July 26 is National Intern Day. Boy, it has been a long time since I thought about internships. However, I look back on mine fondly.
Ever since I was a little girl I knew that I wanted to work with computers. I wasn’t sure exactly what to major in or what my job would be. In fact, I grew up hearing from my parents that what I would do probably wasn’t invented yet (they weren’t wrong). I did know that I loved my HTML and BASIC programming classes in school.
The summer between high school graduation and college, the father of the neighbor kids I babysat told me the software company he worked at was starting a volunteer program. People from the community interested in software could come in and participate in a volunteer project.
The company was Menlo Innovations and I went “to work” three days a week as a High Tech Anthropologist (similar to a business analyst). It was there I first heard about Agile Methodology and paired programming. I didn’t understand how it all fit together then but the few weeks I participated in the volunteer program started to form what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Fast forward a few years. I declared my major in Management Information Systems and was chugging along through my junior year of college when an interesting opportunity arose. I was a few credits short in my Spanish minor. My advisor told me there was an internship program where I would work for a company in a Spanish speaking country and get credits to complete my minor.
I always planned on fitting in a study abroad but to work at a real Spanish company speaking only Spanish? That was a scary thought. Not one to back down from a challenge, I applied to the program and headed off to Spain a week after Junior year ended. It was my first international trip and I was the only person from my college to participate in the internship program in Madrid that year.
It ended up being one of the best decisions I made in college. I interviewed and accepted the job at Canterbury English (a school that certifies folks to teach English abroad). I sat in a room that I shared with with a developer from Mexico. He didn’t talk much. I reported to Richard, one of the founders of the company. It was my job to update the website, community forum, and write for the company newsletter, among other tasks.
I loved going to work each day. I walked the few blocks from apartment I stayed in, down Calle de San Bernardo to Calle Gran Via and up into the office. Each day I got to work on the tasks that Richard listed off to me in Spanish. At least working in CSS and HTML didn’t feel foreign to me. I think the hardest part of the job was getting used to the Spanish Keyboard. The @ symbol was in the function keys along with other variances.
I learned that I liked being a jack of all trades. I wasn’t stuck doing the same type of work each day. I learned I liked learning about how business works. I liked seeing how technology fit into the day to day operations of a company and helped it grow.
A bonus was that I actually was able to use my Spanish during my time as a MES consultant. I spoke with collegues, clients, and Spanish speakers at trade shows thanks to the tech vocab I learned during my internship.
Internships can be hard, scary beasts. But the experience gained by going for it and working in one is invaulable. They can reinforce what we already know we like to do or open our minds to jobs that we didn’t even know existed.
Cheers to the intern years because you have the whole world before you to explore and make yours.