The first in a two-part series, Jason Leonard our Director of R&D, and Chris Behrendt our Manager of Software Development and Architecture share details and insights about what makes the Descartes Co-operative Education and Internship Program a world-class experience. 

What makes this Descartes program stand out?

What makes the Descartes Co-operative Education and Internship Program stand out is the opportunity we provide students to contribute to solutions to practical problems in our production environment. They are treated as an equal team member from day one, and the code they produce will be used by our Developers on our production servers.

By demonstrating their technical skills, a growth mindset, the ability to take and apply feedback, and a collaborative approach, students in our program are optimally positioned for a role at Descartes after their term is complete. In R&D, we hire a number of students every four months, and they are valued team members who join us to provide fresh insights into the way we work and the solutions we build.

What characteristics are you looking for when hiring?

We want students that are enthusiastic about collaborating, coding, and building solutions for global business customers. The ability to learn and to problem-solve are equally critical characteristics. We want to see initiative; if you come across an issue or something you haven’t seen before, are you going to give up, or conduct research independently? We’re looking for tenacity combined with the intelligence and humility to know when you need to ask for help. Ultimately, show us you are passionate about growing in this field. 

What do you think are the benefits of this program, for both the employer and the students?

As an employer, the advantages include access to open-minded, diverse, and passionate individuals who want to both learn and contribute new ideas. Students bring new energy and new perspectives with them that can often influence the rest of the team to pause and consider a different approach or tactic. It’s truly refreshing. It’s a cost-effective way for both the employer and the student to determine the level of interest in what we do, how we work, and who we work with. There are government and tax incentives as well but at Descartes, our approach is to have access to talented, intelligent coders in our candidate pipeline. If a student is a great fit with potential, we will try to find a role for them. In the last five years, we’ve made 11 full-time employee hires directly from the program.

For students, the opportunity to gain direct experience in a professional environment, working alongside people doing the jobs they hope to get into, is inspiring. It’s a chance to earn academic credit, earn some money, and most importantly, be part of an Agile team that is building code and deploying solutions. Our students get to be part of real-world projects and can often see them go-live, which provides them with an incredible sense of accomplishment. Our students are UX Designers and Software Developers, who are mentored and coached every day while gaining insights into this industry. We’re an infrastructure team, so not only do we talk amongst ourselves, but we also engage all other product teams at Descartes. With 200+ products at Descartes, our students gain an extremely varied experience.

What is the internal orientation onboarding process?

As part of our orientation process, we assign a buddy to the person. The buddy is someone who can guide and direct them to answers on everyday issues and ensure they are getting comfortable with our processes and culture. We also go through an exercise where we share situations that have occurred in the past and the lessons learned as a result, with students discussing how they would overcome those obstacles. We try and match the work they are assigned to their individual passions and interests. Within a couple of weeks, they start on the real work, and they have the confidence to perform the job because of the early onboarding support we’ve provided.  

What are examples of projects and unique work that students and interns have been a part of?

We had one intern, that redeveloped the user interface for one of our air cargo solutions, which also included a dynamic map – a completely new feature.

Another one of our UX Designer students revamped the UX standards and created a  presentation on how to get people engaged with the UX standards. She essentially set up a project, conducted interviews, and approached the UX standards as if they were a product itself. She applied all of the UX Designer information gathering and analysis techniques to understand the problem, define ideation, conduct research, and prototype everything.

One of our Software Developer interns completely redesigned our System Event Notification Service so any user interface running our product will display notices from any of our 200 products.

We’ve also engaged outgoing students to interview the next group of potential students which was inspiring for both sides involved.

Essentially, if a student has an idea and the focus to follow through, we will let them run with it.

How do you support the learning and growth of your participants?

We provide both technical and professional mentorship, guiding participants towards learning resources and opportunities, and offering advice but also taking in their suggestions.  In addition, and it’s a small thing, something the interns appreciate is that we give them 30 minutes every day to meet amongst themselves. They may talk about a problem they faced in the past few days, something they learned that’s industry-specific, or even something exciting they worked on. It’s a way we foster team collaboration among the program participants. We encourage the students to reach out to others at any of our locations. They can exchange ideas, ask questions, share articles, and offer support to each other. And that’s across the globe, as the sun never sets on Descartes with teams around the world, including New Zealand, the Philippines, Slovakia, and North America.

Team members from Descartes' R & D team at a recruiting event

Established in 2008, The Descartes Co-operative Education and Internship Program has been employing students within Canada to provide valuable hands-on experience and skill development. The opportunity to truly be part of the advanced solutions we build and the global community we foster positions the Descartes Co-operative Education and Internship Program as an exceptional experience for students. It’s a chance to learn more about the people and teams that make up our company and the possibilities for your future career at Descartes or beyond.