Internships – Past and Present

Vienna, Austria – Spring of 1993
What an amazing adventure.  I was a college student from Central College in Pella, Iowa studying abroad.  I had spent the months of January and February advancing my German language skills at a Goethe Institut in Murnau, Germany, which is about an hour south of Munich. In March my fellow students and I moved to Vienna to take classes during the spring semester. At this point I had the option of taking an extra course at the University in Vienna or taking an internship. I chose to take the opportunity of the internship and it turned out to be a wonderful experience.

My Internship
My internship was at NCR in Vienna, Austria. My other major besides German was Math / Computer Science so I was placed in the technology department. This was at the time when Lotus 1-2-3 was fighting with Microsoft Excel and WordPerfect was doing battle with Microsoft Word. The battle was being waged on the cool Window 3.1 operating system where the icons that could be clicked on had replaced the MS-DOS days. My first project was researching some leading-edge new pivot table features of the Lotus 1-2-3 application. After proving that I could do research on a topic and then present how something could be used effectively, I was given a task that would really challenge me. I was to setup courses to help train the employees of NCR on how to use the new Microsoft Word and Excel programs in the German language. It was hard enough to speak German on its own, but to now throw the technical language of computers on it was quite a challenge. I had to learn the German words for computer actions such as save, open, delete, rename and embed. The most amazing feature back then was that you could embed an Excel spreadsheet in Word or a Word document in Excel. It was tricky learning how to explain that in the German language. I ended up teaching multiple classes of 10-15 employees the basics of using the Microsoft products while speaking German the whole time. Needless to say, this is when my fluency in German really took off. I have not used my German in years, but even now when I get the opportunity to read or speak in German the words do come out and I really owe it to that internship position for my language improvement.

What were my goals?
My main goal was to experience the business world on a corporate level. I had worked in a small bank in my home town with various small projects, but I had never experienced a larger company setting.
My other main goal was to see if I liked working in my major field of computer science. It was interesting that even though I had a good experience, I told my boss flat out that I did not want to work in this field in the future. At that time I had my heart set on doing international law and using my language and world traveling experiences to push me down that path. A rejection letter from the University of Minnesota after my two years in the Peace Corps stopped that dream of mine. With this internship I had a good experience and I had shown an aptitude for the computer science field, but it wasn’t until my first job at Minnesota Life in St. Paul that I really found I liked the building of applications with code.

Back to the Present Day
So now the roles have reversed. I am now involved with creating a positive internship experience for college students. What have I learned and experienced so that I can ‘pay back’ what I received?

1) Have a relaxed and enjoyable place to come to work each day.
We do a great job with our culture at Sundog. There is an energy about the place that is fueled from the enthusiasm of the employees, the talent of the team members, the type of work we get to do and the sharp appearance of our office space. This is already in place so there is not much more for me to add here except to make sure that the interns are exposed to the Sundog culture in as many ways as possible.

2) Be involved with real projects
At first this will be to job shadow various people to experience the day-to-day life of the employees. This is a great way to get to know other team members and to watch everybody in action. Whether it is a conference call, an internal team meeting or a code review, this is the best way to see all of the pieces of the puzzle fitting together. Hopefully there is some small part of a real project that can be handed off to the intern for ownership to help him/her really feel part of the process.

3) Learn current practical skills
At the time of my internship Lotus 1-2-3, Excel and Word were some of the hot technologies of the day. The interns of today will want to leave this internship being able to show on their resumes that they have worked with cutting edge technologies. Being able to put on his/her resume the experience with Cloud Computing, Salesforce, Google, Java or Systems Integrations will give the intern a great way to get noticed for that first job. There is nothing more important in those first interviews than the ability to provide concrete examples of how these new technologies can be applied.

For those prospective interns reading this, make sure you take your responsibilities seriously too.  If you want to learn about a certain technology or process let your fellow co-workers know.  Go after projects and volunteer when something comes up.  You never know where these experiences will lead you!

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