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Student Opportunities at Software Company
Students playing a key role in an expanding business.
Grace Webb, Special to the Mankato Free Press, 5-20-2012
Ben Jongbloedt sits at his office computer, staring at the screen with ferocious intensity. He’s testing a software program to see if it runs smoothly. He’s worked on it for months and has already debugged it several times. The trick is to make sure his debugging program doesn’t create new problems for his client, Thomson Reuters — one of the top information and productivity solution providers in the U.S. legal system.
It’s a great job for Jongbloedt. He’s able to put his Internet technology skills to use and make high-level networking connections. The pay is definitely not too shabby.
He gets plenty of hours, yet still has time to take off for finals. That’s right — Jongbloedt is still a student, finishing up his senior year at Minnesota State University. He’s working at Maverick Software, a company that offers college students real-world experience working on software for businesses across the Midwest. “[When I heard about it], It seemed like a really great opportunity,” Jongbloedt said. “Now that I’m in it, I realize it’s a really, really great opportunity.”
TAKING A RISK
In 1999, MSU alum Martin Hebig took out a home equity loan to start his own company, Maverick Software Consulting.
For a few years, he worked as an independent consultant, but then he sold part of the company to his friend and fellow MSU graduate, Chuck Sherwood, in 2006.
That year, the two co- owners formed a partnership with MSU. They were inspired by a 1990s IBM-MSU partnership that allowed MSU students to work for IBM by testing its operating systems. Hebig and Sherwood also wanted to offer students the chance to work in the “real world” while pursuing their university studies. It would be a win-win situation: companies could save money instead of outsourcing overseas to China or India, and students pursuing computer science, information technology and computer engineer majors could put what they learned in the classroom to use.
As luck would have it, while Maverick Software formed its partnership with MSU, the university was also making a deal with Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters had voiced an interest in increasing its visibility on university campuses so that it could hire promising students when they graduated. However, the company did not want to have to deal with managing student employees at campus sites. Maverick Software Consulting solved this problem for them. It trained student employees in new technologies and offered them the chance to gain valuable real-world experience testing and developing new software, in addition to debugging current programs.
Thomson Reuters was Maverick Software’s first and biggest client. It provided enough work for the company to hire 80 students (20 of which work at the Mankato office) and expand to four offices: MSU, the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities, the University of Wisconsin — Madison and Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
Up until 2011, Maverick Software stayed steady with one client. However, last year, the company experienced a period of record growth, expanding to two more offices and connecting with three more partners.
Now, Maverick Software has six clients with six offices and 12 university partnerships, including the University of St. Thomas, Metropolitan State University, St. Cloud State University, Macalester College and Bethel University. More partners mean more job positions for students, and Maverick Software now has about 115 student employees.
“We’re growing,” Sherwood said. “It’s good for the company, it’s good for the clients and it’s terrific for the students.”
To top off a great year, Maverick Software won the prestigious 2011 Innovative Collaboration of the Year Tekne Award from the Minnesota High Tech Association. The company had applied for the award for the past three years before finally winning it.
Now, Maverick Software is still expanding — but carefully.
“We can only grow so much every year,” Hebig said. “We look around and find good partners [and] good solid companies. We could take project work from any client that approaches us, but that wouldn’t be the [best fit] for the students.”
Hebig said the company’s five-year plan is to double in size, with 12 or 13 offices and 20 university partnerships. Maverick Software is planning to add a new client this summer, which would mean opening another office as well and expanding to three more universities, so it’s off to a good start toward its goal.
Hebig added that at Maverick Software, education is still the No. 1 priority, so he wants clients that will also value the students’ class time and enable them to balance school and work.
In addition, Maverick Software works to build relationships between clients and student employees that will continue on after the students graduate.
Many MSU students who worked at Maverick Software go on to work at Thomson Reuters. They also come back and share with Maverick Software about new technologies they’ve discovered.
It’s that tight-knit relationship that is at the heart of Maverick Software Consulting.
“I still love working with the kids,” Sherwood said.
“They love learning the stuff and they’re very eager.
It’s so much fun coming to work every day.”
LEARNING OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
Jongbloedt started working for Maverick Software about a year ago, after he heard a recruitment pitch in one of his IT classes. He’ll still be here for a little while, but then it’s off to the real-world — for good. He isn’t worried, though; with all the experience he’s gained working at the software company, he’ll definitely be ready for the transition.
“Compared to school, we get to see a whole lot more real-world applications,” Jongbloedt explained.
He said his job has helped him know what to expect as a software tester if he made a career out of it. He said before he started working at Maverick Software, he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue in the field, but, after working with Thomson Reuters, he plans to stick with it.
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