Hand in Hand
"I was the middleman," Nguyen says.
Nguyen, then a student at UNO's College of IS&T, had an idea. He applied the latest in Microsoft technology to develop an application that would allow the English-speaking staff to place orders for the kitchen via handheld personal data assistants (PDAs). The PDAs transmit the orders to a computer server, which translates them into Vietnamese.
The application earned Nguyen (pronounced "win") first place in the national and international 2003 Microsoft Imagine Cup competitions, a $25,000 prize and a 13-week internship at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters.
Today, Nguyen is vice president of information technology at DocCenter Inc., a document management and information technology solutions company headquartered at the Scott Technology Transfer and Incubator Center. Company President Todd Fishback, a UNO graduate, has forged close ties to the College of IS&T and the Peter Kiewit Institute.
DocCenter Inc. employs Nguyen and three UNO graduates: Mo Seye and Baye Niang, both from Senegal, and Tu's brother, Tom. The company also employs three interns from the College of IS&T: Ryan Snyder, who is studying management information systems (MIS); and Ryan Billington and Trevor Schave, computer science majors.
DocCenter was founded in May 2000 with a focus on Internet-based document management solutions. Tu Nguyen was the company's first intern.
"In our first three years, we were so far ahead of the curve, especially in the Midwest, we did not enjoy as high an adoption rate for our technology as we had hoped," Fishback says.
In 2003, PKI proposed that DocCenter utilize interns and provide consulting services at Union Pacific Railroad. Fishback says IS&T Executive-in-residence Dorest Harvey and Deepak Khazanchi, then chairman of the department of Information Systems and Quantitative Analysis, took lead roles in the project, which evaluated the health resource systems for Union Pacific's human resources department.
Union Pacific was pleased with the quality of the work and other projects followed.
DocCenter since has expanded its services to include document management and imaging, offering "a complete turnkey solution" to consumers and small businesses. Developers at DocCenter (www.doccenterinc.com) are working to design a document imaging, storage and retrieval solution called EDDS Vault (for Electronic Document and Digital Storage Vault) that Fishback hopes can be marketed and sold in stores alongside other software products.
"We're moving the company from being a service provider to offering product-based solutions as well," he says.
Nguyen, 28, says DocCenter's interns earn valuable experience working on real-world projects ranging from research and development to support services. "It's a great opportunity for them to learn more than they would in a typical internship."
As for the restaurant business, Nguyen continues to serve as his parents' informal "support staff" regarding those PDAs, which he has named HOT Pads, short for Handheld Order Taking Pad. "I still get a call as soon as that application goes down," he says, smiling. "I guess it's easier to call me than teach everyone to speak Vietnamese."