Dr. Norman Matloff

Campus Recruiters from Nortel pull a publicity stunt to Promote H-1B

University computer science majors throughout the Bay Area must be wondering what is wrong with them after reading the enclosed article on campus recruiting by high-tech firms. True, it does say in the headline that the fierce recruiting is only for "the best and the brightest," and it IS true that employers have fiercely competed by the really top students the last few years. But the article certainly seems to say that any reasonably good graduating senior should have tons of good job offers---which is NOT true. 

So far this year, I am seeing the same pattern I've seen and reported the last few years: The A students get offers for good technically-challenging programming jobs; the B/B+ students get offers for less-attractive jobs (albeit still fairly well-paid) like customer support; and the students having B- grades or less are pretty much ignored. (Some exceptions exist, mainly for those who have worked in industry at some point during their college career.) In fact, apparently the recent drop in NASDAQ has slowed things down compared to last year, and (according to our campus Internship and Career Center) last year was in turn weaker than the year before.

The Nortel part of the enclosed article is particularly interesting. (There was an article focusing on the Nortel "hiring coup" in the SJ Merc a few weeks ago.) University computer science students reading this article must wonder why Nortel is ignoring them but hired 1/3 of the graduating class in computer engineering of Santa Clara University---a small, Jesuit liberal arts school which has zero national prominence in teaching and research in computer science.

By contrast, Nortel did not even bother to recruit at all at my school, UC Davis, which has several famous faculty in Nortel's field, computer networks. (Our department chair, Biswanath Mukherjee, literally wrote the book on WDM; our security research group developed one of the most widely-used network intrusion-detection packages; etc.) In other words, the "batch hiring" of SCU students by Nortel appears to be a (very clever) publicity stunt. And the article itself has all the earmarks of being yet another industry-lobbyist plant, timed to support the industry's push for more H-1Bs.

Norman Matloff

San Francisco Examiner - High-stakes recruiting season

Bay Area companies compete fiercely for the best and brightest college students

By Blair Tindall OF THE EXAMINER STAFF 4/22/2000


At dawn, Stanford's 24-hour computer lab was awash in Domino's Pizza boxes and bowls of melted ice cream. Subversive recruitment happened here one night recently as dot-com employers hunted the best and brightest students in their native habitat. 

Dot-com employers, especially small startups, just show up at places like computer labs with refreshments and start making their pitch, skipping traditional recruiting methods like job fairs  "Of course, in the morning I have to clean this mess up," said Dwayne Virnau, manager of the Sweet Hall computer consulting desk. "Some might be Stanford alums, who organize this kind of entertainment to get the name of their company around during finals week, when the lab is full of students."

It's a seller's market for Bay area jobs, and companies are getting creative to snare hot talent on college campuses. When Santa Clara University computer engineering department chair Dan Lewis returned after a fall sabbatical, he was shocked to find that 38 of his students had already been offered jobs with Nortel Networks, a Santa Clara Internet technology company.

Months ahead of the competition, Nortel had whisked away a select group, offering them signing bonuses of up to $10,000, said Lewis. "I was surprised the offers were made so early, but when I thought about the tight job market, I realized it was just a matter of time," he said.

Besides getting in the race early, companies are finding other ways of luring talent to their doors. The fun starts with the lobby lava lamps at the offices of Internet search engine Google Inc. in Mountain View. "We try to have a really good work environment," said Larry Page, Google co-founder. "We want everyone to share in the success of our organization. Even our chef has stock options." In addition, "googlers," as Cindy McCaffrey, director of corporate communication calls them, enjoy access to two massage therapists, a gym with dry sauna, and office toys ranging from an electric scooter to huge colorful balls to roll around on during meetings.

All of this was enough to lure software engineer Matt Cutts, 28, away from the University of North Carolina in the fourth year of his five-year Ph.D program. "They flew me out, put me up in a hotel, took me out to dinner, and then took me skiing at Lake Tahoe with the entire outfit on company time," he said. "That's when I knew I'd picked the right place."

Cutts said he turned down a 25 percent stake in a startup to sign on. He and his fiancee also eloped so he could begin immediately because their planned wedding would have interfered with the move to California. Though Cutts initiated the contact with Google, the company haunts computer departments at local universities. "We recruit aggressively through colleges," said McCaffrey. Google sponsors outings to lure interns that include club-hopping in Palo Alto and scavenger hunts followed by fine dining in San Francisco.

