Last week I posted an article describing all of the cool things I love about working at Walt Disney World. Things that have nothing whatsoever to do with my actual job; they were simply the extra benefits available as a bonus. This post is all about the career benefits of working here.
Despite how it may seem to someone on the outside looking in, working at Disney is more than fun and games. There are many career benefits available to everyone at all levels of the operation.
Most companies go out of their way to say how important work-life balance is. I have never worked for a company as committed to the reality as Disney.
I was on a call with our Vice President recently and the subject came up that many people were accruing too much vacation time. At the time of this writing, we are still dealing with COVID-19. With everything there is to do, it seems that few people want to take time off. We asked what should be done about it. His answer was simple: take your vacation. The work will still be here when you get back.
In my nearly ten years here, no one has ever been asked to sacrifice home or family life for work.
Interesting Project Potential
Walt Disney World is practically a city unto itself. There is lots to do and the variety is unmatched. With so much happening, the potential for working on interesting projects is practically unlimited. I have personally been involved with projects of the following nature:
- Cast-facing resort and dining reservations systems.
- Reservations and Guest systems for Disney Vacation Club.
- New transportation hardware and software systems.
- Mobile device project for Disney’s Magical Express.
- Sales systems for travel agents.
- Resort Motorcoach arrival time signage.
I should point out that throughout most of my time here, I was on a team that let me move quickly from project to project. That will not always be the case with every team. That said, as I will explain below, it is not uncommon to move from team to team, or project to project. We are usually pretty good about fitting people to the right project.
Unparalleled Growth Opportunities
You may have heard of George Kalogridis, who recently stepped down as president of the Walt Disney World Resort. From his bio page just referenced…
In September of 1971, at age 17, George began his Disney Parks career as a busboy at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, helping to open Walt Disney World.
George’s career had a humble beginning, yet he climbed the ladder to become the president of the entire resort. Few other companies can compare to this type of growth potential.
Lest you think this is some kind of fluke, let me tell you about one of my first coworkers. He began with Disney more than 25 years ago as a Cast Member in Housekeeping, making beds. Because he could type and was familiar with Microsoft Excel, his manager recruited him to help set up a shift scheduling spreadsheet. This led to an appreciation for software. He took some classes and learned software development. Today he is a Lead Solutions Architect with the company.
I heard a story once of Walt Disney walking through Disneyland Park, greeting Guests and Cast Members. It describes him meeting a custodial Cast Member in Town Square, who proceeded to refer to him as “Mr. Disney.” Walt immediately corrected the young man. “Walt, son. Call me Walt.” More than 60 years later that attitude continues. Every Cast Member is expected to call another by his/her first name, regardless of the relative differences in their roles. We all even wear name tags displaying our first names and home towns, from the newest College Program participant just “earning my ears” to the CEO.
Most executives in the organization are extremely approachable and friendly. I have never felt any discomfort in sticking my head in an open door and asking our Director or Vice President, “do you have a few moments?” Usually the answer is yes. If not, a quick email will always be returned.
I just double checked and there are exactly seven people between me and the CEO of The Walt Disney Company. That may seem like a lot at first glance, but I can say with confidence that six of them know me personally, and I have met privately with each of them at least once. At one time I could claim having met with all seven, but Meg Crofton retired a few years ago and I have not met any of her successors.
Disney’s Commitment to the Community
This one could be seen as both “non-career” and “career” benefits. I chose to include it here simply because of how much Disney values its Cast giving back to the community. Though optional, it almost feels as though it is part of the job. And I mean that in a good way.
Disney encourages, celebrates, and rewards all of us for giving back to our community. We call this VoluntEARing. There is an entire web site and team devoted to discovering and filling VoluntEAR opportunities. Whether a Cast Member feels like helping to build a playground, working at a food bank, or simply spending an hour at the library reading to children, everyone’s efforts are valued.
If you cannot find an opportunity at one of the official events, you can always find your own and report back.
Ears to You
For those Cast Members reporting at least 25 hours of VoluntEARing in a given year, Disney provides cash grants to the non-profit of the Cast Member’s choosing through its “Ears to You” program. Without going into too much detail, my efforts have been resulted in thousands of dollars being awarded to our local High School Band program.
Disney has a policy of matching charitable donations. Every dollar donated by a Cast Member to an eligible non-profit can be reported and matched by The Walt Disney Company.
