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6 Off-the-Beaten-Path Colleges for Recruiting Top Development Talent

Sure, you can compete with every other company for developers from MIT, Stanford and Cal Tech, but here's six other schools with top-level Computer Science programs that you should be looking at.

A 2008 US Bureau of Labor Statistics report notes that software engineering will be one of the most in-demand jobs over the next 10 years, and that projection doesn't seem to have been dampened much by recent economic woes.

In addition, you have reports like this one directly from industry titan Microsoft stating straight up that they're still looking for software engineering talent. The story says they're looking for data mining, business intelligence and data analysis talent, but don't be fooled: Microsoft doesn't need analysts; it -- and many other growth-oriented software companies -- is looking for well-trained developers with added expertise in these emerging business areas. Developers who know their stuff are in demand.

So where are you going to find all of these developers? You can try luring top devs away from other companies; hope you've got deep pockets and an exciting project to offer, though. Extra points if you're a well-funded startup and Robert Scoble is talking up your product.

Or you can recruit promising talent right out of school....mold them into the devs you need, feed them free lunch, set up a foosball table and pay them a pittan... er, a "prevailing wage."

Traditionally, the Computer Science programs that get all the attention -- and the recruiting scrutiny -- are at name-drop schools like MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Cal Tech and UC Berkeley. If you're recruiting for top talent, these are certainly schools you should be looking at. But you'll be competing with every other company hiring new developers.

Fortunately, these aren't the only schools turning out young, hungry, talented software developers and computer scientists. Some really good schools tend to fly under the radar for a number of reasons: they're smaller schools, don't provide doctoral programs or any number of other reasons. But these schools are consistently ranked among the best computer engineering programs in the country year after year.

Here are six of them. You need to be there checking out what these kids can do.

1. Harvey Mudd College
Based in Claremont, Calif., Harvey Mudd is one of the top-ranked engineering schools in the United States among colleges that don't offer doctoral programs. Harvey Mudd offers both Computer Science and joint Mathematics/Computer Science majors. And while Harvey Mudd doesn't have its own graduate programs, it sends a higher percentage of graduates on to earn Ph.D. degrees than any other private college in the U.S.

Harvey Mudd is also the only undergraduate-only engineering school in the U.S. to win the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest. No small feat.

Famous Harvey Mudd alumni include Donald Chamberlin (co-creator of SQL and contributor to XQuery), Bruce Jay Nelson (inventor of the remote procedure call), Ned Freed (co-author of the MIME standard), Jonathan Gay (creator of Flash) and Dominic Mazzoni (creator of Audacity).

2. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana, offers Computer Science and Software Engineering degrees, and hardware-focused Electrical and Computer Engineering programs, as well. Rose-Hulman has been the top-ranked engineering college in its category for over a decade (since 2000) according to U.S. News & World Report.

As you'd imagine, being based in the Midwest near the heart of the automotive industry, related industries feature prominently in the curriculum and student projects. There are teams active in robotics research and competition, as well as the Challenge X and EcoCAR competitions, an efficient vehicle research team, and a human-powered vehicle research team.

3. Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo
Technically California Polytechnic State University, and better known as just "Cal-Poly" -- is in San Luis Obispo, Calif. It's one of two polytechnic campuses in the California State University system, the other being the former Cal-Poly extension at Pomona.

Cal-Poly offers Computer Science, Software Engineering and Computer Engineering majors for undergraduates. There's also an MS program in Computer Science, a blended BS/MS Computer Science program, and a minor track in CS.

Prominent alumni include Mark Lucovsky (member of the original Windows NT development team who has also worked at Google and VMWare), Burt Rutan (aerospace pioneer behind SpaceShipOne and the round-the-world Voyager aircraft) and Gary Bloom (executive at Symantec, Veritas, and Oracle).

4. Bucknell University
Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Penn., offers bachelor-level programs in Computer Engineering and Computer Science. Another consistent top-five CS program among BS-only schools, members of the Bucknell faculty recently received a $200,000 NSF grant to collaborate on computer network simulation projects with the University of Washington and Georgia Tech. A number of current undergraduate students have hands-on involvement in this major research project.

Bill Westenhofer is a particularly famous Bucknell grad, having won an Academy Award and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for computer visual effects.

5. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
This school, located in Needham, Mass., is somewhat unusual in that it only offers undergraduate engineering degrees, and the Electrical and Computer Engineering program is a focus of the program. Olin's engineering education focuses on student projects and team-based work.

Another somewhat unique feature of Olin is its close ties to NASA. The Olin-NASA research group lets Olin students take on individual and team projects suggested by NASA scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Students can also take part in the Technological Entrepreneurship program at nearby Babson College.

6. New York University
NYU provides a unique array of engineering programs that stray in interesting ways from the standard Computer Science path. And it's worth noting that students at NYU also gain a slightly different experience being based in the heart of New York City, an international hub of finance, publishing, and the arts.

You'll find traditional Computer Science majors at NYU, along with a Web Applications & Programming minor within the Courant School of Mathematical Sciences. Research centers at NYU include the Vision Learning Graphics group and the Media Research Lab. NYU is also part of the Games for Learning Institute (G4LI) joint research project with Microsoft Research and a consortium of other universities, researching the connections between gaming and learning.

In addition to the traditional Computer Science programs, NYU's Tisch School of the Arts offers the groundbreaking Interactive Telecommunications Program. ITP traces its origins back to the Alternative Media Center founded by George Stoney and Red Burns in the 1970s. The program focuses on emerging technology in media and user experience.

Notable faculty members and alumni of the ITP program include Michael Mills (early contributor to QuickTime), Jaron Lanier (virtual reality pioneer), and Bob Metcalfe (creator of Ethernet). Authors and critics Douglas Rushkoff and Clay Shirky are current faculty members.

Those programs should give you a head start in recruiting the best young coders for your company. And if that's not enough, here's one more tip: Don't forget about the US Military Academies. West Point, the United States Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy are rated in the top-ten engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report, and the Coast Guard Academy is in the top 20. Graduates are headed for stints in the services when they leave the academies -- and plenty of hands-on experience with an increasingly technological military. That experience and the maturity of having held full-time jobs in the services makes them candidates you probably don't want to overlook when they return to civilian life.

Any colleges you'd add to this list? Disagree with our choices? Post your thoughts in the comments!

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