"Companies are trying to find their way of creating visibility by generating a buzz to break free of the clutter," said Sherrie Gong Taguchi, assistant dean and director of the Stanford MBA Career Management Center.  More companies than recruits Nearly 900 companies in 30 different industries courted 720 students this year in the hot sectors of management consulting, high tech, venture capital, investment banking and startups, she said. Taguchi also sees a resurgence of intensity about meaningful work. "I hear a lot more about passion and meaning and less about the quality of life," she said.

That backlash against materialism was in full force at last week's "Go for the Gold" career fair at UC-Berkeley. "It's misleading to assume all students are following the money," said Tom Devlin, director of the Career Center at Cal. Some low-tech exhibitors included the American Red Cross, the AFL-CIO and the California Public Utilities Commission.

Liberal arts graduates make up 80 percent of Berkeley's 6,000 undergraduates. Devlin helps them translate their education into employment, but he acknowledges that fields like consulting, biotechnology, finance, computer science and electrical engineering still star. Devlin said salaries start at $30,000 to $65,000 a year with bonuses as high as $10,000 for baccalaureate candidates. "No one wants to be outbid for a bright person," he said.

Nancy Labiner, an associate analyst with Goldman Sachs' program management team, coached students on winning these positions. "It's a great time to be graduating from college. There are lots of choices and many opportunities available for undergraduates," said Labiner, a panelist at the job fair. 

Tough season ahead

Ray Orquiola, Wells Fargo's director of corporate university communications, said he expects a tough recruiting season as he competes with online companies. Finding more than half his hires at job fairs like Berkeley's, Orquiola said Wells Fargo stresses non-financial benefits like a work-life balance where employees come first. "One of our biggest liabilities is being in San Francisco, competing against the dot-coms and their stock options," he said.

Bob Thirsk, director of Stanford's Career Development Center, is at the dot-com epicenter. "This is the hottest job market I can remember in 20 years in this business," he said. "Salaries start at $45,000 to $65,000, and 99 percent (of candidates) find jobs right away."

Even with this temptation, most students see the value in completing their education instead of dropping out for a dream job. Thirsk said most believe they will do better over the long run if they earn their undergraduate degrees.

"It's like college athletes," Thirsk said. "The smart ones finish their degree and go higher in the professional draft." Some students are eager to start earning while they're still finishing that education. "I heard they passed a rule in the business school banning cell phones," said Stanford career counselor Lance Choy. "People were running businesses in the middle of classes."

Staying on campus a little longer also can expand a job-hunter's networking web. Many potential employers are recent Stanford graduates who return to seek upcoming talent.

Because the students know they're in demand, these alumni cook up offers to catch the eye of their quarry. Choy had heard of BMWs raffles and a contest at the engineering department job fair offering $50,000 for the best startup idea. "It's a frenzy," said Choy. "Students have multiple offers."

Going for the IPO gold

Susan Lin, 32, a recent Stanford Ph.D in electrical engineering, decided to work for a friend's startup instead of signing on with one of the companies recruiting her like IBM and the Quantum Corp. She's counting on the company's turning golden when it goes public. "It's a trade-off," Lin said. "You can take a company salary or gamble on a great return with your equity in a startup." Lin said she knows of only one classmate who abandoned his Ph.D studies for a startup, and he's now a millionaire. "But you've got to be careful," she said. "Only one in 10 of them makes it."

Though many of these high-tech and startup employers go to Stanford for high-tech students like Lin, they value the humanities majors, too. "Internet companies are sucking up anyone with an interest who is bright,' said Choy. "The dot-com boom has really benefited English majors. They do need writers, after all."

For all the jobs dot-coms offer non-technical and non-business majors, they compete intensely with other high-tech industries like aerospace for engineering and computer science graduates. But excitement makes up for the lack of stock options in aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin, said spokesman Dave Waller. In addition to an attractive financial package, Waller said that when the world's largest defense contractor recruits on-campus, it features far bigger toys than those found at fun-and-games Internet firms like Google.

"Only here can someone work on projects like the international space station, the most advanced missile system and the next Hubble space telescope. Recruits really come to Lockheed for the thrill of working in space," he said.