If you walk into Maverick Software Consulting, located in University Square right off the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato, the first thing you’ll notice is rows upon rows of college students smiling down at you from pictures lining the walls. These MSU students were all employees at the software firm throughout the past 14 years, with more than 165 students filling positions in the Mankato campus location alone.
Maverick Software is a computer technology company that started right off of MSU’s campus in 2006. Since then, the company has hired IT and other computer-based majors from MSU-Mankato and other campuses, put them onto jobs with real clients and given them the chance to gain some professional experience before they’ve ever graduated—as well as pretty decent job offers from clients most of the time, too.
I’ve learned a lot, whether it be how to act in a professional environment or how to teach yourself different technologies and things like that.Rebecca Henry
MSU senior Rebecca Henry is one such student. A computer information technology major, Henry started working for Maverick Software last November and has seen firsthand how much the job helps students prepare for the real world.
“It’s been a really good learning experience,” Henry said. “At the beginning, I was really hesitant, because I’ve never had an IT job before this position. I’ve learned a lot, whether it be how to act in a professional environment or how to teach yourself different technologies and things like that.”
A humble beginning
Maverick Software began in 1999 when MSU graduate Marty Hebig took out a home equity loan to start his own business. He worked as an independent consultant until he eventually sold part of the company to his friend and fellow MSU graduate, Chuck Sherwood, in 2006.
“I jumped at the chance because it [was] such a great idea and such a benefit for college students,” said Sherwood, who also acts as the company’s vice president.
The two of them formed a partnership with MSU that same year, getting the idea from a 1990s IBM-MSU partnership that gave MSU students the opportunity to work for IBM testing its operating system. Hebig and Sherwood also wanted to offer students the chance to work in the “real world” while pursuing their university studies. It would be a win-win situation: companies could save money instead of outsourcing overseas to China or India, and students pursuing computer science, information technology and computer engineer majors could put what they learned in the classroom to use.
I jumped at the chance because it [was] such a great idea and such a benefit for college students.Chuck Sherwood
While Hebig and Sherwood were forming their partnership with MSU, the university was also working on creating another partnership with Thomson Reuters, one of the top information and productivity solution providers in the U.S. legal system. Thomson Reuters wanted to increase its visibility on university campuses, hoping to snag smart college students when they graduated. However, the company did not want to deal with managing student employees at campus sites. That’s when Hebig and Sherwood stepped in. Hebig told Thomson Reuters that he could make and manage a company to work with it, and soon Maverick Software Consulting had its biggest client.
When Maverick Software began, its team had only 10 MSU students. The company trained its student employees in new technologies and offered them the chance to gain valuable real-world experience testing and developing new software, in addition to debugging current programs.
For years, Thomson Reuters kept Maverick Software busy enough to be its sole client, providing enough business that Maverick Software eventually opened four offices: MSU, the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
In recent years, however, Maverick Software has expanded to more than 40 clients, including such well known names as Menards, Polaris and Cargill. The company recruits at more than 100 colleges and universities around the nation, and it has hired more than 800 student workers in its 14-year history.
The reason that we’ve been able to get other companies is they look at what we’re offering, with that pipeline of entry-level employees. They saw that we offered a way for them to have that happen, as well as getting work done at the same time.Chuck Sherwood
According to Sherwood, Maverick Software has had such success connecting to new partners because of the unique services it can offer through its student workers.
“The reason that we’ve been able to get other companies is they look at what we’re offering, with that pipeline of entry-level employees,” Sherwood said. “That’s one of the hardest things to do for a technology company: get good entry-level people in that you can coach and grow and turn from somebody who’s new and very eager in the industry into somebody who’s more effective and has experience and has done a lot of different things and has learned a bunch of new technologies. They saw that we offered a way for them to have that happen, as well as getting work done at the same time.”
Maverick Software has created such a stellar reputation for itself in its industry that it boasts a 100 percent job placement rate for its student workers after they graduate. It has been that way since the beginning, Sherwood said, and it continues today.
“Everybody who’s worked for us has gotten a job in the industry, or we’ve had a handful who’ve gone off to grad school,” he said. “We’re very proud of that. It’s because of the work and the experience that the students get, that ability to work in a professional environment. They’re doing the same work that they’re going to do when they get their first full time job: going to meetings, learning how to communicate effectively and professionally, working in those professional teams. The companies who recruit out of here know who we are, and they want to hire our students.”
