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How to get the most from a CEED project – Oracle’s perspective

Oracle’ Labs, formerly Sun Labs, in Brisbane has hosted a number of projects over the past few years and hired two of those students (Nathan Hawes and Andrew Browne).  Recently, three CEED students from UQ and QUT completed projects which started over the summer vacation period (Rachel Guelen, Daniel Wainwright and Ian Calligeros).

CEED caught up with Oracle Labs' Senior Principal Engineer, Cristina Cifuentes, to find out what value the students’ projects bring to Oracle, and how her past experience of supervising student projects has evolved the way she scopes projects, recruits and manages CEED students in order to achieve good results.

Cristina commented that she likes to offer ‘difficult’ projects, rather than easy projects, for the students to tackle.  The level of difficulty is relative of course – the projects are difficult for final year undergraduate students, but not for Oracle.  However, Cristina takes care to scope the size of the projects so that they are achievable within the project’s timeframe.  She also ensures that the projects can be ‘written up’ as a useful final report, for the students’ University assessment.

Over the years, Cristina has learned to choose projects that are not in the ‘critical path’ of their research and development activities, but rather enhance the team’s activities and direction.  She also selects project areas that interest more than one of her team members.  “I find that if a few people from my team are engaged in the project and can support the students, it makes the whole experience more rewarding and engaging for everyone concerned”, Cristina said. 

The students are paired up with an experienced researcher or developer who is an expert in the area of their project.  This allows for ease of discussion on the technical matters of the project, with Cristina supervising other aspects of the project (e.g., initial project scope, steps to follow, informal checking on status, presentations, and final report).  This year's supervisors have been Nathan Hawes (for Ian’s project), Lian Li (for Daniel) and Jacob Zimmermann (for Rachel)"

Oracle project students - Rachel, Ian and Daniel with their company supervisors 
 Pictured are (back L to R): Ian Calligeros (CEED student),
 Nathan Hawes (Oracle and past CEED student), Lian Li (Oracle),
 Cristina Cifuentes (Oracle), Jacob Zimmermann (Oracle). 
 Front: Rachel Guelen and Daniel Wainwright (CEED students)

The experience that each student gains through their CEED project at Oracle is invaluable.  Not only do they work on challenging projects, they are treated like other team members.  Cristina commented, “the students have access to the knowledge and experience of senior researchers and developers, and they are invited to team meetings". 

"This allows the students to gain a ‘richer’ experience of what it’s like to work in a large, multinational IT company
, as well as experience the difference between working in a research versus development environment”.  Cristina believes this experience will ultimately help the students decide which career path they might like to follow.

For Oracle, the nature of the projects they offer to students helps them to determine the feasibility of one particular research or development path versus another option.  Engaging students for the exploratory work allows the team to focus on core work.

Oracle’s CEED projects are completed in six months (they like the ‘extended’ project timeframe which utilises summer vacation as well as first semester), so Cristina and the team receives the information, analyses and recommendations they need in a timely fashion (by the end of June).  This enables Cristina and her team to make informed management decisions about their research and development options. 

Cristina also enjoys the fact that CEED students are very keen and they bring fresh ideas to the projects.

When recruiting students for her projects, Cristina sometimes sees a student who stands out for other project ideas that may not have been advertised.  So Cristina believes in being flexible to change or adjust the scope to accommodate such students.  Cristina gave an example, “this time, one of my applicants, Ian, applied for one of my projects … but to me, his background and interests were perfectly suited to a different project idea which I hadn’t advertised.  So CEED discussed the other project idea with Ian and he was keen to be interviewed for the new project”.  Cristina finds a flexible approach to recruitment is very useful, and it generates a win-win for her CEED projects.

Cristina keeps returning to CEED because it reduces her overhead (time and effort) for accessing the best students from across different disciplines and Universities.  She values only having to deal with CEED, rather than find the right person in each area of multiple Universities.  “The process is easy and streamlined.  CEED does all the advertising, organises the interviews and keeps an eye on the progress of all the projects.  I’ve found that by advertising a bit early each year (ie. early October for a December start), I get a good range and calibre of applicants to choose from.  I’ve been happy with all our project results so far”, Cristina added.


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