What It's Like to Work at Blue Mountain Art

BOSTON (05/15/2000) - Interviewee: Michael Shindle, director of engineering and operationsCompany: Blue Mountain Art, an electronic-greeting card Web site recently acquired by Redwood City, Calif.-based At Home Corp., owner of Excite@home.com.

Main locations: The IT staff is in San Diego.

Number of IT employees: 13

Number of employees (end users): More than 80Dress code: "If you're not meeting with anyone, and no one is coming into the office that day, it's basically ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service.' If we're meeting with people, the code moves up a notch to California Casual."

Workday: "People get into their own rhythm. Some work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and some work 12 to 10 p.m."

Must people carry beepers? Cell phones? "We all have them, and if something goes wrong, you're expected to respond. This is not so much a job as a new lifestyle you take on, in which what you do ebbs and flows with the site. If the site is suffering stress, you suffer stress. If it's stable, you're free to have a life."

Does the company provide connections from home? Yes, via cable modem.

How hectic are things around Mother's Day? "We'll send out over 6 million cards. ... That's a definite peak - we'll notice it. But we sent out over 16 million cards for Valentine's Day; 40 million for the whole month of February.

We were here for 36 hours straight.

Mother's Day won't be like that. We'll be alert and ready, and we'll check the site more often than we would during a normal weekend. But we're scaled to handle bigger peaks."

Number of cards sent on an average off-peak day: 1 millionWhat does scaling up entail? "Our current architecture is a very good design, but we didn't grow it enough last year to handle the load, so we want to make it more efficient."

Any applications in development? "Applications are fairly stable right now. We don't want to modify the user interface, because that has worked for us. But some applications will be revised and updated. We want to add to our international features; we want to add functionality, like a one-click, multiple-send feature and voice attachments to cards. And eventually, we'd like to do something with video attachments."

Training: "Training is self-directed. [The company will] send you where you want to go and help you become what you want to become."

Does being part of a larger company create new career paths? "Yes and no. Yes, you can create them, but not unless you want to change your life. For example, my developers are senior enough that they could manage other developers. But they would have to move to Redwood City [in Silicon Valley]. So the paths are there, but the cost may be higher than anyone is willing to pay."

Are compensation or bonuses different now that you're part of Excite? "One difference is that Blue Mountain was a private company before. So now we have stock options that are actually traded on the open market."

In what other ways has the company changed since being acquired? "It's still too early to tell, but I think it brings more corporate culture. Like before, maybe we'd all take the day off and go to the beach. ... Excite is not as corporate as, say, the IBM blue-uniform mode, but we are even less corporate than they are."

Office mascot: "Nikita, one of our employees' dogs. People can bring their dogs here, but they have to be cute."

On-site amenities: "Our proximity to the ocean."

Number of employees who telecommute: ThreeLast companywide or department perk: Comp time following the Valentine's Day peak. "I'd like to take everyone to Vegas. I'm always threatening to do that."

Quote: "We're small, we're nimble and we can make things happen."

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