Lots of Internship programs promise to give university-going candidates a glimpse of what it is like to work in the real world. Especially in their fields of study. While in many cases they may get to work on real project for their short time partnered with an employee, build spreadsheets, maintain systems or processes that employees have no desire to do, or in the worst cases become glorified gophers – I have a much different view of how these things should go.
Every year I sponsor a special program for internships that is aimed at building leadership skills, focuses on self-direction, driving technical depth, and ultimately building actual products or capabilities that will actually be used by the firm itself. It also exposes them to the realities of corporate life. In addition to the technical difficulties to get their projects done, they truly have to figure out how to navigate the corporate organization. They run into time-wasters, energy vampires, all talk no-action types, and many of the archetypes one would find in a real job…And I make them do it alone. Sure I offer them a bit of a safety net, such as technical assistance, offer folks who can be escalated to to overcome difficult hurdles, and the like. But each difficult project is theirs to deliver. Theirs to manage. To some this sounds scary. To others maybe fun. The one thing it is not…is easy.
For 2019 there were a few different projects associated with group of amazing and talented rock stars. One project had the requirement to build a portal and report engine to manage the usage of our cross-provider cloud environments and cost breakdowns by business units, There was a project designed to show more veteran/non-cloud savvy developers how easy it was to build apps in the cloud with 100 lines of code. My favorite of these applets was one to actually track the actual direction of I-75 Northwest Express Tollway in Atlanta that used machine learning to view current photos of the ramp gates,determined the direction of traffic, and gave you a confidence score of its direction. Why? Because apparently its too hard for the Department of Transportation in Georgia to actually post this information anywhere. Care to see it? Its located Here. If you live up that way you may want to book mark it to plan your rides to and from work or into the city.
But the biggest/most complex project by far was an application that ingested Social Media posts about the various products and services of the firm, determined the post’s sentiment (Positive/Neutral/Negative), determined the velocity of those posts, and created operational alerts (to Marketing and Tech Operations) within the organization to augment or inform overall platform availability measures already in place. To do this they had to use AWS, S3 Buckets, Natural Language Processing, Manage incredibly large datasets, munge those data sets, interface with public and private APIs, HTML/CSS, integration into internal queuing and messaging systems along with traditinal email alerts. There were of course other technologies involved but I wont bore you with all those details. The important thing is that it was these young rock stars who designed / project managed / coded / documented and ultimately delivered a final product for the firm all in the span of about 10 weeks. There were other distractions as well. We forced them all to get Splunk certified in their free time, we exposed them to the technical leadership of the company where we provided a bunch of Q/A time, provided career guidance, reviewed and critiqued their resumes, and lots of other things to distract them from their efforts.
What is amazing is what these folks have accomplished. If I am being honest the project I scoped out for them turned out to be bigger than I had originally intention-ed. This stretched the team pretty far. At the project-end wrap up meeting it was pretty clear that each of the participants had to essentially learn and develop new skills during the internship to accomplish the task.
What made it more enjoyable was that it truly was a crazy cast of characters and personalities. I just wanted to thank each of you for leaving me with an indelible set of memories in my mind. You are amazing, massively employable, and if you ever need a job – You know who to call!