Tech titans scout talent at Ottawa hackathon

For high-tech companies, competitions are increasingly being used as a way to identify potential employees and to get their names out to university campuses.

Two dozen students from Carleton University, the University of Ottawa, McGill University, the University of Waterloo and École des Mines de Nantes in France spent the last week showing off their network management skills as part of the SDN Throwdown Program, an international series of competitions put on by Juniper Networks. Also participating in the the Ottawa edition  of the event were the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks and Telus.

The event was an opportunity to raise awareness of his company among students at the participating universities, as well as to assess talent and recruit engineers, said Jerry Passione, the general manager of Juniper’s OpenLab, a innovation centre within the company.

“It’s a combination – you have to start to build a pipeline, you have to generate corporate awareness within not just the students but the collective population of the university,” he said. “With the number of events that we’ve conducted there have been internships and full-time positions offered to students that have participated in these programs.”

For Telus, events like this have become “fundamental to our recruiting and technology development strategy,” said Walter Miron, the company’s director of technology strategy.

The weeklong program focuses on software-defined networking – where software is used to control networks and adapt to changes in the flow of data – and includes instruction and hands-on learning as well as the competition aspect.

“We’re looking at it as more of an educational experience for the students on a real-world (software-defined networking) challenge,” Mr. Miron said.

“We give them some general information around SDN technology and complement that with real-world practical insights into the market and how it impacts services. We then give them the product statement, which is truly a problem statement that’s been created by a service provider around SDN, and in this particular case, it’s around network path optimization.”

For the student participants, it’s a good career move, he said.

“They get an opportunity to build a network, they get an opportunity to engage with subject-matter experts,” he said. “They also get an opportunity to extend what they learned in the classroom with real-world practical knowledge on SDN.”

That was one of the big benefits of participating, said Manosh Jayawardena, a master’s student at the University of Ottawa who was one of the winners of the competition.

He said it was a chance to build his professional network by meeting industry experts as well as an opportunity to get hands-on experience with commercial network controllers.

“It’s one of my passions, so when I heard about the competition I didn’t think twice,” Mr. Jayawardena said.

Mr. Jayawardena and Isuru Gunasekara, one of his teammates, said the synergy between the team members and their programming skills was what gave them the win.

For Ottawa’s CENGN, it was a chance to help support the building of a next-generation network talent base in Ottawa.

“This next generation is critical – companies like Juiper, Telus, Cisco, Nokia and others make a decision of where they’re going to do their development based on the skill set,” said Ritch Dusome, chief executive of CENGN. “Obviously if that skill set is here within Ottawa, within Ontario, within Canada, then that’s where they’re going to do their next-generation programs.”

Juniper’s Mr. Passione said there’s a reason the company doesn’t do these events alone.

“It’s important for Juniper to do these with with partners,” he said. “We’ve collaborated with Telus and now with CENGN. We’ve done several in the States with Comcast, we’ve done it with AT&T. It’s not just a technology supplier or vendor talking to the students. When we talk about SDN, we want to give that well-rounded view of the impact on the technology. So the students are getting a good 360-degree view of not just the technology but the business implications of the technology.”