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Higher Ed Student Worker Program: A Blueprint

By April 20, 2016

By: Vadim Gorelik, Assistant Director of Enterprise Systems at the University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business

During Dreamforce ’14 (DF14), I did a presentation explaining how we hired, trained, and executed a project using student workers at the University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business. We continued to expand our student worker team and most of our Salesforce projects are done using primarily student workers. Overall, the program has been a huge success and we continue to expand our student workforce.

Since my presentation, I continue to hear from a great many other schools asking for specifics of what we did because the appeal of this method is evident – university IT is perennially understaffed and overworked and getting help from a talented and energetic workforce at relatively inexpensive rates is highly desirable. That being said, many schools don’t really know how to get started. Without any further ado, here’s a step-by-step guide that is a true win for everyone involved:

1. Recruiting

Reach out to your MIS and CS program coordinators and tell them you want to hire their students. We find that MIS students are better suited to be project coordinators and business analysts, while CS students will generally be better suited for development work. If your MIS curriculum has a significant programming component, your mileage may vary but do reach out to the program coordinators. Also, look for student orgs and events that touch these programs. At McCombs, we were lucky to hire two founding members of a Computer Science fraternity and now have a healthy pipeline of CS students. Look into setting up your position as a paid internship. There are many avenues. Explore them all.

2. Training

Trailhead logoOnce you found them, you will have to train them. For Salesforce developer training, we use Trailhead. Exclusively. We start our students out with Admin Beginner, and then move them onto Developer Beginner and Developer Intermediate. In between Developer Beginner and Developer Intermediate, we ask our students to complete Build a Battlestation App and Build a Conference Management App projects. Upon completion of the Developer Intermediate training, we ask them to complete one of the Intermediate or Advanced projects on Trailhead, depending on the comfort level of the student.

3. Working

Have a pipeline of small projects students can actually start to work on right away. Maybe writing Apex utility classes, or some pet project that someone would like to have done, but that never actually makes it unto the roadmap because literally everything is more important. Some of our students are asked to write test classes, while others are tasked with completing some small part of an existing project. While they will need constant supervision, that can be done by more senior student workers once you have them.

4. Salesforce Academic Alliance

Finally, I would highly recommend you consider Salesforce Academic Alliance. This program provides all of the materials needed to run a college-level Salesforce class that can be inserted into MIS curriculum and can be a win-win situation for the students who take the class and will get introduced to one of the hottest, and most in-demand skills on the market, and for the IT department as they will get a pipeline of trained Salesforce developers.

We find that our students are generally ready to take on their own projects within 4-6 weeks of hire working 12-17 hours per week.

Because of our connection to the CS fraternity, we frequently get our student workers as sophomores or even freshmen, which means we quite often get a significant return on our initial investment in training and development. Also, many of our student workers elect to stay with us during the summer, at which point we turn them into full-time temporary employees. This year, four out of seven student workers are staying with us during the summer, and that’s a tremendous boost to our Salesforce rollout efforts at a fraction of the cost.

But this student worker program doesn’t just benefit the overworked IT department. Students get as real of an experience as it gets. When they interview for internships and post-graduation jobs, the interviewers are almost universally impressed with the kind of experiences our student workers bring to the table. Out of the two students workers we originally hired to deliver the project I discussed at DF14, one received her internship and a post-graduation job offer to develop on platform for a major national employer; and the other decided to come onboard as our full-time employee.

A few years ago, I was listening to a speech given by a President of some midwestern college whose name I cannot recall about how the goal of that college was to shape bright minds. It occurred to me that the key in that phrase was “bright minds” and not “shape.” In other words, working in higher ed, we are in constant contact with bright minds. In CS students, we typically get young adults who are already comfortable with self-directed learning, who already likely worked on some small projects in class or for themselves, and who are eager to learn and to do. Setting up an effective student worker program creates an opportunity where the University gets their much needed systems at relatively low costs; the IT departments get a much needed assistance from young and eager bright minds; and the students get exposure to hot technology and real-world experience. And that’s a win-win-win situation even Stephen Covey couldn’t dream of.

About the Author
Vadim Gorelik Vadim Gorelik is Assistant Director of Enterprise Systems at the University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business. Follow him on Twitter, @VadimGorelik.