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IT grads: so good, they're headhunted

Most students are frightened that they won't get a job out of university, but that fear is moot for some graduates, who are cherry-picked straight out of campus by companies like Google and IBM.

Most students are frightened that they won't get a job out of university, but that fear is moot for some graduates, who are cherry-picked straight out of campus by companies like Google and IBM.

Sydney University

(Main quadrangle image by Alan Levine, CC2.0)

Prashant Varanasi, a software programmer from the University of NSW, and Xun Wang, a research student from UTS, were plucked from their campuses by Microsoft in Redmond and IBM in Sydney, respectively, to live, breathe and work at the cutting edge of the IT industry.

In Varanasi's view, the demand for "good" developers is quite high.

"A lot of companies have approached the university," Varanasi said in 2010. From his experience, while university students often need extra training upon entering the IT industry, they are often valued for their ability to pick up things quite quickly.

He has often been a co-president of the university's computing student's society, and said it was a popular fishing ground for companies.

"It's quite common for these companies to try and recruit students [through this society]," he said, adding that student societies were often sponsored by firms.

Varanasi, who developed a program that matched album art with MP3s in high school, will be travelling to Redmond this year to work with Microsoft's new cloud platform, Azure. All this started when Microsoft came to his campus, asking for resumes from the students and giving talks about internships.

Varanasi was contacted out of the blue and interviewed by a head developer flown in from Microsoft's US headquarters. He was consequently offered a job with the software giant.

"I'll see how it goes, if I enjoy it I can stay for a while and do different things as well — they're pretty flexible in the different teams you can work with," said Varanasi.

Nick Burton, an RMIT computing sciences student and convener of the Android Australia group, believes that while companies like IBM, Google and Microsoft have always attracted the best and the brightest, they've realised that being proactive is better than playing hard to get.

Burton believed that software companies can often challenge perceptions by reaching out to students who wouldn't otherwise consider working at a particular organisation.

"I was really impressed with the Windows 7 Phone, which was demonstrated on campus by a Microsoft representative the other day, so much so that I think at some point in the future I'll have a look at the platform. Prior to that presentation, I wasn't as interested in working for Microsoft. In terms of changing opinions, I think that (reaching out to university students) it's quite effective," said Burton.

While Google and Microsoft are, to varying degrees, reaching out effectively to students, there was a general sentiment that IT companies, large and small, should also jump aboard and see universities as orchards ripe for picking.

"At open days I was really surprised not to see the big names there. They had all the PriceWaterhouseCoopers companies and the professional services firms, but they didn't have any boutique software guys like the software company [jTribe] I work for now," he said.

"I do think ... [software companies] need to be more proactive [in reaching out to university students]," said Wang.

Wang, who is passionate about research and has an industry background, was offered a three-month fellowship with IBM after being recommended to the software giant by his supervisor Professor Mary-Anne Williams.

He believes that while the big name companies often have an inherent advantage in attracting new applicants, talent and ideas since they are well resourced, small companies need to work harder to attract graduates.

"If they want to get fresh ideas and new talent in, they need to be more active in [universities]."

However, the students need to pull their own weight, according to Varanasi. Like Wang, who worked for a company that developed server software for video games as well as for Logica-CMG which developed real-time software for utilities, Varanasi had industry experience and also extracurricular interests in software development.

"Whether doing some programming in some open-source projects for fun or releasing programs on the Apple app store, you need something to show that you're interested in the field and looking for more than just a job &mdash you're willing to learn new things," he said.