IBM believes a new internship programme in the UK will help attract the crème de la crème of graduate talent and shift some negative stereotypes about what it means to work for the technology giant.
The programme, Extreme Blue, targets the top students from university computer science and business studies courses and places them in summer jobs where they get the opportunity to work on real projects in leading technology areas, mentored by IBM staff.
The scheme was originally piloted in the US in 1999 and has proved so successful that it is now being rolled out around the world. This year eight students landed placements at Hursley, one of IBM's UK sites.
They spent their summer months in IBM's research and development labs working on Grid Computing - dubbed "the next generation of the internet" - designing software to apply the technology to the commercial arena.
Extreme Blue programme manager Stuart Fawkes admitted the programme had been set up to shed IBM of its reputation for being "big and slow-moving", and to dispel the belief among graduates that it is was no longer at the cutting edge.
"In 1999, when Extreme Blue was launched in the US, it was a real struggle to recruit and win out over dotcoms and new businesses starting up. The dotcom period has passed but IBM is saying we have all the opportunities that people tend to associate with smaller companies," Fawkes said.
The specialist teams are made up of three or four computer science and engineering undergraduates working side-by-side with an MBA intern, and business and technical mentors from IBM.
While the undergraduates design and write the code, the MBA student works on the business case and market analysis for the project.
"This programme is aimed at very talented, almost exceptional students. Clearly, recruitment is an important piece for us but it's not the only thing. We also want interns to leave with a good feeling about what IBM is all about," Fawkes added.
Students are paid a salary while on placement and have their travel and accommodation costs reimbursed.
The fruits of past Extreme Blue projects have already been incorporated into IBM products. In 2000 an Extreme Blue project team helped develop a new technology called SashXB, a framework to develop Linux applications for the desktop. IBM later released the students' work as open source code.
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