Brian Cuadra is sporting a Microsoft t-shirt and making his way down the aisles at the College of Engineering & Computing’s Senior Design Showcase. It’s easy to mistake him for one of the students, but he’s not. Cuadra is a university recruiter for Microsoft and he’s at the showcase looking for fresh talent.
In order to graduate, aspiring engineers at FIU must identify a problem, conceptualize a solution and then present their findings as a group project at the showcase. The event is held each semester; this fall, it featured the work of nearly 500 graduating seniors and hundreds of people from the university, community and industry attended.
This is the second showcase for Cuadra, who started intentionally recruiting at FIU two years ago, and since has hired 12 students, and has another 11 prospects in the pipeline. “The most important [qualifications] for us [are] technical skills, a drive for results, collaboration and ‘customer-obsessed’ problem solvers,” Cuadra said.
The company mainly recruits a year prior to graduation for positions in software engineering and program management at their headquarters in Redmond, Washington. This year, Cuadra hopes to fill 15-20 spots for next year. While the company does not publicly disclose starting salaries other than to say it’s competitive, they do cover relocation expenses and offer equity and sign-on bonuses. New hires could work on projects ranging from artificial intelligence and cloud computing to gaming and consumer software. Cuadra said they also hire researchers for their team’s products.
Julie Palmer — director of people and culture at Suffolk, a construction company specializing in high-end projects including the new Hard Rock guitar-shaped hotel in Hollywood — was also looking for talent at the showcase. “FIU graduates have a good balance of academia and work life. They’re more mature, prepared and present themselves a lot better. They’re more well-rounded in my eyes,” she said.
A specific quality Palmer looks for in potential hires is the ability to collaborate, which is why the showcase is a good venue to scout talent. Collaboration is a skill that will carry over in construction projects. “They’re going to take a level of pride in what they’re building,” she said. “Tomorrow, they’re going to walk by there [building] and say, ‘I had a part of that.’”
The ability to work as part of a team is also critical for Cuadra, but he says sometimes there’s a gap. “FIU students are very entrepreneurial – they build apps and their own companies, but they need experience on a team,” he explained. For this reason, he highly encourages them to start applying for internships in their early college years to increase their job readiness and overcome this barrier to success.
Natalia Coronado, who is graduating with a bachelor’s in computer engineering, was part of a team that created a water quality sampling drone that allows a drone to conduct water testing without the need to take samples to a lab. Coronado, who just completed an internship at Intel in Mountain View, California, agreed that working on a senior design team helped her build skills that were useful throughout her internship.
“Senior design has helped me develop my communication, creativity, adaptability and collaboration skills,” she said. Coronado has been hired by Intel full-time.
Coronado’s twin sister, Laura, also a computer engineering major, worked on a smart mailbox. The project discourages packages delivered to your home from being stolen by adding an electronic security system. If someone attempts to steal a delivery, the owner receives a notification on their mobile phone along with a photo of the potential thief.
The project was noticed by Paul Whitney, IT director of new builds and refurbishments at Carnival Cruise Line, who also attended the showcase and likes that FIU trains students for the workforce.
“FIU has a good curriculum put together that prepares students for the real world. I don’t have to spend much time with training as the students can be productive very quickly,” said Whitney. Like the other industry visitors, Whitney has specific skills he looks for when hiring. “A common theme among all students should be motivation, willingness to learn and working in a team environment.”
Recruitment of students is competitive. Cuadra said his biggest competitors for engineering hires are Facebook and Google. At the showcase, he admitted that most of the promising students he met already had jobs lined up. When asked what is the most important thing he looks for, he said it’s about the culture.
“We want ‘learn-it-alls’ versus ‘know-it-alls.’” And of course, they should be customer-obsessed.
– Additional reporting by Diana Hernandez-Alende