At AIS (Applied Information Sciences), I am a Project/Engagement Manager, Architect, and self-proclaimed Client Platforms Evangelist (Windows Forms, WPF, Silverlight etc.). The last bit evolved because my background is in UX/human factors, and I'm always the guy talking to clients about how they should be looking at rich client apps, not html apps, for many of their critical internal applications, and have since expanded that into evangelism of WPF and Silverlight.
As part of my job I get to both manage multiple projects at the project/engagement manager level, as well as get my hands dirty doing work in projects where I have an interest and skill to apply. I also get to work with a lot of talented people who go really deep in specific technologies like BizTalk, MOSS, or K2 or .NET 3.5 stuff like WCF and WF. There are a bunch of people here who do a similar job as me, straddling the line between technologist and project manager, and that keeps us all happy as we stay up on new technology while continuing to take on additional responsibilities and ownership of projects.
When I introduce myself and give a brief on my experience during pre-sales talks or during seminars, I usually get some level of astonishment when I mention that I've been at AIS for 12 years. I'm often asked what I like about working for AIS so I thought I'd toss it out on a Friday night blog posting, after an hour of playing Play-Doh with my two year old, you can imagine I had plenty of time to think <g>.
I joined AIS in 1996, after leaving my job in Massachusetts and moving to Maryland. I went from almost 4 years as internal IT for a medical billing company while also pursuing my degree to being a full-time consultant. It's rare in this industry to have people stay at the same company for this long, but I'm not out of the norm there. We have active technical people who have been there longer than me, and most folks have been here 5+ years.
At the risk of doing something that looks suspiciously like a recruiting post, here are just a few thoughts to give you my personal perspective on why I have stayed with AIS for so long:
- Every 6 months (give or take) is a brand new project, sometimes a new client (I have lots of repeat customers I work with, and lots of new ones), usually a new business problem or area, and often a new technology. It's like switching jobs more than once a year, but keeping all your benefits and coworkers. Having been in consulting this long, I could never go back to being in internal IT anywhere again.
- We get into cool technology early and often.
- AIS was a member of the MOSS 2007 TAP, and we built some pretty cool stuff on MOSS prior to its release
- AIS was a .NET 1.0 early adopter. We built some of the earliest .NET 1.0 web sites and applications. We also did a fair amount of .NET evangelism. In fact, I used to go around giving the Microsoft 2-day .NET 1.0 seminars while it was still in alpha and beta states. It was quite a curve to pick up all that tech enough to do the 2 days worth of demos (around 16 demos, as I recall), but it was cool to be ahead of the curve.
- AIS is a member of other new technology programs at Microsoft as well, which must remain secret for the time-being :)
- AIS actively promotes community involvement. Some companies really don't understand the importance of being in the community, and even go so far as to discourage any time spent doing work for something like that. Those that want to are encouraged to speak at local and national events, at user groups, and to our customers. We get a lot of support for speaking, and AIS will often sponsor an event when one of our folks are speaking there. We also get tapped by Microsoft to speak at their events (Dev Dinners, Tech Ed, ReMIX, Silverlight Firestarters, VS Live etc.) which AIS is happy to support.
- We send a good number of people to events as attendees. I've been to all the major Microsoft events at one point or another, and several third-party events, and have settled on MIX as my favorite. I have been to MIX every year since its inception in 2006. We also send folks to regional training in new technologies all the time.
- We're really tight with Microsoft
- AIS is a Managed Gold Partner and member of several Microsoft PACs. We sit in the councils in Redmond and have the ability to react early to upcoming products, as well as influence the direction of technologies.
- AIS has the Microsoft Regional Director on-staff. Microsoft recognizes thought leaders in key regions by accepting them into the Regional Director program. This is a pretty exclusive club, and I'm proud to both personally know and work with Vishwas.
- AIS has three Microsoft MVPs on staff. It's unusual to have one, but rare indeed to have three, especially in a company of under 170 employees.
- All our employees have access to pretty much the full gamut of released Microsoft development software.
- We target Projects, not Staff Augmentation work. I've never been a "body" or a collection of skills at AIS. I've always been the member of a project, or the leader of a project.
- We generally don't take on maintenance work or work using old technology. While everything isn't cutting edge, it is usually pretty close
- We're not all about maximizing billable hours (some companies base your pay on 50+ billable hours a week), but we are about project success. I get to do presales calls, R&D and other non-billable work and it doesn't count against me.
- We don't ship people all over the planet to fill slots. It has been a very long time since I had a crappy commute that I had to go to every day (the one-offs don't kill you, but if, say, I had to drive to Reston every day, I'd be pretty bent <g>. Luckily, I don't have to, and neither do most folks - unless they want to)
- We have a lot of smart people. We're pretty top-heavy in terms of experience and skillset.
- Our leaders are given significant ownership of their projects. Similarly, our architects and leaders on individual projects are given significant ownership of the technology used on that project, within what the client will do, of course :)
- Everybody gets a decent developer laptop which is upgraded on a fairly regular basis. And yes, we're all local admins on our laptops and trusted not to hose them up too badly :)
- Living near DC is nice, especially when you are raising a family. There is no end of free museums, zoos and other quasi-educational entertainment in the area. While I haven't worked in our Austin and Houston offices, I understand it's pretty nice down there too. Being born a Yankee, it's hard for me to consider living that far south though. heh
- Of course, great pay, flexible schedules, all the usual benefits, and tons of holidays and vacation time are nice plusses too :)
Looking back over it, it does look like a recruiting post, but those are my personal reasons for staying with AIS for so long. While no company is perfect, I've compared us to companies both local and national and have always ended up with a whole stack of things that point to AIS being the company to work for. As I am active in interviewing prospective employees, I also get to hear lots of stories about other companies as well. We've compared well :)