Excella Extension Center plans expansion

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The Excella Extension Center co-founder Steve Cooper.
Photo by Stephen Gosling

It’s a classic conundrum. Software developers can’t get a job unless they have experience, but they can’t get experience if they can’t get a job. For the past decade, the Excella Extension Center at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg has bridged that gap, training Virginia Tech students as they work on projects for Excella clients.

“We’re really trying to un-‘Catch 22’ the system,” says Excella co-founder and partner Steve Cooper. “What we do there is pretty exciting, and what we’re about to do is even more exciting.”

What they’re about to do is expand the project in a big way. “We’re actually spinning off and carving out this extension center model into its own company that I will run,” Cooper says. “It will provide talent and virtual workforce to not just Excella but to other employers. So we’re working to put alliances in place with other employers who want us to run their talent pipeline.”

About 80 students have come through the program since it began in 2009, Cooper says, and 30 of them have gone to work at Excella, a 300-person, $70 million Arlington consulting firm that advises clients on advanced data and analytics, agile transportation, modernization and digital service delivery. Its clients include National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Compressed Gas Association and the Department of Homeland Security.

This year, Vault, a website that ranks businesses, rated the Extension Center fourth-highest in tech and engineering internships, fifth in employment prospects and ninth in career development.

The spinoff company, set to open by the end of this year, will be based at the Corporate Research Center, but Cooper is working on plans to expand the concept to other campuses, including Radford University, Howard University and the University of North Carolina. Like the students at Tech, they’ll work 10 to 15 hours a week during the academic year and full time in the summer, in teams supervised by an Excella software engineer.

“They’re learning the best practices of software engineering because they’re building software for our clients,” Cooper says. “What the students are learning is how to be effective software engineers in the real world so that by the time they graduate, they’re ready to hit the ground running and they’ve been trained not only in academic software development, but real hands-on software development practices.”

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