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.
Digital Tropicana has been developing virtual reality holidays for a growing online community of globe trotters who would rater go to exotic places from the comfort of their lounge-chair rather than have to experience all the inconveniences of going places physically. The office space boasts 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 recognized 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 health clinic. “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 some of the past employees of Digital Tropicana that we met 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 is, after all, “My mum said I’m capable of being successful in whatever area of life I put my mind to.”
When asked how he is supporting himself he admitted that he is taking advantage of the companies “unlimited vacation time” while remaining on his salary. “I’ll soon be joining two other employees who have been touring Europe for the past 6 months. They are not sure about their future at the company either as no one has yet hit that million dollar mark or had a virally successful product. Mark has been there almost 2 years and he’s not famous yet—it’s obviously the wrong vehicle for our success.” said Chris, stepping out into the crisp Whittier morning air.
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.