Avid readers of Novell Connection magazine know that last year I co-wrote an article explaining how Novell uses open source to run its enterprise business, and I followed it up with a series of case studies of successful open source projects we actively use. (See Cheryl's Articles at a Glance.) As shown in those articles, Novell is a mixed-source company, a provider of SUSE Linux and a leader in sponsoring open source projects. We are committed to open source and helping the community grow. An example of that commitment is an internship program I run here at Novell in conjunction with Neumont University (neumont.edu).
As time progresses, the students are becoming well-versed in Linux and the culture of open source projects and seeing they are a viable alternative to many proprietary options.
> The Program
Neumont University (Neumont) is a highly specialized Computer Science-related university. The students attend classes full-time in a compressed schedule and are eligible for a degree in two years. During the final three quarters of their education, qualified Neumont students are eligible to participate in an Enterprise Projects class. In the class, they work for an enterprise company to gain “real world” experience while continuing to earn credits toward their graduation. There are a number of requirements for students to participate in this program, including a certain level of scholastic achievement and completion of lower-level classes.
When students sign up for the Enterprise Projects class, they request the company with which they would like to complete an internship. A host of high profile companies participate in this program with Neumont University (neumont.edu/employers/enterprise-partners.html). Students either work on Neumont’s campus or at the company’s location, depending on the preference of the company. For Novell, the students come to our facility to work their scheduled hours—four to eight hours daily, five days a week, for the full 10-week quarter. The interns work all of these class hours without pay. We accept as many students as Neumont allows to participate in this non-paid program each quarter. The number of interns at Novell each quarter ranges anywhere between four and thirteen. The students work together in project teams. And because they have their own laptops and the teams usually work in a conference room, there is virtually no cost to Novell to add them to the staff.
I implemented this intern program at Novell with Neumont University nearly two years ago. When we started, it was clear their students were given a program that focused on .NET and DB2 technologies. Since that time I have been participating in career fairs, student presentations and working with their professors and faculty to help their students gain a wider range of skill sets and an understanding of the Linux platform and the viability of open source tools.
I’ve noticed the last few quarters when the new interns come to work for Novell, they are more familiar with or have had experience using some of the most popular open source developer tools, such as:
- Subversion (a source code repository)
- Eclipse (a development platform framework)
- Bugzilla (bug tracking repository)
- Apache/Tomcat (Web server applications)
- MySQL (database)
In the past six months, Neumont has started teaching Java, which is a more platform-agnostic development language. They have also started to have more experience with MySQL and other databases. As time progresses, the students are becoming well-versed in Linux and the culture of open source projects and seeing they are a viable alternative to many proprietary options. On the interns’ first day, we dual boot their laptops with SUSE Linux and provide training on the common open source tools we use in our development group here at Novell.
I work as a business analyst on the IT Engineering Tools team that supports the development business units. Since my team was the first to implement the Neumont intern program, most of the intern project teams have been working on applications within our team; however, other groups are now actively requesting to participate in the program.
> Valuable Experience
Sometimes there is a learning curve for the interns who have not had exposure to the Linux platform or the open source culture. By the end of the quarter most have become proficient at Linux and many of our common open source development tools.
Some of the projects interns have worked on over the last several months involved learning Perl, Python, DoJo, Ajax, Java, XML, Xpath, MySQL, and various other languages, databases and tools. Along with the benefit of learning Linux, each of these growth opportunities have helped round out the students’ résumés and show their technical aptitude for learning. A highly diversified résumé opens the door for greater job opportunities and placements to well-qualified candidates.
One of our current interns, Chris Meyer, said of his opportunity, “Being at Novell has opened my eyes to the other options available. At Neumont we are taught about Microsoft from the start. By the time we start our Java curriculum it’s all about C# and most of us apply the “junk theory.” Many will write it off and stick to the closedsource world. When I started at Novell we were put into a situation where we had to learn the open-source world and how to adapt to it. We all had to develop on SUSE Linux, which for most of us was the first time we had touched Linux. Using Linux and developing on it opened my eyes to other solutions. I learned that there is a whole world out there besides what Microsoft is promoting. Neumont helped me in that I had the opportunity to go down to Novell every day and not just experience the culture of the business world but also the world of open source and how it is a viable alternative to propriety solutions. This experience has built my résumé to make me a more well-rounded developer because I not only have experience in proprietary solutions but also the alternatives offered by open source.”
