Speed and flexibility are key for workers at Cambridge Incubator

Interviewee: Bill Ditmars, director of network operations Company: Cambridge Incubator (CI), but a name change was pending as of last Thursday.

Main location: Cambridge, Mass.

Number of IT employees: Six in network operations and 10 in applications development Number of employees (end users): 50; IT also supports about 50 people employed by the member companies.

How difficult is IT recruiting? Is the word incubator a turnoff? "There have been some challenges with the word. Incubators have not been getting favorable coverage as of late. But we've made several shifts in our business model and have evolved into what we consider a different animal - we call ourselves a technology-based venture creation company. We're more focused on building companies that are 100 percent CI-owned; it's more of a holding-company model."

How does IT contribute to the business? "Now that we're more focused on creating ideas ourselves and then building a team around those ideas, IT is part of a multidisciplinary team that evaluates new initiatives and assesses how the initiative would develop."

What's unique about working in IT at an incubator? "The fact that you're working with a variety of new and emerging companies, which is always exciting. The IT challenge is to maintain a staff that can rapidly respond to the unique IT requirements of each member company. ... Our network, from a voice and data standpoint, is designed to accommodate rapid growth spurts. We can set up a new member company with very little effort."

Mission-critical systems: "Among the most important are e-mail, calendaring, contact management and document sharing. These enable our member companies to stay in touch with the VCs, business prospects, staff and CI."

Major initiatives: A migration from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000, including an Exchange 2000 upgrade.

Career paths: "One of the opportunities is for someone to move into a member company as the member companies grow. By that time, the CI employee has a solid understanding of what that member company's business is all about and how they can contribute."

Compensation and bonuses: Salary, stock and benefits; no bonus program.

Employee reviews: Quarterly. "We're responsible for supporting our member companies, but our period of engagement is limited. So there's a need for frequent feedback."

Workday: "A typical day is eight to 10 hours, ... about 8:30 to 5:30. ... On the other hand, as member companies reach major milestones, those days can stretch to 12 to 16 hours, with people camping out at ... our co-location center."

Dress code: Business casual to casual.

Kind of offices: "All open space. We have bays with sliding doors that enable you to open one bay to another and expand them as needed."

Decor: "We've been described as ‘techno-chic.' We have a lot of transparent walls, as well as ice blues and seafoam green. The bays are open and well-lit, and we have great views of [Boston]. Our CEO has an ergonomically correct Star Trek office chair with a keyboard that's split in half and attached to the arms of the chair."

Must people carry beepers? Cell phones? "We use cell phones that have instant messaging and Web access."

Amenities: A wellness program with occasional on-site yoga classes, tai chi classes and nutritional seminars.

Would employees feel comfortable e-mailing the CEO? "Absolutely."

-Leslie Goff

(lgoff@ix.netcom.com)

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