SWEAP program gives students jump – start on work experience
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The result of the University of New Orleans’ partnership with GE Digital, the Software Engineering Apprenticeship Program, has given computer science students an academic and professional advantage.
Created in 2014, the program begins recruiting students as early as sophomore year, and typically accommodates 12-18 students beginning in the summertime. Students involved in the program work under the conditions of the real-world tech industry.
Computer Science Department Industry Liaison Edward Holmberg said, “They do something like a boot-camp … They bring in their senior level developers and give them [the students] a crash course in basically everything you need developed in the professional world.”
“Then each student over at GE, at the tech center, is grouped into their own pod … essentially a group of developers who work on a project … and they’re assigned to work on a real application. So they’re doing real work and they have to build their applications using the same methodologies that are used inside of industry.”
He said, “We want this to be an opportunity for the students not only to move up in professional experience, but to do it in a way that really benefits them. Unlike an internship where you go and maybe get coffee for a developer or just sit and watch them do work.”
This is why the word “apprenticeship” is used in the name of the program. Students are partnered with a senior-level software engineer who acts as a mentor that works very closely with them. After participating in this close-knit program, many students end up getting hired.
“They use this [SWEAP] as an extended interview, in a way. They hope the student embraces the company culture, meshes well with the team and just never wants to leave. But they’ve had such success with that,” said Holmberg.
To date, 24 UNO students who’ve completed the program have been hired as full-time software engineers with GE. While many new college graduates struggle to make enough money, or to find a job at all, the hired SWEAP students not only earn 25-30 dollars per hour during the internship, but go on to make a salary reflective of what any junior level developer with years of experience would make.
Holmberg said, “One problem that this field has and I think it’s a lot of other fields too…is that students go through this very rigorous and difficult curriculum. They go through all of these academic endeavors. It’s a lot of work. And when they graduate, a lot of the junior or even entry level positions are asking for two, three years of experience in addition to having the degree.
“So that kind of creates this riddle. How do you get experience if no one wants to hire you initially? So one of the motivating factors about starting the SWEAP program was to solve that problem…to make them (students) as employable as possible.”
Even if students don’t go on to work at GE, many local tech companies have been open to hiring UNO computer science graduates.
Holmberg said, “There’s a number of different industries … since we’re the only accredited computer science program in the city many of the software developers in the area tap us for either internships or for trying to hire out positions.”
“We have a number of students who do the software development at SPAWAR [in the Research and Technology Park across the street] and there are government contractors that also service them like Aventure or Geocent. We also have this company who deals a lot with aviation equipment, embedded systems, called Performance Software, that we send a lot of students to.”
“There’s one that’s called Force Multiplier that does work with the RTA and public transport. There is also Lucid, which is actually a tech company that grew out of New Orleans.”
In 2011, Forbes named New Orleans as the number one city for information technology job growth. Like the growing film industry in Louisiana, the tech industry is being drawn here for one of the same reasons: tax incentives.
Holmberg said, “New Orleans in particular has really shown to be a place where you can make a career of software development and it’s a very lucrative career.”
“It such a versatile field too … very future-proof … We’re becoming increasingly more software-driven as a society and we’re not going to be moving backward.”
The SWEAP program is helping to secure such futures. To learn more, visit http://www.uno.edu/cos/computer-science/internships.aspx. To keep up with Louisiana tech news, visit www.siliconbayounews.com.