Unlocking tomorrow’s tech talent today

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Ciena staff and Waterloo co-op students volunteering at a Food Bank

by: Krista Henry (she/her)

How Ciena empowers students to shine in the world of next-generation technologies

At Ciena, co-op students work on meaningful projects that have real-world responsibilities comparable to those of full-time employees at the company. Ciena is a global leader in optical and routing systems, services and automation software for more than 1,800 customer networks worldwide.

Shawn Janssens (he/him), director of software development at Ciena, has worked alongside students for 30 years.

He has spent the last 10 years recruiting and nurturing Ciena’s student talent program. Janssens has seen first-hand the abilities and passion students bring to their work.

“Students seek out real jobs. Not a student job or temporary one, but a real software development role working on real products,” says Janssens.  

“They don’t want to work on something that’s off to the side and will never be used. At Ciena when they leave their work term, they know software they wrote will be running in a customer network. They’re very proud of that.”

Shawn JanssensShawn Janssens, director of software development at Ciena

Students work in roles such as embedded software engineering co-op, analog design intern, hardware design co-op, photonics software engineering intern, optical automation developer or application developer. Often, students work alongside veteran developers on important projects.

 top quote

Our students are building front end user interface (UI) software, or they are building complex algorithms using big datasets and lots of technologies we have on the back end. They are a fundamental part of our feature teams, they go to meetings, do demos and more. We’ve had cases where customers they interact with, have no clue they are students because they are professionals who know the software.

- SHAWN JANSSENS, director of software development at Ciena

Janssens finds that with the level of responsibility and opportunity they have, students soon become Ciena subject matter experts and can help promote the company among other next generation talent.

Early look at top talent

Ciena staff and Waterloo co-op students standing infront of a Ciena building

Hiring students has provided Ciena with an early look at potential talent to fill junior roles in their organization.

“Hiring students helps us to build the organization from the bottom up,” says Janssens. "We get to have an early look at students in their careers and build a relationship with them.”

It helps that students demonstrate their abilities during their co-op work term, proving that they are capable.

Since students have experienced the company, Ciena knows that if they apply for a more permanent role, the students really want to be there.


Today, Ciena has many full-time team members that are Waterloo alumni and several who started at the company as co-op students. Janssens and his team see the curiosity and persistence Waterloo students bring to the table.

“Waterloo students essentially want to take the learnings from school and apply it to a job,” he says. “They want to figure out how what they’ve learned relates to what they are doing. It’s not just a job for them,” he says.

“You also see a lot of persistence, they hit a roadblock and work through it to come up with their own solutions.” Ciena looks for talent that is agile and can adapt to constant changes in the industry.

According to Janssens, flexibility and adaptability are key to business because technology changes so quickly.

When Janssens interviews students he looks for communication skills, passion, curiosity and self-motivation.

“For software developers I want to hear about that project that kept you up at night. Something that really motivated you,” says Janssens.

“It’s a good sign to be excited about what you’re doing.”

Janssens encourages other employers not to underestimate what students are capable of achieving in a short time.

Ciena staff and Waterloo co-op students in a discussion during a meeting


 top quote

Don’t place limits on students, that’s my biggest learning. Different students go at different rates and have different interests, but they are unbelievable. Never doubt them. After many years of being directly involved in hiring students, it's one of my biggest passions. 

- SHAWN JANSSENS, director of software development at Ciena

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