Mitel hits the books

Mitel Networks Corp. is going back to school.

The Ottawa-based telephony network software and hardware developer has been working with students at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont. for the last two years. The marriage benefits both the company and the students: Mitel projects are completed free of charge and students pick up valuable work experience.

While balancing their scholastic duties, students in the Computer Engineering Technology and Electronics Engineering Technology programs participated in one of eight software and three hardware projects this year. Of those, Mitel plans to patent the results of three.

“This is one of our unique cases where we’ve had a student do a project for us,” said Tonis Kasvand, external research co-ordinator for Mitel.

The first project – a program Kasvand said will “soon” be adopted into Mitel’s main product line – scans computer status logs to locate problems over a network through a Web browser. Aptly named SmartLogs 2, the program is designed to cut diagnostic time for maintenance and can be used anywhere on the network where status logs are generated.

Kasvand said Mitel will usually incorporate a student’s work into pre-existing programs. Mitel developers, however, have different plans for SmartLogs 2.

“With this technology, we designed it as a stand-alone product,” Kasvand said.

The second and third projects – six years in development and named Tuple Space – enable hardware and software to quickly communicate with each other through a central location over a network, essentially co-operating on the same task.

Mitel has been on the board of advisors at the college for the last eight years, but now they’ve begun working directly with the students. Tom Gray, Mitel’s manager of technology research and engineering, said the joint venture is seen as a benefit for both parties. The students gain valuable experience developing innovative technology, while Mitel gains access to a team of eager, young developers. So far, Mitel has four patents resulting from their work with the college.

“We started working with [the students] in the last two years on their final-year projects that are in the interests of both the college and us,” he said.

Trevor Rainey agreed. He’s the co-ordinator for St. Lawrence’s Computer Engineering Technology program – or what he calls “the software development program.” Rainey asks companies such as Mitel for projects they’ve placed on the backburner and puts his students to work. It’s the neglected projects he looks for specifically, and for good reason.

“If it gets done, you get free software, if it doesn’t you’re no worse off at all,” he said. “And it’s more realistic than if we give them a project.”

Rainey said students follow all the steps of a real contract, from analyzing the company’s requirements to developing proposals for design, testing and implementation. Following the planning, the students get to work, bringing to life what they’ve planned.

Ryan Taylor graduated in May and was part of the team that developed the SmartLogs 2 program. The program was built upon a model developed from the previous year’s class – the original SmartLogs. “Mitel wanted the same kind of result, but from a completely different direction,” he said.

Taylor was part of a team of three, in which he was responsible for creating the logic engine. The other two students were charged with developing the interface with which users would interact. Together, they developed the second incarnation of the program.

Today, Taylor works for St. John’s, Nfld.-based xwave Solutions as a software specialist and believes that his name being listed on the SmartLogs 2 patent – as an investor – will help him in his career.

“These projects, they give them the tools to be productive right away when they go out the door,” Rainey said of the students. “So, they don’t have to be trained for six months on the job.”