IT co-ops and internships: windows into the real world
It’s agreed: internships and co-ops offer real-world experience that hiring managers value
An internship or co-op can help students find a focus and determine where they want to build their careers
By Sonya Stinson
College students have an excellent chance of landing a co-op or internship if their resumes include work in information technology, information systems or computer science. And any mention of cybersecurity is likely to get recruiters’ attention.
Inroads (www.inroads.org), a nonprofit organization that places underserved undergrads in paid internships and co-ops, reports that students who know their way around databases and flow charts are highly sought after. Among Inroads’s corporate partners, IT-related degrees are among the top four degrees employers look for, says Inroads executive director Valeria Wells. The other three are engineering, forensic science and accounting/finance, which can include plenty of IT-related work.
“The marketplace for college grads has been slow for quite a few years,” says Wells. “However, in what has lately been a tight job market, even for tech majors, pre-graduate work experience gives job applicants an edge.”
She adds that new hires who interned or co-opped with a company start out with a clearer understanding of what’s expected of them, and recruiters appreciate that. “Internship experience shows growth, commitment to learning, and an ability to hit the ground running from day one.”
Marcos Morales, assistant vice president for talent acquisition and operations at Inroads, notes that internship and co-op experience also “gives the employer the proof that this young person has explored in earnest, beyond the books, beyond the classroom, what it means to work in the employer’s field.”
What are companies looking for?
Wells says employers look for a range of skills when checking out interns as potential fulltime hires. “Companies are interested in critical thinking skills, but more importantly, they want to see a well-rounded student: one who has the capacity to lead and the interest in being a team player, and the ability to work independently,” she says.
The most successful applicants tend to be tech-savvy but also personable and professional. “It isn’t something that corporate partners ask for, but it describes the interns they seem to select first,” Wells observes.
While the majority of Inroads placements are for summer internships, the organization makes some co-op arrangements, too, says Morales. United Technologies, Lockheed Martin and Travelers are some of the Inroads partners that offer co-op positions to IT students. “IT co-ops and internships aren’t limited to tech employers. The insurance and banking industries also have a tremendous need for IT talent,” he says.
One of the most important benefits of internships and co-ops is that students can apply classroom knowledge to real business problems, according to Morales. “If you’re really fortunate and the internship puts you in the deep end of the pool, you’re going to be able to solve business problems that can make a difference in an organization’s success,” he says.
Internships boost chances at Henkel
Henkel Corporation (Scottsdale, AZ) is the manufacturer of familiar brands like Dial soaps, Purex laundry detergent and Locktite adhesives. At Henkel, the internship program can lead successful students into fulltime jobs.
“Our goal is to ensure the intern has a positive experience with meaningful and interesting projects and day-to-day work involvement,” says Rita Osterhout, Henkel’s senior human resources manager.
“HR and the hiring manager work together to outline a plan for the intern to integrate successfully into the company,” she explains. “Interns have meetings and lunches with senior management and cross-functional work experiences across other departments. A performance review by their managers at the end of the internship helps bring the learning full circle.”
Read on to hear from diverse IT students who attest to the value of a good co-op or internship, as well as some of the companies seeking these bright minds for internships, co-ops and careers.
Aswitha Vempati zeroes in on her passion through a Citigroup internship
Aswitha Vempati spent summer 2012 interning as an operations and technology analyst for banking and financial services company Citigroup (New York, NY). It was the second of two Citi internships she completed during college, and it put her career goals in focus.
“Right away, I saw a connection between my college courses and a Citi initiative,” says Vempati. She worked on an analysis of Citi’s data center energy efficiency and onsite power generation. “After I completed my internship, I knew what I wanted to do and learn more about.”
The previous summer, Vempati also interned for Citi, as an operations analyst intern in the global program management office.
Vempati earned a bachelors and masters in materials science and engineering from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She completed the five-year program in 2013. Computer engineering, electrical engineering and environmental engineering were all part of her multidisciplinary major. “It was like being a jack of all trades,” she says.
