A client-server environment based on Sun SPARCs, running on Solaris and UNIX, with HPs, DEC Alphas, and Compaq servers, and Dell clients, makes up the hardware suite for EarthLink, with 2,600 PCs as workstations and servers in Pasadena and Sacramento. Development is in C++ and C under NT, along with Visual Basic, SQL, and Oracle. Application software includes Vantive's call center software. The communications environment includes Cisco routers, Lucent telephony, OC48, multiple OC12 connections, and T1 and T3 lines from several vendors.

Senior technical positions are found in the System Software Department for Pasadena and Atlanta, in the Product Management Department/Portal Group, the Information Technology and Engineering group, and the Broadband group. There are also support positions in EarthLink's other major offices, including Dallas, Harrisburg, Phoenix, San Jose, and Seattle, and call center positions, which require an understanding of PCs and the Internet. EarthLink's Research and Development group is testing wireless technologies.

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EarthLink's office buildings house a secure Network Operations Center, which, as Schnee describes it, "looks like the control room of a starship." Ergonomics have been incorporated at the call centers, with 17 to 19-inch monitors, ergonomic keyboard and mouse, anti-glare screens, keyboard drawer, and telephone headsets.

The company pays for medical coverage for employees who select an HMO plan, and partial coverage for the several other medical insurance options available, including alternative medical benefits coverage, such as for acupuncture, as well as disability, dental, vision, and life insurance programs. They offer tuition reimbursement for job-related courses. The company observes seven holidays, with an additional three floating holidays. They offer two weeks of vacation and two weeks of sick leave. Stock options are available for most employees. There is an annual bonus plan for all employees, tied to the company's performance. And there is a 401(k) plan.

The company pays, on a sliding scale, expenses for van pooling. One-third of its Pasadena employees, for example, van pool. For five people in a pool, gas and upkeep are company-paid. For six people, the van is free. For more than 6 people in a van, the company pays $25 to $50 a month to each person in the pool.

EarthLink has a number of social events for its employees, including a year-end dinner, with a raffle for items like a 10-day trip for two to Paris, cruise to Mexico, trip to London, Palm Pilots, and digital cameras. Discounted tickets are available for baseball and hockey games. Other company-sponsored events have included deep-sea fishing and ballroom dancing. They have never had a layoff, but expect that there may be some overlapping functions and adjustments in the recent merger.

Dress is very casual; jean, shorts and t-shirts are fine. As their web site says, "However you dress is your dress code." Official hours for the company are 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Call center operations cover a 24/7/365 schedule, with three shifts. When there is a queue, employees are authorized to work paid overtime, in order to keep the wait time down to the company's three-to-five minute goal. IT staff typically work 50 hours a week, or more, with negotiated compensatory time and occasional spot bonuses. Travel is extensive for a portion of each department as new call centers are opened, with incentives for staff to relocate to the new center.

EarthLink's growth offers its technical professionals substantial opportunities for career advancement. Their ability to attract top technical talent, such as some of the Internet co-founders and one of the world's top network security people, combined with their active internal training program, provide an atmosphere for technical growth.

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Two companies with the same vision, started on opposite ends of the country, merged as equals. The combined company kept the name and stock ticker symbol from EarthLink, the headquarters and core values and beliefs from MindSpring. These core values and beliefs include respect for the individual, integrity, keeping commitments, competition brings out the best in people, frugality, best efforts even when that leads to mistakes, clarity in communication, friendly and fair dealings, a sense of urgency, and work should be fun.

Both companies initially targeted consumers looking for a user-friendly interface and round-the-clock customer support. EarthLink now also offers a shopping mall, and a combination of email, personal web page, personalized start page and chat capabilities. The company has recently initiated services for small businesses looking for web hosting.

