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School of Mines: A Hidden Gem in Colorado’s Startup Community

Written By:
Bart Lorang

Today, the founders of FullContact trekked to Colorado School of Mines (CSM) in Golden, Colorado to attend one of my favorite events: Computer Science Field Session presentations. Not familiar with the School of Mines? You should be. It’s a terrific engineering school; in 2011 it was ranked 29th in America among public universities.

Feasting at Woody’s Wood-Fired Pizza

Field Session is quickly becoming an annual ritual for us. We head over to School of Mines around 10:30 AM, watch incredibly gifted Computer Science students give their presentations, cheer on the demos, share a few laughs, then afterwards we all head over to Woody’s Wood-Fired Pizza for a celebratory feast.

So what is Field Session? Field Session is a capstone course that lets CS students apply everything they’ve learned to date by working for 6 weeks with an actual company. Students work in teams of 2 to 4 people and are expected to work 40 hours a week for the duration of the project. At the end, they should have analyzed a problem, produced a design, and implemented and documented a solution.

Dr. Cyndi Rader runs the program, and each year she requests project proposals from a variety of local companies — big ones and startups alike. Our CTO, Dan Lynn has known Cyndi for several years and he makes sure we’re always on her “RFP” list.

But here’s the catch: the CSM teams self-select which companies and projects they want to work with. Hoping to get that COBOL program converted into a Windows DLL? Good luck getting a team onboard. Only the coolest projects and best companies end up with a team.

CSM Alumnus Michael Rose (left) with Matt Elliott
and Kyle Hansen at SXSW

The value proposition for both parties is simple. Students get real-world experience working inside of a company with real deliverables and an opportunity to impress a prospective employer (not to mention course credit). Companies get an injection of young talent into their organization for a short period of time, a working deliverable, and the chance to evaluate potential hires.

In 2011, we were fortunate enough to score an amazing team of four CSM students. The start of the project happened to coincide with the beginning of TechStars Boulder. As a result, FullContact had eight people jammed into the TechStars Bunker and our CSM team was forced to work out of the super cramped “Pillbox” in the back. But they were good sports, and they got to witness some of the TechStars magic firsthand. They even attended Demo Day and watched us pitch. Our team turned out to be very bright and incredibly gifted (so much in fact, that two of them have come aboard FullContact to work with us full time).

This year, we were able to score two incredible teams. Like last year, we made the conscious decision to treat CSM teams just like employees. Our feeling is that if we treat the CSM teams like interns, we’ll get “intern like” results (i.e. less than ideal). But, if we treat the teams like full-fledged team members, they’ll do better work and be more likely to want to be part of our company in the future.

CSM Mines Teams Killing it at Field Session

As a result, we fully assimilated the CSM teams into our daily, weekly and monthly processes. The teams worked from our office every day – this time in Downtown Denver — and took part in our daily stand ups. They also took part in our weekly demos, retrospectives, one-on-ones and monthly all-hands-on-deck meetings.

This year’s outcome? We got two awesome deliverables and four CSM students have agreed to come aboard full time for the duration of the summer. Assuming all goes well, most of them will continue to be part of our team during the school year and beyond!

I can’t wait to work the rest of the summer with the newest members of FullContact. And I’m already looking forward to next year’s CSM Teams and the yummy pizza at the end!

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