Attracting the top tech student has become a competitive business for both technology companies and those looking to add bright lights to their IT departments. So, companies anxious to recruit the IT stars of tomorrow might want to take a page from IBM’s play book.

Big Blue’s Canadian arm has

adopted an intern program known as Extreme Blue that’s been running in IBM’s global offices since 1999. Back then, the Cambridge, Mass. lab recruited 25 summer interns. This year, more than 150 students in 10 labs worldwide participate in internships.

The idea behind Extreme Blue is to create an environment that mimics a real business wherein students follow a project from its inception to production, says Joanne Moore, Extreme Blue program manager.

“”The students are given problems and have to solve them, working in a team, in just 14 weeks,”” she says. “”They’re given an opportunity to go through the full lifecycle of a product development. They’ll design the product, architect it, they code and build . . . (and in some cases) beta the product.””

This was definitely a carrot for Vikki Tang, a third-year bachelor of software engineering student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, who says she jumped at the chance to see a project through from inception.

“”Generally, all my co-op terms are four months long,”” she says. “”Any teams I’ve joined I’m only a part of the lifecycle. On this one, we went from design to development to testing and execution.””

Moore says Extreme Blue also educates students about the career opportunities that exist in Canada, so the “”best and brightest”” don’t have to look elsewhere to find challenging positions after they graduate.

“”It’s to show them there are some great opportunities in Canada,”” she says. “”It’s been a huge success from the business perspective and from a talent perspective.””

This year, IBM selected eight top-ranking students from across the country out of the more than 600 applicants vying for the coveted internships. Most of the “”overachiever”” interns are third-year undergraduates who will graduate in May of 2005.

“”These are A or A+ students,”” Moore says. “”Most have won awards or scholarships, but we’re looking for well-rounded students, people who can work on a team.””

In May of this year, the students arrived at the IBM Toronto Software Lab to work on two projects: A DB2 database management project and Rational/Tivoli tooling project.

With the DB2 project, the goal was to optimize queries and algorithms to enhance the performance of DB2. Moore says the improvements students were able to tweak out will be included in a future release of DB2.

“”The project was more research-focused, and we hope to have eight patent submissions,”” she says.

But for one of the students on the DB2 team, the main challenge was simply getting her head around the mammoth database management system.

“”DB2 is such a large product, it took me a while to understand the concepts behind it,”” Tang says.

The team Ashish Patel was part of worked on a project that integrated Rational software with Tivoli software. Patel, a bachelor of science student in computer engineering at the University of Alberta, echoes Tang’s sentiments, saying the biggest hurdle to overcome in the project was learning both brands and architecting a “”solution that uses the two pieces of software.””

“”Rational and Tivoli are both large software brands,”” Patel says. “”Rational operates in the development environment to create programs and applications, while Tivoli operations in the operations space, such as an e-commerce app.””

What differentiates IBM’s Extreme Blue program from other work terms, Patel says, is the opportunity to contribute to a project that has true commercial value. He says in other scenarios, students often work on theoretical problems.

“”All the work done on this project is done by students,”” he says. “”I’ve never had this on another work term. This is a commercial project, but it’s all done by students. We get to expose ourselves to the full product lifecycle, obviously with the guidance of developers.””

At the beginning of August, Patel and Tang, along with the other Canadian interns, joined their counterparts from around the world to present the results of their projects to about 30 of IBM’s key executives, including chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano in New York.

Patel, who has already accepted a job offer from IBM once he graduates next year, says the experience wasn’t as nerve-racking as he thought it might be because he and his team were well prepared.

“”We knew what we were doing,”” he says. “”We had tried it and tested it. We knew the material and substance was solid. But after talking to (Palmisano), it kind of sunk in that this is the CEO of IBM.””

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