service. Factor in a myriad of elements that make up a cool working environment and the search gets trickier.

Knowing what you would like in a job and what you can’t live without is the first step. Do you have to be in a big city with a view of the skyline? Does the office have to have a zero tie policy? Is being able to skateboard to work mandatory?

Here’s a tip: Make a list of what you want from your work environment. No matter how outlandish it may seem, chances are there’s a company out there that offers at least some of the items on your list. Meanwhile, here are a few companies that offer innovative and fun environments to help spawn ideas to get you started:

Fishy Business

Speaking of spawn, if a job in Boulder, Colo., appeals to you, check out Freshwater Software. You could be working at your desk with a view of the mountains from your window—that is, if you can see around the fish tank sitting on your desk. Not only does Freshwater Software tout a giant fish as its mascot in their lobby, but freshwater fish tanks adorn each employee’s desk.

The freshwater theme is palpable throughout the building. Ocean artwork, fish-shaped pillows and wave-shaped desks keep employee morale soaring (or should I say swimming?). In addition, Deloitte & Touche named Freshwater Software one of the 2000 Technology Colorado Fast 50 companies (the complete list is available at

Details: Log onto and click on Jobs. Freshwater is currently hiring software engineers (a love for fish is optional).

Fantasy Island

If you prefer waves to slopes, Square, USA, Inc., located in Honolulu might interest you, where lunches on a sandy beach are commonplace. Square is a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Square Co., Ltd., a leading third-party developer and publisher of interactive entertainment software in Japan, best known for the mega-popular role-playing game Final Fantasy. The Honolulu Studio of Square recently broke new ground with the production of the first computer-generated, animated feature film utilizing photo-real human characters, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Square worked with Columbia Pictures on the project, bringing in the voices of Alec Baldwin, James Woods and Donald Sutherland.

Columbia says that Honolulu was chosen as a digital backlot so that the most talented computer artists in the world could work together in a relaxing, fun environment (and its proximity to the beach helped, too). The artists worked on Silicon Graphic Ink (SGI) machines and computer graphics software to pioneer the digital content creation. On a typical workday during production, one could see designers working out the fine details such as skin textures and hair for the human characters or building vehicles, battlefields or futuristic weapons in cyberspace.

Details: Jobs at Square include system engineer and compositor. Contact Square, USA human resources at 55 Merchant Street, Suite 3100, Honolulu, HI 96813 or by email:


Sure, a cool place to work is nice, but most people like the perks that make life away from work fun, too. Maybe you would enjoy getting your birthday off each year or the use of a company truck or car, a free education or generous vacation time. Xperts, an IT consulting and staffing company in Richmond, Va., offers a slew of free benefits to its employees. The company keeps a Lincoln Navigator and driver on hand for workers who need a ride when their own car is in the shop. Employees can also reserve a company-owned truck. Other ESO’s (Employee Support Objects, as they call them) the company provides for free include: camcorders, a CD burning station (with free CDs), laptops, projectors, a video editing station and books. Xperts also offers cash bonus incentives, education reimbursement and adoption aid, as well as allowing employees the freedom to design their own office décor and determine which charities the company donates to.

Details: Log onto Xperts job openings page at, where available positions range from java developer to systems analyst.

Breaking Bread

Islandia, New York’s Computer Associates (named Best Companies to Work in IT in 2000 for Training by Computerworld), will literally feed you for free. Beat that.

But in addition to offering free breakfast and dinner (for employees who work late—hint, hint), they also want you to be in the best of health, which is why they’ve added a 45,000 square-foot “state of the art” training center at its world headquarters, offering such benefits as volleyball, tennis and softball. Plus, CA’s benefits package includes a 401(k) profit sharing/retirement plan with company-funded discretionary contributions. And the company matches 200% of employee charitable contributions, putting you at peace with your mind and body.

Details: Career options at Computer Associates include programmers and software engineers in numerous locations, including New York, Florida and California. Log on to for more info.

Just One of the Guys

Gail Dundas, an Intel spokesperson, says that her company is a great place to work because of the six principle values it practices. “The values are very visible to everyone. You see them on posters and on badges, they are an integral part of our annual reviews.”

One of those principles includes egalitarianism—a belief that everyone is equal; no one person is above another. “The CEO sits in a cube, flies coach...There is no executive parking,” says Dundas. And that, in turn, fosters a sense of independence and personal growth away from strict management.

“At Intel, you can manage your own career. There isn’t someone looking over your shoulder,” says Steven Foresberg, a recent college grad and now a marketing analyst. Steven also finds working for a large company has its own advantages. “There are many facets to the company, so many different areas, I learn something new everyday.” Intel awards team members with spontaneous recognition and operational excellence awards. The company is ranked among Fortune’s top 100 companies in America. And if you’re looking for a gay-friendly company, they ranked 16th on the Gay Financial Network’s annual list of the 50 most powerful Fortune 500-ranked, gay-friendly, publicly traded companies.

Details: Intel hires just about every discipline in engineering and computer science, but competition is tough, and their hiring is down this year (See “Hey Buddy, Can You Spare a Job Offer?” page 30). However, those interested should go to Intel’s employment Web page at


If it’s danger you seek, you don’t have to go any further than your corner convenience store to find it (where, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 30,000 convenience store clerks get shot every year). If the possibility of dodging bullets for selling beer and potato chips isn’t what you dreamed of, maybe becoming a mercenary will spark your interest.

But how does one become a mercenary? Military Professional Resources Inc., headquartered in Alexandria, Va., is a place to start. MPRI’s gambit of operations include assisting Ministries of Defense in establishing policies and procedures, aiding in leadership transitions, military training and staffing, and many humanitarian efforts.

Details: Job vacancies with MPRI are listed at their Web site, Examples include: force protection and anti-terrorism analyst, security and biometrics and background investigator. Job locations range from Washington, D.C., to Kuwait.

Spy vs. Spy

Want to assume false identities and lead a double life? Then the U.S. intelligence agency may be the employer for you. But do you have what it takes? Do you possess an adventurous spirit, a forceful personality, superior intellectual ability, toughness of mind and a high degree of personal integrity, courage and love of country? Are you able to deal with fast-moving, ambiguous and unstructured situations that will test your resourcefulness to the utmost? Then the CIA wants you.

To join the clandestine branch (where the cloak and dagger stuff goes down), you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and foreign language skills, particularly Central Eurasian, East Asian and Middle Eastern. You’ll have to endure medical, psychiatric and polygraph tests. If you pass, you will most likely be shipped to Camp Peary, located outside Williamsburg, Virginia.

Details: Contact the CIA Employment Office, Career Trainee Division, P.O. Box A2002, Arlington, VA 22209-8727, (703) 613-8888, FAX: (703) 613-7871. Online:

Amy Covington is a writer and editor living in San Diego.


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