With the beginning of a new academic year just behind us, many businesses – and students – are exploring the possibility of an internship experience. Internships are useful for a number of reasons. They help potential employees get a better feel for the type of work they’ll be doing, as well as granting them the opportunity to explore the workplace culture of a potential employer. Companies that offer internships get the chance to train potential employees for a specific job at a reduced cost. At the same time, they can see if the potential candidate will be a good fit for their team and culture before committing to a permanent position.
Perks of Perspective
Some of the most obvious impacts of an internship are exposure to different types of work, tools, and workflows. Let’s start off by exploring some of the practical benefits of internships.
Question: Internships, like all work, take time. Do you feel like your internships were worth the time you spent?
Brice Jones: Absolutely! I have always felt that traditional education can be limiting – if you have two people, they are going to learn different things at different paces, and that is only going to be exaggerated by a larger class size. I had the opportunity for a four-month internship with GEO Jobe, which allowed me to gain hands on experience and learn at the same time. I was able to go at my own pace and ask for help the moment I got stuck, I was able to progress from project to project with no loss of steam. Additionally, everything I learned as an intern was relevant to my job as a developer. By the end of my internship, I had worked on projects that have been directly applicable to my job in the Products division.
Courtney Kirkham: I had three internships while I was in college, and a fourth right after – at GEO Jobe. All of them were absolutely worth the time. My first internship was when I was still planning to become an English teacher. By getting experience working in a school, I was able to realize it wasn’t an appropriate career path for me, and had time to pivot into working in tech. My other internships gave me the opportunity to explore a variety of career opportunities and work environments to figure out what I was really looking for in a job. This saved me time “job hopping” and let me start my career at a company I was passionate about and knew I wanted to work for. Had I not had internships, finding a job at a company like GEO Jobe may have taken me years.
Q: What were some of the technologies you were exposed to during your internship, and how did that exposure impact you?
Courtney: For the last three of my internships, I worked as a developer – albeit, in different roles. Each one involved using different frameworks, methodologies, and tools. Getting this exposure helped me expand my awareness of just how many types of development there are, and how many tools for developers exist. My first experience working with GIS came from my second internship. I worked with ArcCatalog and ArcPy for part of that experience. One of my favorite discoveries from an internship was exposure to Visual Studio Code. It’s now my go-to text editor because it’s so lightweight, and has great extensions for a variety of situations. I love it! Even now, my teammates and I explore new tools and technologies and share them with each other. It’s a very helpful way to find what works best in a particular situation, which helps you be a more versatile and efficient developer – or worker of any sort, really – overall.
Fun note: Brice introduced Courtney to some new VSC extensions during the course of this interview.
Q: How did getting “real world experience” affect you?
Brice: Getting real world experience helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life and career. Before starting my internship at GEO Jobe, I thought I wanted to be a librarian. Working at a library was definitely a lot slower paced and more relaxed, whereas, at GEO Jobe, I am constantly pushing myself to learn and improve. I have found that I enjoy the challenge and sense of accomplishment I get after finishing a project or figuring out the solution to a difficult problem. The fact that developers are well paid certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Courtney: The “real world experience” of my internships was vital in figuring out what sort of environment I wanted to work in. While I was in college, I thought I wanted a job where, most of the time, I worked on my own. One of my internships was exactly that – my coworkers were very isolated, and there were lots of closed office doors. I hated it. Fortunately, my next internship was very different. I was part of an energetic, highly collaborative team environment. It made me excited about going to work, engaging with the people and projects, and I found that I thrived there. It is very important to me to have a job where I can thrive, and it was only through trying different experiences in my internships that I learned what sort of environment did that for me.
Internships aren’t just about getting exposed to different types of work. They’re also about exploring different work environments. Culture is a big part of an employee’s experience at a job, and internships are a great opportunity to explore that.
Q: What are some of the differences between working collaboratively and working independently?
Brice: Working on a team has been a very pleasant experience. If I am ever stuck or want advice, someone is always available to help me out, whether by pointing me in the right direction or by bouncing ideas off of each other until we figure out the solution to whatever problem I have. Another benefit to working on a team is the fact that you can rely on your teammates – things won’t just explode because you were gone for five minutes. Probably. This means you can do things like take vacations and know that things are being taken care of while you are gone.
Courtney: Initially, I thought I wanted the type of job where I could work on my own. However, after a few internships where I would check in with a supervisor to get some tasks and give progress updates, but was otherwise left alone, I realized that was really unfulfilling. I felt disconnected from my coworkers, and didn’t understand how my work fit into the “bigger picture” at my company. Furthermore, whenever I was stumped, it was difficult to figure out solutions that I now know would have been quite simple, had there been someone to work with. On the other hand, working on a team with other developers who are curious and driven is great. At work, we all dive into our tasks. Sometimes the work is collaborative. Even when we’re working on a solo project, if there’s ever a time one of us is stumped, we help each other out, which is why there are whiteboards with snippets of solutions or designs from brainstorming sessions all over the office. Many of us get along well enough we hang out outside of the office. It’s much more fulfilling and energizing than working in an isolated role.
Q: Workplaces offer the opportunity to work with people from a variety of different backgrounds and life experiences. Is there anything you feel you learned from this exposure that you may not have otherwise?
Brice: One of the great things about working with a team of people who have more life experience than me is how much useful advice I’ve gotten about things that are completely unrelated to work. I’m still transitioning into adulthood and independence, so I’ve gotten advice on a number of subjects including, but not limited to, home and vehicle maintenance, investing and personal finance, driving, real estate, and time management. I am still learning how to handle these situations, so being able to ask people who have the experience has been very helpful.
Courtney: If you’re engaged during your internship and try to make the most of it, you’ll meet people who could become mentors. Mentors are important because they can help you navigate challenges that might be common in a field of work, but are new to you. They can also have the experience to explain how something works or why it’s done a particular way. This can help you solve problems more quickly and efficiently. A good mentor will be a long term connection that can help you figure out a wide variety of situations, from how to use a new tool to how to prepare for your first major conference. Additionally, internships provide the opportunity to work with people who have a variety of perspectives. In the right kind of environment, those perspectives can lead to healthy discussions, which can often lead to innovative ideas. One of my favorite parts about working on a team is hearing the different ideas and experiences my teammates have.
Q: What are your relationships with your colleagues like, and how important is this?
Brice: I think that having a good relationship with your colleagues is incredibly important. These are the people that you are going to spend eight hours a day with, five days a week, for the time you are at that company. A bad working relationship could you leave you stressed and unproductive, while a good working relationship gives you something extra to look forward to every day. I, personally, love to play a game or two of Magic the Gathering with my colleagues after work.
Courtney: Most of the office will go to lunch together at least once a week. After work, many of us get together for various events – from game nights to catching movies or even camping trips. Having such a good rapport with so many of my coworkers is vital to feeling like I’m part of a team and that we’re getting stuff done. It contributes to the sense of purpose I feel when I’m doing work and helps keep me invested in working with my team towards our common goals.
Q: Is there anything we didn’t cover?
Brice: Going into my internship, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Popular culture – TV, books, and movies – generally depict interns as being gofers, being sent on errands or menial chores almost constantly. I was pleasantly surprised to find that to be largely inaccurate, as my internship focused almost entirely on learning what I needed to know in order to do my job.
Courtney: Balancing internships with the other things you have going on in your life might take a bit of work, but it’s really worth it. Even if you don’t enjoy an internship, you at least got the chance to learn more about what kind of work, and work environment, you enjoy and excel in. Figuring that out early on one’s career is invaluable.
Note: This article was written as a collaboration between Brice Jones and Courtney Kirkham