Reverse Pitch, State of the Practice events connect students with tech community

Oct 18, 2017      By Victoria Grdina

Students in the Nebraska Innovation Campus auditorium for the first Reverse Pitch event in January.
Students in the Nebraska Innovation Campus auditorium for the first Reverse Pitch event in January.

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering will be teaming up with the community developers of Prosper Lincoln again to bring 10 hiring companies and job-seeking students together in a unique career event series.

This second set of events will kick off on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at Nebraska Innovation Campus with its main Reverse Pitch event, and will continue through November with several “spinoff” State of the Practice events. The featured companies will include Hudl, Don’t Panic Labs, Firespring, Spreetail, Nelnet, Assurity Life Insurance Company, PenLink, Ameritas, Sandhills Publishing, and Talent Plus.

“This is a real pivot away from trying to evoke change by doing the same thing we’ve always done,” said Prosper Lincoln Innovation Ambassador Rich Claussen. “We saw a need, and we embraced a new way of trying to fulfill that need.”

The series was co-created by Claussen, Computer Science and Engineering department chair Matthew Dwyer, and Nebraska Global and Don’t Panic Labs co-founder, Doug Durham, who is also a Raikes School adjunct associate professor. Each saw a disconnect between the growing number of tech jobs in the community and university students with the skills to fill them. They came together to invent a more effective way to bridge the gap.

“I got to thinking, if we were to somehow marshal together companies in Lincoln and collectively create some sort of opportunity to connect with the kids, rather than each company individually trying to find the best way to get in front of them, that would serve the companies in Lincoln better, and it would serve the students better,” Durham said.

This idea eventually became the Reverse Pitch event, which drew more than 200 students to its debut in January. The organizations will each have five minutes to present their work, business models, attractive company perks, and position openings to students in the Innovation Campus auditorium. Following the pitches, students will be invited to move into the banquet hall to chat one-on-one with representatives over free pizza. 

The Reverse Pitch event’s alternative format not only provides students with an opportunity to survey many job options at once, but it also alleviates some pressure for the ones who may be more hesitant to approach representatives on their own. 

“It’s a lot less intimidating,” said sophomore Brooke Lampe, who attended several events in the last series. “You get to know them a little bit by listening to them talk first, and then you can decide who you want to talk to after you get some more information.”

The follow-up State of the Practice events allow students a more in-depth look at opportunities in a smaller setting. Companies will team up in groups of two or three at one organization’s office for a tour and a Q&A session with an employee panel. Hudl’s joint event with Don’t Panic Labs will even include an additional bonus: free tickets to the Husker men’s basketball exhibition game following the event.

Junior Riley Jhi said the State of the Practice events are a great chance for students to get an accurate idea of what accepting a position at that company would entail. 

“It was really easy to talk to the employers and ask them about what they look for in an applicant and also nice getting spend an entire hour with them instead of five minutes,” Jhi said. “It was cool to look around their office and see what their atmosphere was like.”

Lampe also added that the chance to ask software engineering team members about the programming languages and tools they use made it easy to determine if she was qualified for a position and what skills she should develop for the future.

“Most of the classes I’m taking right now are required, but looking into junior and senior year and taking technical electives, I can sort of pick those based on some of the things they’re looking for,” Lampe said.

Durham hopes that the department and Lincoln organizations can continue to work together in the future to bring more professional opportunities to students, particularly ones that will enhance their learning experience both in and beyond the classroom.

“I’m hopeful that this grows into more of an integrated, collaborative relationship,” Durham said. “I think students get a lot of value out being able to interact with industry people who can share what it’s like in the ‘real world.’”