DataCore, Citrix Pursue Cloud-Bound College Grads

Students choose between mentoring and making money.

The job market for newly minted college grads is a tough place to compete these days, but DataCore Software Corp. and Citrix Systems Inc. are always on the lookout for young, inexperienced software engineers to join their teams. In DataCore's case, the company employs an innovative mentoring program that puts college students to work before they graduate. Citrix takes a more conventional approach of hiring engineers after they've finished their studies.

Despite their different hiring tactics, DataCore and Citrix both have the opportunity to shape their young and inexperienced -- but very bright -- new hires into employees who will experience company culture from the beginning, and develop into optimized, fully productive workers.

DataCore Mentoring Program
Bettye Grant is vice president of operations and minister of culture at DataCore, which is headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The company has approximately 175 employees, receives some 500 resumes per year, and added 50-plus new workers during 2011. Entry-level salaries for software engineers run between $40,000 and $55,000.

Just in case anyone is wondering what the job responsibilities are for a minister of culture, Grant is only too happy to explain. Hint: The janitor is no less celebrated than CEO George Teixeira (a nice guy who would be happy to share the limelight with any employee). As Grant puts it, "We have a culture at DataCore, and the objective is to create and promote growth, encouragement, teamwork, creativity and fun. We value everyone."

The DataCore mentoring program is based on relationships with a host of local colleges and universities that offer computer science programs. These participating schools include Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University, Nova Southeastern University and Brown Mackie College. DataCore reaches out to these schools by participating in job fairs and providing a portal for students who want to have part-time jobs while they're in school.

Some of these students receive credits for their work (usually freshmen and sophomores), while others (upperclassmen) work for pay and to gain experience. The schools take DataCore's input relating to job performance and then decide what level of credit they'll extend. Students are allowed to work anywhere from three months to two years, if they're hired as sophomores.

"We look through the portal at these students," says Grant. "We interview them just as if they were coming to apply for a full-time job. They're interviewed by engineers, directors, managers and the day-to-day people they would be working with. We assess their skills; where they are at the university level; how many of them have done programming or worked on special projects."

The students that DataCore chooses are actually hired by their schools, so they're not DataCore employees -- though if they've reached this point, it's highly likely that they will be upon graduation. They tell DataCore how many hours they would like to work and at what times. They're granted time off to prepare for and take their final exams. New students are assigned to work with different people during their time at DataCore. They may be assigned to one functional group, but they also may be moved to another group to assist at various stages of the project.

Hucharita "Suchi" Chinchanikar made good as an intern, and is now a full-time DataCore employee. She earned an undergraduate degree in electronics and telecommunications at Cummins College of Engineering at the University of Pune, in India. She studied for her master's degree in computer engineering at Florida Atlantic University, where she was recruited by DataCore at a job fair. Chinchanikar continued working on her thesis while working at DataCore 40 hours per week, and now she's a full-time software engineer.

Chinchanikar worked on new features attached to the DataCore SAN Symphony flagship product. "I'm happy that I could work on a new product and all the development," she declares. "I could work on all phases of the development cycle so that I could test the hardware. I could develop the code. I was analyzing and fixing issues. I got the feel of the entire software process, so it was good for me."

The Citrix Approach
According to Melissa Thompson, Citrix director of recruiting, Citrix -- which is based in Santa Clara,

Calif. -- has formalized its college program to the point where it now works closely with a set of 17 schools. That means attending job fairs in the September and October time frame, and then coming back during November and December for interviews.

Usually a full schedule of students is between eight and 10, so the company typically runs one or two schedules per school. The next step is inviting the job prospects to the Citrix campus for a final round of interviews, and then it's decision time.

"Campuses usually require that you give students a three- or four-week time frame to make a turnaround decision," Thompson notes. "So if we're making offers in November or December, they would be making decisions in January."

When asked if there are any particular qualities Citrix looks for in newcomers to the job market, she replies, "An odd quality that we like to talk about is, are these young people the type who will look at a problem and say, 'This is what I would do'? Or would they try to dig deeper and look at it a different way? For example, when the engineers are asking them questions during interviews, they try to do creative problem-solving as opposed to just going straight to, 'Oh, this is how I should do it.'"

Supriya Kulkarni is a software development engineer in the Citrix Access Gateway team, where she works on Citrix Cloud Gateway, an enterprise mobility management solution that aggregates, controls and delivers Windows, Web, Software as a Service, and mobile apps and data to any device, anywhere. She started work June 13, 2011, immediately after she gained her undergraduate degree in telecommunications at BMS College of Engineering in Bangalore, India. She subsequently earned her master's in computer engineering at San Jose State University.

Her work requires a skill set that includes C/C++, Java, HTML, jQuery programming, data structures and knowledge of various protocols.

Before joining Citrix, Kulkarni investigated a wide range of companies, including Cisco Systems Inc., NetApp, Amazon.com Inc. and Yahoo! Inc., but the more she learned about Citrix, the more interested she became.

"Initially, I was very excited about the products Citrix offered, and the concept of working from anywhere and on any device," Kulkarni notes. "It's changing the way people look at the workplace, which got me interested. It made me think of Citrix as an innovative company that thinks differently. I'm glad I chose Citrix."

She initially applied for her position at Citrix on a job portal and then received a call from HR, which provided her with background about the job and the team. Following was one phone interview and five on-site interviews. Her first interview was with a senior developer who asked basic technical questions and also queried her about her school courses and projects. Technical topics included network protocols such as TCP/IP, User Datagram Protocol and HTTP, and data structures.

Her on-site interviews ran for approximately 45 minutes each, and were conducted by a hiring manager who told her more about the job responsibilities and work culture, and senior developers who asked about her programming skills and coding questions related to C/C++ and data structures. The last interview was with the product director, who asked about her school courses and projects. A couple of algorithmic questions were also asked.

After the interviews were completed, Kulkarni was contacted by a recruiter who offered her a job, which she accepted. Since then, she has embraced the company culture. "It's easy for employees to express their opinions or ideas, and people are always accepted," she notes. "A process that provides continuous feedback also helps employees grow and improve. It encourages us to do quality work, too."

About the Author

Bruce Hoard is the new editor of Virtualization Review. Prior to taking this post, he was founding editor of Network World and spent 20 years as a freelance writer and editor in the IT industry.

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