> The Nitty Gritty
During their tenure at Novell, the interns operate under a collaboration agreement between Novell and Neumont that legally covers any ownership of the projects or code they work on while on staff. We also require them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement because they have access to confidential information and often trade secrets. Each quarter when new interns come to work, I assign a senior developer (Novell employee) as a technical mentor to work directly with each project team. The mentor acts as a stabilizing force on the project team, accelerates their understanding of Novell culture and teaches them best practices in development. Each project team selects a project manager, and they work as a group to accomplish the assigned project. Each project must be completed within one to two quarters. At the end of the quarter, the groups do a presentation on their projects.
I have been fortunate to have interns return for multiple quarters which decreases the training investment for Novell. During the quarter, the interns participate in Architectural Reviews, Code Reviews and any applicable IS&T Gate Meetings for SOX compliance. All of these practices give the interns great real-world experience and give them an advantage when seeking job placement after graduation. Several times during the quarter Novell provides a performance evaluation on each intern to the professors. At the end of each quarter, we usually wrap up by doing a final project presentation during a luncheon where the professors join us to review the projects and celebrate the success of the interns.
Even though the interns work during the quarter for free, it is a big investment for Novell (or any participating company). We have found it is not a one-to-one gain in work output with each intern. The benefit depends on the aptitude and experience of the intern. Many of the students who come to us are learning a new platform, new development tools and a new programming language—all in a 10-week quarter. For some, this is a daunting task in a short amount of time. When the interns return for additional quarters, they are more confident and productive, and it’s a better return on our investment. The interns hit the ground running when the projects don’t require learning new languages or platforms, and we see a more immediate return on the investment.
Novell has benefited from the program in many ways. We have perpetuated the Linux movement and deepened our hiring pool. During the 10-week period, we get a preview of each intern’s performance and technical aptitude. It has been fun to see their growth and their successes with Linux and open source tools. They leave with their eyes open to many new possibilities. We have hired some excellent employees from our Neumont intern pool. They have shown a deep aptitude for Linux and the open source culture and are a great asset to Novell.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of interns from various universities close to our facilities. I’ve been especially impressed with the senior-level interns from Neumont. Like any grouping, there is a wide range of skill set; however, most candidates come to us with an above average understanding of how all the pieces of development fit together. In the Enterprise Project class, the students learn programming languages and gain real-world experience of how applications work from end-to-end. Learning to deploy a Web application in a corporate data center with integration points into other applications and/or databases is vastly different than getting a Web application to run on one’s own desktop.
This valuable experience is difficult if not impossible to teach in a classroom setting. Aaron Reed, director of Enterprise Projects, explains the value of this program, “The Enterprise Projects program at Neumont University is fundamental to our curriculum. It offers students an opportunity to experience working for a company in a way not possible through traditional internships. Involving teams of students working together under the direction of a company sponsor offers the students a fantastic real-world experience and full exposure to everything from coding standards to interoffice politics. The program has been extremely well received by both students and employers. As you might assume, our partnering companies, such as Novell, as well as the people overseeing the projects, such as Cheryl, are instrumental in this program.”
As an employer, an applicant with this depth of experience in a realworld setting often proves to be the differentiating factor when hiring. A number of quarterly interns seek out internships with Novell to gain experience in Linux and open source languages. The internship, while challenging, has increased the marketability of all candidates.
This intern program is working well and we are exploring opportunities of doing the same type of program with other universities in our area. If there’s a university or college in your area that provides this type of opportunity, I recommend getting involved. But be mindful; there is a cost in time and resources to make it valuable and functional. To gain the most benefit, we have found it is best to dedicate a minimum of one senior employee per project team to provide a mentoring role for the interns. They teach the interns using a “best practices” model and help them navigate the company culture. Investing in the minds of the future, like the Novell/Neumont internship collaboration does, will increase adoption of the Linux platform and will continue to build on the open source culture by giving back.
Cheryl's Articles at a Glance
Third Quarter 2006 Enjoy the Sensation
The Refreshing Feeling of Open Source Apps Used at Novell
October 2006 Novell’s Bugzilla Deployment Case Study
Novell Uses Bugzilla as a Corporate Bug-Tracking System
Fourth Quarter 2006 The Missing Tool
Open Source Tools That Are Making a Difference at Novell
January 2007 Case Study
Open Source Collaboration Tools
First Quarter 2007 Splat! A Bug’s Life—or Lack Thereof
The Open Source Story of Testopia