Education and Training
My leadership executives expect each of the Cast Members reporting up to them to keep pace with current and emerging technologies. Mostly, each individual is in charge of what he or she wants to learn within a broad range of topics. Some may want to learn a new programming language. Some want to be “cloud certified.” Others may pursue project management.
Disney provides a vast and diverse catalog of both self-paced and instructor-led training. Signing up for them is quick and easy. Course completion is recorded and posted to the Cast Member’s employment records automatically.
As a technology Cast Member, I have experienced both sides of our many training opportunities. Not only have I taken advantage of countless courses, I have even been given the opportunity to create and lead classes and seminars.
A few years ago I was part of a team that organized our annual “Developer Days,” an in-person technical conference for all of our technology Cast. This required months of preparation and coordination. We had to review and approve hundreds of conference talks, as well as come up with our own to present. The picture below is from my presentation on the Ionic Framework, given at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and Convention Center.
There are many companies that provide educational reimbursement for college credits. Usually this requires the that employee receive management approval of both the school and the curriculum. Then the employee pays for the courses and books. At the end of the semester, assuming a minimum GPA has been met, the employee must then apply for (and hopefully receive) reimbursement.
Disney, as you might imagine, is different. Though salaried Cast Members do indeed go through the process I outlined above, hourly Cast Members have a different option: Disney Aspire. From the website:
Disney pays 100% tuition up front at network schools for programs that include high school completion, language learning, skilled trade diplomas, undergraduate degrees, Master’s degrees, and more.
With Aspire, you don’t get reimbursed. Disney pays for it. Furthermore, the degree you choose need not be one that is directly related to your current job.
Are There Downsides?
Of course, things are not always perfect and blissful. Sometimes even a magical job with Disney can be just another job. Sometimes it can be less than magical. But even then, I would rather have a bad day here than anywhere else. Even when things are bad, the people at Disney have a way of helping to find the silver lining in the cloud.
A few years ago, I was informed that I had been transferred to a different team under the same manager. Our entire organization had undergone a major transformation. My former team had been dissolved and the six of us were sent off in different directions, based on our various skills. I returned to the news that I would henceforth be a Solutions Architect, which seemed to be a promotion. The trouble was I had no idea what a Solutions Architect did. I was a software developer (programmer, engineer, call it what you want). I express myself best through code, and that is where I was happy.
As I learned more about the role of a Solutions Architect, it became quickly apparently that architecture is not my thing. As I said, I express myself through code, not architectural diagrams.
Fortunately, my manager recognized this and did his best to try and help me improve my abilities as an architect. At the same time, he also went out of his way to find opportunities for me to work on projects that accentuated my strengths.
One such opportunity arose when we heard that Disney’s Magical Express would soon lose the use of all of its handheld devices by the end of the year. A small team of about five people was quickly assembled from various other teams. We were given a modest budget and told to do our best. We utilized the fledging Ionic Framework to build a complete replacement system under budget, and early. I talked more about this in a podcast with Mike Hartington of Ionic.
In the end, I realized that I would probably never be more than a mediocre architect, and did not want to risk being labeled as a mediocre individual. With my leader’s support, I sought and found a job on another team as a Lead Software Engineer, where I have excelled ever since. (Honest, just ask anyone!)
I have worked for many companies, large and small, over the past three decades. Each has offered at least one of these types of benefits. None, however, has come close to the total experience of being a technology Cast Member at Walt Disney World.
Keep in mind that not everything I have described in these two posts will always be offered, or are always offered to everyone. There may also be other benefits I have never participated in. Everyone’s experience is bound to be different.
That disclaimer aside, if I have inspired you to considering joining this amazing organization, I will direct you to the following resources. As I am writing this, we are right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Walt Disney World is in the process of reopening. The future is murky but looking better. Hiring is probably not a huge priority right now. That will not last forever, though.
If you think you have the skills and talents to join us, we will eventually have more technology jobs open.
- To see all of our technology job openings, visit DisneyTech.com.
- For non-technology jobs, visit DisneyCareers.com.
- Finally, if you are a college student, consider looking into our professional internship opportunities at DisneyInterns.com.
Do you have any comments, questions, or just want to see more? Please follow me on Twitter and let me know.
Did I make any mistakes in this post? Feel free to suggest an edit.