A typical day
According to Sherwood, Maverick Software currently has about 65 student workers in total, with 13 at the Mankato location. While employees at other locations work for a variety of clients, the MSU employees still all work exclusively with Thomson Reuters. These student workers are integrated into Thomson Reuters’ teams and are treated like regular employees, who attend meetings, work on projects, debug current programs, write new programs and more. At times, student workers might physically go to a Thomson Reuters office location, but they often work remotely, either from the campus office location or their own homes.
For Henry, her job consists mostly of doing testing work, such as writing automation tests. Meanwhile, MSU senior Joe Toniolo—also a computer information technology major—focuses mostly on developing features for the application that Maverick Software uses, as well as a little testing.
You wouldn’t want a mechanic that has never actually worked on a car. It’s a very similar concept to that, where we’re getting hands-on experience and seeing things for ourselves.Joe Toniolo
“It definitely gives me a lot more hands-on experience with programming,” he said. “You wouldn’t want a mechanic that has never actually worked on a car. It’s a very similar concept to that, where we’re getting hands-on experience and seeing things for ourselves.
In classes, we don’t work on a program with one hundred million lines of code. We’ll work on a program with a hundred lines. So, it’s a very different experience.”
Adapting in a pandemic
While MSU-Mankato was severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, shutting down campus in March and still not fully reopening, Sherwood said that his student employees were barely affected by the changes. This is because they can easily do their work remotely and already have experience doing so, and their software clients were already set up to easily transition to all-remote work, too.
“When school went all remote, and Thomson Reuters went all remote, we said, ‘Okay, we need to follow suit,’” he said. “The students already had laptops, so they took those and anything else [they needed], like docking stations and mice, and got set up at home.”
It’s weird not being able to see your coworkers and interact with them. There’s just something about face-to-face that you don’t get through a computer screen.Rebecca Henry
The Maverick Software office reopened on June 1, with plenty of cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and social distancing practices in place. Sherwood said he has let students decide whether to come into the office, continue working remotely or a mixture of both. So far, three students consistently come in to work and another half dozen will come in occasionally.
Henry is one of the student workers who is doing things completely remotely. She said making the switch wasn’t difficult because she was already used to working remotely with Thomson Reuters teammates, but she misses seeing her coworkers in person.
“It definitely still was a shift because, at this point, I couldn’t turn to my side and talk to my team member,” she said. “It’s weird not being able to see your coworkers and interact with them. We used to have lunch together almost every single day. I began to really miss that close interaction. There’s just something about face-to-face that you don’t get through a computer screen.”
Meanwhile, MSU junior Lance Graham started working at Maverick Software this spring, with only one day in the physical office location before everything was shut down for COVID-19. Now, he goes to class and work remotely.
I haven’t been to Mankato or MSU since this spring. It’s been really nice that Maverick Software is flexible and willing to work with students in that sense.Lance Graham
“It wasn’t a big deal, because my team has been there for me and any questions I had,” he said. “Communication was really quick and easy, and they helped me along. I haven’t been to Mankato or MSU since this spring. It’s been really nice that Maverick Software is flexible and willing to work with students in that sense.”
Toniolo is one of the few student workers who consistently comes into the office, saying he prefers to compartmentalize the parts of his life.
“I’m one of the few who likes to be in the office,” he said. “For me, I like to keep the balance of work’s at work, home’s at home, and school’s at school. It keeps me a little more organized.”
Still reaching out to students
While far fewer students are attending MSU-Mankato in person this year, Sherwood said he hasn’t had trouble recruiting new employees. He was able to hold his traditional recruitment event that he hosts at MSU every fall, utilizing a Zoom meeting format to bring in representatives from Thomson Reuters, including a former student employee who is now a manager there.
“Recruitment this semester has been just fine,” he said. “We’re still getting plenty of good candidates. This is still very much a target for the students, because they know it’s the same thing that it has been since the beginning. It’s that experience. They want to feel like they’re working on something important and something real, and they very much get that here.”
Working at Maverick Software now for almost a year, it’s given me a lot more confidence in looking for positions that I might not have looked for before… I would not be the same sort of professional that I am if I hadn’t worked for them.Rebecca Henry
For Henry, the real-world benefits of her job are plain to see.
“Going into Maverick, I doubted myself a lot more,” she said. “Working at Maverick Software now for almost a year, it’s given me a lot more confidence in looking for positions that I might not have looked for before. I’m a lot more ambitious now. I’ve really enjoyed my time at Maverick Software, and I would not be the same sort of professional that I am if I hadn’t worked for them.”