Maverick Software Consulting Benefiting Students

News | Monday, October 12,2009

MANKATO — How’s this for a part-time job for college students: Students earn $12 per hour. The work figures prominently in landing a real-world job. The hours are flexible. It’s literally across the street from campus.

It’s called Project Maverick, a partnership of Maverick Software Consulting, Minnesota State University and the Thomson-Reuters company based in Eagan. It’s primarily an opportunity for students in computer science and information technology or information systems fields. And it might be the best kept secret at MSU.

“It’s really a unique opportunity for students,” said Project Maverick employee Chris Delaney, a senior from St. Francis. “There’s really nothing better you can do.”

Student workers spend their time either writing computer code or testing software for the Thomson-Reuters company. Many more students are turned away than there is room for. At a recent information session, 70 students inquired about the handful of openings available.

It began in 2006 with 10 students in a small office in the University Square mall. Today it employs 20, has twice the office space, and Maverick Software — the company that runs the program — has offices at three other universities.

Chuck Sherwood, vice president of software testing at Maverick Software, said they typically draw the elite students from MSU’s computer-related programs. The high pay — $12 per hour is more than just about any other part-time job in town — is a big draw. So is the access to the kind of experience that makes a big difference come job hunt time.

Many employees, 18 so far, have gone to work directly for Thomson-Reuters. The company estimates that by hiring a Project Maverick employee, it saves the roughly $50,000 it would have spent to train them.

The type of work the students are doing is the kind of work often outsourced to India, Russia or China. For Thomson-Reuters, having their outsourced work done a few hours away is better than having it done a few continents away: There is no time difference, no language barriers, and Thomson-Reuters doesn’t have to compile a detailed list of instructions for them, as is often the case with work outsourced to foreign countries.

Project Maverick came about when faculty member Mike Wells, an MSU alumnus, was put in touch with someone at Thomson-Reuters (he worked there when it was called WestLaw). Maverick Software got involved and the three parties worked out a deal.

The initial contract in 2006 was for $1.2 million. Last summer, a new five-year contract was signed for $3 million. Thomson-Reuters contracts with Maverick Software for its testing and code writing, and Maverick Software contracts with MSU for the student workers.

Wells said everyone benefits from the agreements, especially students.

“This has been great for them,” Wells said. “Literally millions of people see the code they write.”

Sherwood said a lot of the work the students do involves adding functionality to Thomson-Reuters Internet sites, which primarily deal with legal software.

For example, they may write computer codes that allow Web sites to be used by people with disabilities, such as making sites navigable by keyboard only for people who cannot use a computer mouse.

Getting such work, students say, is competitive.

“It’s a fairly big deal among students,” said Corey Hermanson, a senior from Blue Earth. “We get to learn hands-on what we’ll be doing in the real world.”

Delaney said it’s one part-time job students in his major covet for its use in getting a real-world job, but also because it means not having to work at a gas station or fast-food joint.

“That’s one of the biggest benefits,” he said. “A lot of people avoid a part-time job because it gets in the way. But this job helps you (now and in the future).”