Aggressively targeting competitors' subscribers, EarthLink highlights the advantages they offer. Campaigns typically offer a free month of service to new subscribers and waive the set-up fee. Their "Get out of AOL free" campaign and eBay auction targeted users who were unhappy with interruptions in service and long wait times for technical support. With the recent "Opt-Out of AOL" program, a donation in the new user's name to the Electronic Privacy Information Center underscores EarthLink's policy to keep member information private, rather than selling it to advertisers, as some competitors do.

Partnerships have long marked EarthLink's expansion. Its alliance with Sprint, a part owner in EarthLink, gives Sprint subscribers additional discounts and immediately added Sprint's 130,000 Internet customers to EarthLink's customer base. EarthLink is the official ISP for USAA and the National Football League, who are also allied with Sprint. EarthLink is Apple's exclusive ISP and the default on all Apple iBooks.

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Seventy percent of EarthLink's staff members are customer service personnel in the call centers. Most entry-level technical positions are in the call center. Approximately 15 percent of the staff account for more senior technical positions, such as LAN/WAN Engineers, Systems Analysts, Software Developers, and HTML Programmers. Says Schnee, "The people we target for entry-level positions are the technical power users. Geeks that go home and tear a machine apart to put in a CD-ROM and more memory, and reformat the hard drive." EarthLink is proactive in hiring professionals with disabilities and has armed itself with adaptive technologies, such as screen readers for the blind.

Its growth reflects the company's ability to assess candidates quickly, through a multi-stage process that starts with a written examination, then multiple interviews. In late January, 1999, for example, they signed a lease for a call center in Sacramento. Their first job fair was in late February. A combination of radio, print, and television advertisements brought in 3,500 candidates for their second job fair. By mid-March, the site opened with 200 people; by November, they had 800 staff members.

In general, candidates are found through a variety of recruiting methods. These include company-hosted job fairs (EarthLink Mania), third-party job fairs, online recruiting (LA Times web site), cold calls based on online searches with spiders to locate candidates working at competitors, employment agencies, college recruiting, and networking through technical and educational boards. In 1999, EarthLink hired 2,020 employees; 80 percent of these were for entry-level positions. They expect to expand to 8,000 employees by the end of 2000. Top schools for recruiting include Pepperdine, USC/Malibu, UCLA, Pasadena City, and ITT Technical. Turnover in senior technical positions is 12 percent. For call center positions, turnover is 35 percent, down from 68 percent two years ago and half the industry average.

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Job Title





Sr. Network Access Engineering Designer BS Engineering 5+ years PPPOE, PPPOA, l2, TP Tunneling, DSL, Redback, Unisphere, Larscom, Cisco, Nortel, Fore ATM, Radius, DS1, DS3, OC, frame relay Atlanta, Georgia
Research Engineer    10-12 years OSPF, BGP, XML, WAP, GSM, SMS, SMPP, cryptography, UNIX/ NT kernel, finance, economics, law Atlanta, Georgia
Java Developer BS CS 1+ years Java, Corba, XML, Perl, C, C++ Atlanta, Georgia
Sr. Software Engineer BS/MS CS 5+ years C++, UNIX, LDAP, NNTP, IMAP Atlanta, Georgia
Sr. Data Acquisition Developer BA/BS CS 2-4 years Informatica, ETL Crystal, Business Objects Pasadena, California
Information Systems Analyst BA/BS CS 1-2 years Oracle PL/SQL, ETL, Crystal Reports Pasadena, California
Sr. Applications Analyst BA/BS CS, IT, IS 4-5 years SQR, PL/SQL, HR, Payroll, Financial systems Pasadena, California
Sr. Product Manager, Portal Products BA/BS Engineering, Business, MBA preferred 5-7 years Regional cable or broadband providers experience Pasadena, California
Java Developer BS CS 1+ years Java, Corba, XML, Perl, C, C++ Harrisburgh, Pennsylvania
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  • Technology Review, "Profiles: Sky Dayton," November/December, 1999
  • Wall Street Journal, "EarthLink's Loss Widens as Marketing Costs Rise," April 20, 2000
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