Vempati is now a graduate associate in the technology analyst program for core infrastructure services at Citigroup’s Irving, TX location. She’s currently assigned to the company’s application platform hosting organization. The program begins with eight weeks of training in cloud computing, database sharing and more, and will include several rotation placements.
Her academic background isn’t in IT, but she says, “When I came to this program, I came with an open mind, ready to try something new.”
Her internship experience honed her communications and project management skills and even made her a better student, she reports. “My internship supervisors encouraged me to ask questions, and I transferred that habit into my classroom studies.”
The internship also let her test drive different careers and begin building professional relationships. “It gave me an introduction to the real corporate world,” she says.
Citigroup builds diversity through its entry-level programs
A successful internship or co-op program is a key component of many companies’ efforts to create a diverse workplace.
“A workforce as diverse as the clients and communities we serve is a business imperative for us,” says Ana Duarte McCarthy, chief diversity officer at Citigroup (New York, NY). “A diverse workforce stimulates new ideas and fresh ways of thinking, important for a successful business in a rapidly changing environment. It also helps us attract the best talent in the industry.”
Altria’s Ian Hill: much more than fetching coffee
When Ian Hill showed up for his internship at Altria (Richmond, VA) the summer after his junior year at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU, Richmond), he expected to spend a lot of time filing papers and fetching coffee.
“I didn’t think I was going to be doing any real work,” Hill says. “But it was completely different. I worked with every technology they had. I tested streaming videos and worked with the networking team and workstation team. It was a good hands-on experience.”
Even the internship was something Hill didn’t see coming. He had a part-time job at an Apple store, and he was helping a customer who worked at Altria. “I was just answering some of his computer questions,” Hill recalls. “He said, ‘You’d be a great candidate for our internship.’”
After his internship, Hill became a student ambassador for Altria at VCU, joining company reps at career fairs and helping recruit other students into the company’s IT department.
Hill got his BS in information systems from VCU in May 2013, and that summer Altria brought him into a fulltime job in workstation support. Six months later, he transferred to the headquarters building for his current job in executive support. Now he helps Altria senior executives with their computers and mobile devices.
“I support their offsite meetings, internal meetings, pretty much anything dealing with technology that executives have to touch,” he says.
Hill hopes to become general manager of an Altria district some day. He wants a deeper knowledge of how the company’s supply chain works, and he thinks working as a GM will help him to do so. He would also welcome the chance to travel outside the state.
The Altria internship gave him excellent work experience, Hill says, and his communication, interpersonal and leadership skills improved. “The experience also helped me decide whether the company was a good fit for me,” he says. “I would encourage all college students to pursue internships at companies where they think they are interested in working. It lets you feel the company out.”
Yiwen Jia gets exposure to multiple business units at GE
Yiwen Jia interned at GE (Norwalk, CT) during the summer before she started in the company’s information technology leadership program (ITLP). Her summer experience involved working on a database security project for GE Capital.
GE’s ITLP is a fulltime program consisting of four six-month rotations, each in a different IT area. Jia started the program in 2012. “I’m in my final rotation, working as an enterprise data project manager. I review the quality of test cases and figure out which applications GE needs to monitor, and which tools it needs to do that.”
Jia says GE’s multiple business units give program participants exposure to a variety of technologies, including application development, database development, security and project management.
Travel, feedback welcomed
Born in Beijing, China and raised in the United States, Jia says she would welcome a GE assignment in her native country. In summer 2013, as part of an immersion training course that preceded her third rotation, she traveled to Shanghai, China for three weeks. “That was a good time for me to put my Mandarin to use,” she says.
As an undergrad, Jia also interned for two summers on Wall Street with JPMorgan Chase.
She earned a BS in information systems and human computer interaction, with a minor in Chinese studies, from Carnegie-Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) in 2011. She got her MS in information systems management from Carnegie-Mellon in December 2011 through its accelerated masters program.
