What It's Like to Work at Hecklers Entertainment

FRAMINGHAM (07/17/2000) - Interviewee: Darren Nelson, chief technology officerCompany: Hecklers Entertainment Inc., a producer of destination sites for America Online Inc. and the WebMain location: Birmingham, Ala.

Number of information technology employees: Three, including NelsonIT hiring plans: "I'll probably hire an assistant to handle more of the miscellaneous issues. It will be someone who I can train - not a certified Microsoft professional, but basically a geek who's into computers."

Number of employees (end users): About 35. "We've doubled the staff in the last five months."

Average age of staff: 24 to 25

Web traffic: 2 million unique visitors per month for all the sites combinedNew IT initiatives: "I'm focusing about 90% of my time on evaluating and selecting a new content management and delivery system. Our second priority is organizing our internal IT systems - deciding who will be responsible, which ones we'll outsource and which we'll do ourselves."

What are your goals with content management and delivery? "We've gotten by on a limited budget to date, and now we need to upgrade to compete with a lot of the functionality that other sites have already. We want to minimize errors, make consistency a priority and polish the presentation of the content we have already. We also want more personalization features. And wireless is a big effort."

Initial public offering plans: "That's the ultimate goal. We recently had a big round of financing."

Stock options: "We want to give everyone a chance to own part of the company and make sure we are all working in the same direction to meet common goals.

Stock options create a team atmosphere."

How formal are the employee reviews? "We're getting more and more formalized as we go. Until about six months ago, we were all wearing a lot of hats. We didn't have a dedicated [human resources] person, so we just did the best we could.

Now that we have an HR person, those things are falling in place."

Dress code: Casual

Workday: "I arrive about 6:45 a.m. and leave about 6 p.m. My staff arrives between 8:30 and 9 and leaves around 5 or 5:30."

Why do they work fewer hours? "Their schedule is up to them - you get out of it what you put into it."

Computers: "There's not a single standard. The gamers get higher-end systems with the most recent processors and video cards so they can play the latest games. Most people get standard office PCs."

Must people carry beepers? Cell phones? "I don't have to, but I do. We communicate a lot through [AOL's] Instant Messaging. I'm logged onto AOL at least 12 hours a day here, and again at home."

Percentage of staff that telecommutes on a given day: "The majority work here in the office, but we have remote staffers in Joplin, Mo., Chicago, Boston and California."

On-site amenities: Myriad video-game systems and a recreation room with a video game player hooked up to a large LCD screen. "We have a Dreamcast instead of a basketball hoop."

With a name like Hecklers, is work a constant laugh-fest? "No, but we definitely try to make it as fun as possible. Sometimes from my office I can hear [one of the company's voice talents] in the lounge doing cartoon voices.

Or when we post new content, you'll see people gathered around a computer laughing at it."

Little perks: "We get a lot of free beta copies of games being developed. We already have a Sony PlayStation 2, which won't be released in the U.S. until September. Occasionally we have a themed workday, like Hat Day."

Would employees feel comfortable e-mailing the CEO, Hank Suerth? "Sure, there's an open-door policy."

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