WHITTIER, AK—High tech start up Digital Tropicana, located in Begich Tower, Whittier, boasts an open plan office space that looks more like a playground than an office.
“We want our work environment to be both relaxed and engaging,” said Thomas Singh, and Indian Fijian who moved to Whittier from Fiji to get away from the heat. And engaging it is, in an attempt to keep up with the best of what’s on offer for the young technology savvy generation of today. Digital Tropicana has been developing virtual reality holidays for a growing online community of globe trotters who are more excited about going to exotic places from the comfort of their lounge-chair than have to experience all the inconveniences of actually going to places physically.
Digital Tropicana’s office space has only two computer terminals with the majority of the space furnished with a pool table, lounges, beanbags, classic arcade games, vending machines, movie theater, bar, jacuzzi, dance floor, sleep pods, a vertical wind tunnel, and state-of-the-art hydraulically driven flight simulator.
“We recognised that the young talent of today need stimulating spaces to be creative. The space we have created meets those creative needs of this new generation,” said Sarah Singh, Thomas’s sister and “Chief Environment Officer” for Digital Tropicana. “We feel it’s more important to be engaged in creative activities than the actual programming for us to retain the very best talent that Whittier has to offer,” she shouted from the illuminated dance floor while mirroring the moves of a Swedish dance troop looming from the floor-to-ceiling monitor.
Despite Digital Tropicana’s best efforts to retain the new generation of tech savvy programmers, there has been a disruptive drain of talent to other industries in Whittier like the convenience store and the bait and tackle outfitter.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to retain young talent these days and it’s difficult to understand why we aren’t keeping the best programmers in Whittier,” said Thomas, mostly distracted by the arcade game table of space invaders we were sitting at. Some clues came from interviewing former employees of Digital Tropicana that we stumbled upon at the convenience store in Begich Tower.
“Well I started with the company about 6 months ago straight out of college, and found that after about 3 months I was still only earning $3,000 a week and hadn’t been given my own department and project to lead. I mean, when I decided to get into virtual travel I knew I should have changed the world by now—I mean 3 months man! It just wasn’t working out,” said Chris a 23 year old programmer who had moved to Whittier looking for his big break. “There’s some cool benefits at DT and they have the best movie-on-demand subscription ever, but I just wasn’t given the opportunities I deserve. I mean I can do anything, right?” he said, still with a glimmer of optimism in his eye.
Chris went on to explain that if he hadn’t made his first million dollars by the time he was 25 then he would have to change direction. He quotes one of his 20-something-billionair-gurus who says “If you focus your attention anything can happen.” This was a theme that resonated with Chris’s two friends we also found in the convenience store; Daniel, with a PhD in quantum physics is trying to become a famous video gaming commentator on YouTube, and Sandy, a masters student in neurorobotics who is looking for a lead role in a Netflix production and blogs about the alleged abuse of ferrets on Easter Island. Despite their great enthusiasm and obvious talent for their passions, the million dollar benchmark eludes them!
When Chris was asked how he is supporting himself he admitted that he is taking advantage of the companies “unlimited vacation time” while remaining on his full salary. “I’ll soon be joining two other employees who have been touring Europe for the past 6 months,” he says. His peers are not sure about their future at the company either as they too have not yet hit that million dollar benchmark or had a virally successful product, both key indicators that this is THE job.
“Daniel has been here almost 2 years and he’s not famous yet—it’s obviously the wrong vehicle for our success,” Chris says to me as he gives Daniel a reassuring hug.
Digital Topicana is now considering installing a giant ferris wheel on the top of Begich Tower and introducing skydiving as additional activities that may attract and retain the young talent of today. Let’s hope they can.