The Importance of Internships
This summer I was lucky enough to be hired as a Data Analytics Intern for First Tech. My experience was nothing like any news article or friend would lead me to expect. Growing up in the Silicon Valley, studying to get into the high tech industry, I never hear the end of people’s opinions about internships. From people asserting that “If you don’t get an internship this summer you should drop your major” to assuming “You don’t know nearly enough, don’t bother applying.” Sufficed to say, the whole process of getting and completing my first internship was a stressful time. It probably wasn’t easy for my team to bring me in either, after all I’m barely 19 with no experience in the Credit Union industry. Luckily I invested all my time into this job, and my team invested all they could back in me. This is the key to a successful internship, you don’t need to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or be on the iPhone dev team at Apple. All you need is a student with a desire to learn on a team of people committed to improving their company by any means possible.
I walked in on my first day knowing maybe 10% of what I would need for the summer. I had no idea what a data warehouse was, how to deal with billion point data sets, or how “data science” fits into a business’ goals. I was nervous about the expectations, but my manager gave me the perfect start to ease me into the job. He gave me a day to become familiar with everything: the databases, procedures, and projects. By the end of week one I was given one question that would last my whole ride at First Tech: “Where and how are First Tech members spending money?” At first I laughed at the question, it seemed so simple, like some busy work to occupy me. Within about an hour of staring at that question and contemplating I realized how much of a story this kind of data could tell. More importantly, I realized I had no clue how I was going to tell that story. Too scared to ask for help in fear of looking bad, I beat my head into the wall refusing to admit I needed guidance. Finally, I gave in and went to my manager to tell him I had no clue what to do. I felt so bad, like I was wasting his time, but that conversation changed the direction of my whole summer. He sat with me for 15 minutes and broke down the problem, told me where to start, and who could help me with what. Within the next few weeks I started to get more comfortable asking for help from everyone on my team. As I started reaching out, my project took huge steps forward. This was the biggest lesson I learned: there is no shame admitting to not knowing it all.
Fast forward to week 10 and I’m sitting in a conference room presenting my project to my team. I realize now what I had gotten started, it was more than the technical algorithms and number crunching. I had answered many old questions but also opened the door to so many future projects. My work is the beginning of some new analytics that can help existing projects like fraud detection, cross selling, and churn prediction. What was great about this whole project is that it wasn’t just mine. In school I work alone, get my own grades and take my own tests. Here I got to work with a team and be part of a company working to improve the financial well-being of hundreds of thousands of members. This company invested in me, all the twenty minute chats, quick coffee breaks, and lunches added up, and I learned so much from everyone here at First Tech. Technically, I am a much more sound programmer and statistician but what’s worth more is how much more of a comfortable and effective contributor I am leaving this team. More importantly, I have a much better understanding of how my work fits into a business, and how to produce meaningful results rather than random numbers.
First Tech invested in me like they invest in any program, they took a calculated risk. This is what every company should be doing in any field or sector. Though it was entirely possible I could have ended up wasting 40 hours a week sitting at a desk this summer sapping away the time of my co-workers, First Tech made sure that did not happen. They made sure I had the qualities any good intern has: some background knowledge, good interpersonal skills, and a hunger to learn. On the other end they made sure they were set up to foster a relationship like we had. Their team is well established within their business and is composed of skilled team members who are more devoted to the company than their own personal interests. In the end I am confident that we are all happy with the experience. I grew my skills and have more love for the field of Data/Computer Science, while First Tech got another small piece of the puzzle in their analytics journey.
I hope my future holds more experiences like this summer with First Tech, and I especially hope to learn more from the people I met there. First Tech is a pioneer in their industry not only in analytics, but in the way they are building their brand and team. Successful internships like what I had are a key sign of a company/team that really has a mastery of their craft. Hopefully with time more people continue to follow First Tech’s example and create these wonderful relationships.