Summer 2019, I was volunteering at a fundraising event for a nonprofit I worked with. While cleaning up a check-in table at the end of the event, I overheard the nonprofit’s Chief Operating Officer and Head of IT discussing internships. The Head of IT was talking about considering high school interns in addition to the college ones they normally employ. He explained that college students usually didn’t have a lot of relevant experience and had to learn from scratch when interning with him. Since not much prior experience was necessary, why not allow some older high school students to intern? My interest in their conversation was picked up on by the COO, who introduced me to the Head of IT as a viable intern since she knew I was planning on pursuing a degree in computer science.
I was given a business card with an email address I reached out to when it drew nearer to summertime, and after some resume forwarding and question answering I found myself scheduled to start working. I spent around 6 weeks of my summer working in their IT department, which was set up a bit different from most businesses. The nonprofit is comprised entirely of women 🙂 and has only one male worker: the Head of IT (also the only IT person there before I started work). He was a contractor who typically visited the office once a week to go through all the IT ticket requests, meaning there wasn’t a formal IT department on-site (a.k.a the reason my desk was in a spare corner, although a corner with much access to the copier). After getting all the paperwork settled, I was to come to the office 3 times a week 9 AM-4 PM, and work on whatever IT request tickets I could handle as well as projects assigned to me.
I was given 3 main projects during my time there. The first was to keep a log of every computer containing it’s users, pending Windows updates, security application expiry dates, and general troubleshooting requests. This proved harder than expected since the majority of the office workers come in on varying days and times, and many computers had information I was legally required to not have access to. I was able to complete this task in around 3 weeks after finally meeting everyone. My second project was to help revamp a website of one of their ventures. I researched hosting, using WordPress, good plug-ins, themes in our price range, etc. and helped the communications department put together a new website pitch for the nonprofit’s board. My final project was helping install dual monitors for the entire finance department, which required: searching through storage for compatible monitors in good condition, ordering conversion cables, and assembling the monitor stands.
Besides these projects, I helped a lot of the staff (mainly the office administrator) get accustomed to using Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, and Forms were some of the powerful tools I studied to help the staff with their inquiries about using them. I recently learned that my insistence for the nonprofit’s youth program I worked with to have access to Microsoft 365 and the research I provided on its uses during my internship are what helped the nonprofit hit the ground running with the online shift during the quarantine. Share your love of tech, you never know who might find your knowledge handy!
I had a great last day at work, with my boss giving me a ton of advice for college and for my career. I had expressed an interest in cybersecurity from the start so throughout my internship I learned about security measures that an organization like this nonprofit would take. On my last day, my boss recommended I get CISCO cybersecurity certifications while I’m in college along with continuing to get work experience. He told me it was a great way to stand out in the job market since it shows I have hard skills relating to cybersecurity beyond what my college classes teach, and because CISCO provides opportunities like full-time jobs to those that do well in their courses.
My main takeaways from this experience were:
- Pretty much any event can be a networking one if you run into the right people! Don’t stress too much about finding an internship, one might be right under your nose.
- Office culture can be a little scary at first, but once you get to know everyone it feels a lot more casual, so get to know your coworkers.
- No matter how many times you fix that printer/copier, it will break down all over again. Printers are primadonnas.
- Check-in on people and make sure they know they can come to you with questions. Lots of people had IT requests they thought were too trivial to file a ticket for but would mention it to me when I ask if they have any tech issues.
- Hands-on experience is the most efficient way to learn since it readies you for application from the get-go. A lot of my job was researching and implementing fixes instead of memorizing solutions since, besides a handful of common occurrences, most problems are relatively unique.
- Ask people with more experience than you in your field and related fields for advice, they’ll have a ton of suggestions you’ve never even considered (especially when you’re still an outsider who’s yet to break into the career field). People love to share their opinions and give advice, so even if they seem intimidating, ask them for it because they may offer up some invaluable input!