“My internships strengthened my passion for IT,” she says. “I also learned the importance of seeking advice from managers and co-workers. I learned that feedback is a gift and I should seek it, reflect on it and use it to improve myself professionally.”
Melissa Sanders: internship to leadership at Travelers
For Melissa Sanders, two summer internships with insurance company Travelers (Hartford, CT) solidified her desire for a career that combined her interests in business and technology.
Sanders enrolled in the business school at Villanova University (PA), but had always enjoyed working with computers. She also had a knack for communicating with nontechnical people about how computers work.
“My sophomore year I took a class in strategic information technology, and I learned how I could use that skill,” Sanders says. “In that class, I found how valuable technology is in business and how much room there is for growth.”
She wound up with a double major in management information systems and marketing and a minor in business analytics. The marketing major was a strategic choice. “IT and business don’t always see eye-to-eye, so I knew a marketing major would help me communicate my ideas effectively to both.”
Internship provides helpful perspectives
Sanders’s first internship was in summer 2012, between her sophomore and junior years. She worked in the shared services and compliance department of Travelers’s business insurance division. “I helped manage support for an application by detecting trends from the questions users asked. And I developed a plan to automate business applications and update their approval processes.”
In 2013, Sanders did a second internship on the data integrity team of the corporate audit department. She used SQL code to ensure database accuracy and consistency.
The internships gave Sanders a glimpse into the corporate culture at Travelers, which she found attractive. It also gave her some valuable perspective on her classroom studies. “From then on, I was able to focus my energy on learning the skills that were most important in the work world.”
The internship experience also boosted her confidence. “I knew what to expect after I graduated,” she says.
On to the ITLDP
After graduating from Villanova in May 2018, Sanders joined Travelers’s IT leadership development program (ITLDP). For her first, year-long rotation in supplier management, she’s monitoring performance metrics and updating current practices in vendor relations. She has also worked with the technical assistance, event planning, recruiting and internship development groups.
The ITLDP will include business and technology-focused assignments. “My first rotation is a strategic, business-side role, but my next rotation will probably be more technical,” Sanders says. “Especially in IT, it’s important to understand both sides to be a good leader and drive change effectively.”
At Travelers, internships help the company and the candidate
“Internships are invaluable for both Travelers and the intern,” says Gregg DiGennaro, IT leadership development program director.
“As a company, we can see the intern in a realtime work environment and get a feel for what drives them to succeed. The intern can get a glimpse into life at Travelers and determine if the company would be a good fit after graduation.”
Alexandra Sampson transitions from co-op to job at NASA
Alexandra Sampson was always drawn to information technology as a career field, but after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she started leaning more toward criminal justice and forensics.
“As I looked at the programs and options for college, I saw this new field called cybersecurity that really interested me,” says Sampson. She earned a BS in information insurance from the University of Maryland-University College (UMUC) in 2010, and got a masters in cybersecurity in 2013.
She participated in NASA’s Stay in School program, which gives students the opportunity to work part time while they’re in school. She had a job in the applied engineering technology branch of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, MD) through most of her undergraduate and graduate studies.
In 2012, while working on her masters, she joined Goddard’s co-op program. She had a variety of work assignments but spent most of her time shadowing the IT incident response manager on tasks related to protecting Goddard’s computer device and network infrastructure from unauthorized access and cyber attacks. She also drafted work instructions for policy documents.
She’s now full time at Goddard, and is the government point of contact for Goddard and all its remote locations. She manages RSA tokens for network assurance two-factor authentication, and manages the PKI system for encrypted email.
The RSA token process uses a device that resembles a small clock. “It generates a one-time numerical set of values that allows the user to access the network resource or application,” says Sampson. “The numerical values change every sixty seconds.” She’s also responsible for controlling access to the device.
She learned much of what she does now through on-the-job training, but says her co-op experience made the transition into working full time easier.
“The co-op program showed me the way things are done here, the processes, the corporate culture. And it helped me learn the acronyms,” she says with a smile. “You definitely need an intro into the NASA IT world before you can concentrate on your functional area.”
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