An Open Source of Career Possibilities

Two students sit at table with laptops open

By Ed Brennen

In August 2019, computer science major Michael Santana ’20 was wrapping up his software engineering co-op position at Red Hat, a global open source enterprise software company with offices in nearby Westford, Massachusetts. Santana wasn’t graduating until December of the following year, but his supervisor at Red Hat, electrical engineering alumnus Rashid Khan ’96, wanted to make sure he had a job waiting for him at the company when he did. 

“I went to our human resources and finance departments and said, ‘We need to get our best offer in his hands before he finishes his co-op with us. I need to give him a contract for January 2021,’” Khan recalls. 

Asked if he meant January 2020, Khan confirmed that he meant 2021. 

“They said their systems don’t go that far,” says Khan, who nevertheless was able to make the offer — which Santana accepted. The Lowell native began working (remotely because of the pandemic) as a software engineer at Red Hat in January. 

Khan, who has been with the company since 2012 and is currently director of networking platform, shares the anecdote to make a point: “That’s the quality of students we are finding from UMass Lowell.” 

Founded in 1993 and based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Red Hat is a global leader in Linux, the free, open-source operating system that is used in everything from Teslas and Google Nest devices to smartphones and cloud computing infrastructure. The company has more than 13,000 employees in over 40 countries and was acquired by IBM in 2019 for $34 billion. 

So it’s no surprise that Red Hat has long been a popular destination for job-seeking UML grads and experience-seeking students. But the university’s relationship with the company has blossomed over the past four years — by way of the Czech Republic. Red Hat, which has a large R&D facility in the city of Brno, had been partnering with Prof. Martin Margala, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), on a student exchange program that provided UML students with internship and co-op opportunities while abroad.

“I realized we can replicate that here with UMass Lowell, as well,” Khan says. 

Denise Dumas, Red Hat’s recently retired vice president of engineering diversity, began collaborating with Margala and Computer Science Prof. Fred Martin, associate dean for teaching, learning and undergraduate studies in the Kennedy College of Sciences. “Red Hatters,” as the company’s employees are called, started working with students on research projects and senior capstones. The company also formalized its co-op and internship programs with UML and became a “select” corporate partner. 

“It was really important to have our relationship become much more intentional,” says Dumas, who, along with Khan, is a member of the ECE Industry Advisory Board. “It was just silly that we were not taking advantage of all the talent we could find so close to home.” 

More important than geography is the rich racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity of UML students, not to mention the university’s commitment to increasing the number of women in STEM fields. 

“UMass Lowell is a great place for many kinds of diversity,” Khan says. “We saw a real synergy there.” 

Red Hat logo
In 2018, Dumas worked with ECE Assoc. Dean Kavitha Chandra to sponsor the Research, Academics and Mentoring Pathways (RAMP) summer program, which is designed to boost enrollment and retention of those underrepresented in the engineering field. The following summer, Red Hat began sponsoring SoarCS, a summer program for incoming first-year computer science students that focuses on student success. 

“I have always found the responsiveness, excitement and thoughtfulness that Red Hat professionals, particularly women leaders, have brought to the RAMP program to be highly motivating for our students,” Chandra says. 

Dumas says UMass Lowell students come in ready to roll up their sleeves and work hard. “They’re working their way through school and living at home if they have to,” Dumas says. “It’s such a great demographic because they’re smart, they’re motivated and they have a strong work ethic. And that’s huge.” 

Computer science alumnus Fabrizio D’Angelo ’20, a native of Lima, Peru, landed a remote software engineering internship with Red Hat last summer. Now a master’s candidate in security studies (with a cybersecurity concentration), D’Angelo was hired as a software engineer at Red Hat last fall. “I’m definitely very fortunate,” says D’Angelo, who is working with UML students on Red Hat-sponsored projects at the university’s Cyber Range, a center for cybersecurity education, research and workforce development. 

“It genuinely doesn’t feel like work a lot of the time because I’m solving the kinds of problems that I would have been doing on my own.” Shortly after completing a master’s degree in computer science, Surbhi Kanthed ’19 began a software engineering internship at Red Hat last March that turned into a full-time position in December. Kanthed, who is originally from the town of Nagda in Madhya Pradesh, India, says working at Red Hat is her “dream job.” 

“When you work with an open-source software company, you’re not just thinking about the company’s profit. The goal is also technological innovation,” she says. “The source code is out there for the benefit of the world. That is very rewarding to me.” 

Khan, who recently shared interview strategies with students in a virtual event hosted by the UML Career & Co-op Center, is impressed by how the university is preparing students for life after their degree. He wants Red Hat to keep building on its relationship with UML, with recent hires like D’Angelo, Kanthed and Santana championing the company to the next generation of River Hawks. 

“It doesn’t feel like a typical business hierarchy at Red Hat. You can approach anyone regardless of who they are,” Santana says. “And you are learning new things about the technology every day, which I love.”