My not-so-secret government internship

People come to college for many reasons. Of course, making friends with new and interesting people, taking all sorts of classes and discovering oneself are incredibly important. Perhaps the most important thing, however is finding out what one is interested in doing for a potential career. While classes and student organizations can spark that interest, nothing adds quite as much fuel to the fire of creativity as a hands-on experience, such as an internship. As a senior, I got the chance to participate in one this past summer.

While I won’t go into too much detail about the actual company I worked for, other than that it is affiliated with the government, I can say that my title was “Engineering Intern.” As they say, who you know can help you get your foot in the door for your desired profession. Luckily, my friend’s mom needed an intern for the future and my major and past experience was perfect for the job. I submitted all the necessary paperwork, took part in an interview over the phone before leaving last semester and had everything I needed. I was surprised and excited to discover about a week or so later that I’d gotten my first “real” paid job.

Now, I’m not saying internships are all about money. It was a nice addition to the experience, but I definitely would have stayed even if it wasn’t paid. My real rewards were the skills I learned as a result in just a few short months.

When I first heard about the job, I thought it was going to be about using design programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and so on, which I’d used in the past, to create some kind of content. My boss, or more appropriately, my mentor, introduced me to a collaboration tool many business are using called Microsoft Sharepoint. Besides being used for intranet (that is connected content within a company), many Internet sites such as Ferrari, Pringles and Viacom also use it. There are also extranet connections, which are a sort of combination of the two. My main goal over the summer was to help my mentor upgrade the company intranet network from the 2007 version to 2010. In just three years, so many new things were added that it was overwhelming at first, especially to me as a first-time user. I had to work with those new features and try to make it look nice with the corporate identity. This process involved several key challenges.

One of the biggest issues I had to deal with was getting a search page to use all the features of the other pages on the site (something that wasn’t supported out of the box) and required custom coding and lots of planning. After that was taken care of, I got to play around with custom themes for my part of the site. Using the knowledge I gained from experimenting on the various parts, I eventually had to brand the company site with their logo, a custom banner and the overall color scheme of each section. Some things like the little icon for the site in the address bar are usually overlooked, but equally important, and I worked on them all. This hands-on experience taught me things I had never done before.

While I had done plenty of graphic design work and photography in the past, I had never really gotten into web design until now. Changing the various aspects of each page required some knowledge of HTML and CSS code. Many web designers are more than familiar with this but few know about Microsoft’s Sharepoint platform. This came with its own surprises and pitfalls but it was a good learning experience nonetheless. I am already continuing to use the HTML and CSS now for some classes but I’m sure the Sharepoint knowledge will benefit me in the future. In the end, I can’t see why someone wouldn’t get an internship, given the chance; it can only help you in the long run. Imagine if you were deciding between two people for a job. Both have the same academic performance, work ethic and everything else you would look for. But if one has had hands-on experience in their field and the other hasn’t you can see why everything matters. What I learned in just three months will benefit me for a lifetime and I’d do it again in an instant.