March 10, 1999
by Bronwyn Fryer
(IDG) -- Where do IT professionals who slog it out in the steel-and-concrete jungle take their vacations? They go to islands, resorts and national parks: places that are the polar -- or tropical -- opposite of cubicles and computer rooms.
Yet there are plenty of information technology professionals who get to spend their lunch hours snorkeling, relaxing on the deck of a cruise ship or taking a few ski runs. Given the current demand for IT skills, it isn't difficult for technologists who love the outdoors to find jobs far from the madding crowd.
Still, IT folks should have no illusions about enjoying endless hours working on their tans. Paradise-dwellers must wrestle with network crashes just like their urban brethren. As University of Hawaii IT director David Lassner says, "I have yet to wear a tie to work -- but I put in a lot of 12-hour days."
That can make paradise fade a little bit. But "all it takes is a business trip with a few plane delays and traffic jams to get my perspective straight," says Charlie L'Esperance, vice president and CIO at Vail Resorts in Colorado.
It takes a special kind of person to adapt to the more casual lifestyle and work atmosphere that come with such jobs. "If you're a hard driver from MIT with a big ego, we have no place for you," says John Harshaw, shipboard director of IT at Carnival Cruise Lines in Miami. "We want people who are relaxed, who have a sense of humor and who work well with others."
We asked the five IT professionals profiled below to tell us how they found their current jobs and what it's like to live and work in paradise. Here's what they had to say.
Job Responsibilities: Oversees all IT services for 55,000 student, faculty and administrative users on 10 university campuses and five education centers across six Hawaiian islands.
How he got the job: Came to the university as a graduate student from Illinois in 1977 and has worked there since.
Upside: "During my first year here, I remember doing a demo at a beach house in Lanikai, one of the loveliest beaches on the island. I remember being unable to believe that this was my job. I still love living here," he says.
Downsides: Hard work and "rock fever. Like anyone else who has my kind of job, I work much too hard. So I'm not as able to appreciate paradise as some may think," he says. He adds that many people can't get used to the fact that anywhere else is thousands of miles away. "You're stuck on an island. Some people find it hard to adjust to that," he says.
Advice for job-seekers: "If you want to be taken seriously, come here and apply in person. Also be prepared to work in a very multicultural environment. Life is a little slower-paced. It takes an adjustment," he says.
Job responsibilities: As a ship's officer, Harshaw oversees information systems and services. Carnival Cruise ships each support 60 to 70 PC users and 100 or more computerized point-of-sale terminals.
How he got the job: Came to Carnival in 1994, taking "a huge pay cut" from his former position as a stressed-out IT manager in exchange for the chance to work on the ships, he says.
Upsides: "I live and work in an environment that people pay thousands of dollars a week to enjoy. In January of 1996, I went scuba diving 17 times. My expenses are paid. I get to wear a uniform," Harshaw says. He also enjoys mingling with people from many nationalities and working in a "completely nonracist" environment, he says.
Downsides: "You live by the beeper. And for 10 months straight, you eat, drink and work with the same people all day, every day," he says. Salaries are 20% to 30% lower than the standard, but because living expenses are covered, "it evens out," he adds.
Advice for job-seekers: In addition to a technical degree or equivalent work experience, Harshaw looks for people who like people. "The first thing I ask someone is why they want to work here," he says. "If you say, 'I've always wanted to work on a ship,' that's a good start." Military experience is a plus.
Job responsibilities: Oversees the development and support efforts for 65 information systems and manages 10 telecommunications professionals at the site of the the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships.
How he got the job: An executive search firm lured him to Vail in 1994. "I was an easy hire," he says.
Upsides: "Being able to take a few runs early on a fresh-powder day; playing golf at 8,000 feet at dusk; fly-fishing after work" and so on -- all within 15 minutes of his home and office, L'Esperance says. Best of all are the friendships he's made with co-workers. "Most of us are here for the lifestyle. We work very hard, but we have fun," he says.
Downsides: The cost of living. "My employer had made great progress in the past few years adjusting pay scales, but we'll never be able to pay people enough to compensate," he says. Peak ski season is also tough. "Almost everyone works nights and weekends. When most people are enjoying Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, we are working our hardest," he says.
Advice for job-seekers: "Have technology experience with service companies: hotels, resorts, airlines, travel agencies, car rentals or restaurants. Be the best at what you do," L'Esperance says. "There are lots of technology professionals who would like to work for Vail Resorts, and we are pretty selective about who we hire."
Job responsibilities: Oversees all IT activities for a developmental organization that provides technical assistance to the Pacific Island states and territories. Blake manages six IT staffers in New Caledonia, a South Pacific island favored by French tourists, and Fiji.
How he got the job: "I was working as a marine biologist with the ForumFisheries Agency in the Solomon Islands. There are very strong links between all the regional organizations in the Pacific -- and only so many bars to drink at -- so it was pretty easy for the Secretariat to check up on me," he says.
Upsides: "There is a beautiful, white-sand beach 25 meters from my office, which I can go to any day. I have been to Fiji -- a mecca for scuba diving -- many times," Blake says. He also loves New Caledonia's French-tinged culture, with its croissants and cafÈ au lait.
"There is much job satisfaction," he says. "I've been able to bring the very first E-mail messages to several Pacific Island countries. There are not many places left in the world where it's possible to do that."
Downsides: A high cost of living and little time to enjoy paradise. "It was only on my 10th trip to Fiji that I finally managed to fit in a scuba dive," he says. Other drawbacks include the inaccessibility of spare parts. "If a critical item of equipment breaks, it will take a minimum of three weeks and huge amount of paperwork to fix it," Blake says.
Advice for job-seekers: Come prepared for life in a hot, remote corner of the world. "Develop as wide a range of skills as possible. In addition to computer skills, know how to do plumbing and electrical work," he warns. He also advises to "grab chances like this when they turn up -- they won't come twice."
Job responsibilities: To modernize Yellowstone's computer infrastructure, review business processes and software and work with "an excellent team of computer and telecommunications folks," he says.
How he got the job: "I ran across this job on the Internet" at Cool Works (www.coolworks.com)
Upsides: "I'm in Shangri-la. Looking out my office window, I see blue sky, historical stone buildings, a herd of elk and an occasional coyote. During lunch, I like to go cross-country skiing," Kirby says. He also enjoys raising his two teen-age sons in a close, friendly community. "When I go back to the city, I have to retrain myself to lock my car," he says.
Downsides: "It takes 90 minutes to get to a city of any size. We have all the necessities here, but you just can't go down the street and pick up a new computer. And the telephone company out here has limited services. [Integrated Services Digital Network] is out of the question," he says.
Advice for job-seekers: To get broad experience in the computer field. "Out here, you have to be self-sufficient and able to make judgments on limited technology," he says.
Fryer is a freelance writer in the paradise of Santa Cruz, Calif.
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