Did Your Computer Connect To The Internet Today? Thank A UNH Student

Sep 17, 2013

UNH Alumns Dave Andrews and Ben Major at the InterOperability Lab
Credit Lisa Nugent, UNH Photographic Services

 Almost 9 percent of Americans who graduated from college this year will be unemployed.  Eighteen percent will be underemployed. And, according to the Economic Policy Institute, more than half of those who do get jobs will be in positions that don’t require a college degree.  But at the University of New Hampshire, 120 college students know for certain they’ll be getting good, high paying jobs --  before they even graduate.  

Picture your computer workstation.  Maybe you’ve got a Logitech keyboard and an Acer monitor, plugged into a Lenovo laptop – which is hooked up to the internet through a Motorola router and a Netgear modem.

Who is making sure all those devices actually work together?

Turns out it is students at the University of New Hampshire, like Nathanael Rubin and Glenn Martin. The two seniors, both IT majors, are seated  between tall racks of humming servers at the University’s InterOperability Lab, or IOL.  

What is the IOL?

Rubin looks for bugs in the new version of a software called OFED.  “I point that towards the Intel NPI,” Rubin narrates, clicking commands into his computer’s terminal screen. “and as, expected, we got an error,” he adds.

An error is just what Rubin was looking for.

At the IOL, 120 student employees like Rubin are trained and paid to make sure different companies’ software and hardware are compatible with each other, and with internet protocols. They’re valuable because they’re neutral -- not employed by any one company. 

The IOL began in 1988, when a University research center discovered two pieces of data transmission equipment were incompatible.

Twenty-five years later, Erica Johnson directs the 32-thousand square foot lab. She says 300 major companies pay the IOL a combined $8 million each year for their services.

“Over the last twenty five years,” Johnson says, “it’s pretty likely that any piece of electrical computer equipment that needs to communicate with each other or the internet has come through this lab.”

99.99% Hired

The students, who are employed part time basis during the school year, and full-time during the summer, earn $9 or $10 an hour depending on their performance.  But that’s not all they get from the experience.   

“It’s not uncommon for a student to get a job with someone they worked with here at the lab, once they graduate,” Glenn Martin explains.

“Not uncommon” is a bit of an understatement.  Director Erica Johnson says students at the IOL were getting good paying jobs through the depths of the recession.

I’ve been at the IOL since 1999 and we’ve had a 99.9% placement rate for anyone who’s looking for a job and most of those students have been placed before they even graduate.

Demand for Skills

In fact, Johnson says, tech companies can’t get enough. It’s that “skills” gap everyone’s talking about these days. “We’re constantly being asked by these companies to bring in more students,” Johnson says.

To solve that problem, Johnson says, she’s begun recruiting future Glenn Martins and Nathanael Rubins at middle schools in the area.