From Class to Career: What I've Learned During My Internship
I grew up determined to become a doctor – I knew I wanted to help people. Like most kids, I also wanted to do something different from my parents, who are both engineers. So, it was a bit of a surprise when, a few weeks into my first computer class in eighth grade (which I hated in the beginning), I found myself starting to like technology. Eventually, I learned to code and decided to spend more time pursuing computer science, knowing it can be applied in almost every industry, including medicine.
Five years and several computer classes later, I'm now a high school senior and an intern on the Digital Innovation team at Northwestern Mutual. I’m loving the experience! I'm here three afternoons a week, working side-by-side with professionals who are helping me see how computer science is applied in the real world, while opening my eyes to the future.
Here's what I've learned so far about getting—and benefitting from—a technology-based internship with Northwestern Mutual:
You create the opportunity. As I look back on it, this internship might never have happened if I hadn't spoken up. In the fall of my junior year, I heard that a handful of boys in my class were invited to attend a "jobs of the future" event hosted by then-House Speaker Paul Ryan. Curious about the opportunity, I asked my computer science teacher if I could join, since “girls should also be represented.” Together, we emailed our school district’s Director of Secondary Teaching and Learning – the woman in charge. To my surprise, I was extended an invitation. It was a great opportunity that marked my first real-world networking experience.
I must have made an impression on the Director because she began asking me to help with other events. At one such event, I ended up having a conversation with Irissol Arce from Northwestern Mutual, who runs the company's STEM Outreach program. (I'd met her earlier when she supported an AGILE program in our school, but it wasn't until later that we talked at length.) Ultimately, I was invited to attend Northwestern Mutual's tech minicamp, which then led to my internship upon the Digital Innovation team.
If I hadn't asked my computer science teacher about going to that Paul Ryan event, the sequence of events that led to my internship would never have happened. I created the opportunity for myself – so can you!
You get real-world experience. My first project as an intern was to develop a photo booth for Cream City Labs, the company's dedicated innovation space. In the beginning, there was a huge learning curve. It took me an entire 40-hour workweek to get a video feed to show up in the middle of the screen that was well positioned and colorful. By the end of the summer, though, I was able to develop similar features in about an hour. Recently, I've been working on Northwestern Mutual’s innovation site – where this very blog is posted!
Throughout the internship, I've learned so much about the technical space and the ways in which Northwestern Mutual applies technology. The whole experience has opened my eyes to the role technology could play in other fields and in my future.
You learn how to be a professional. It's easy to let yourself be intimidated by your surroundings when you're a high school student working in a professional environment and not really sure what to do or how to act. Thankfully, the people here have been great about helping me develop soft skills, from giving tips on how to dress professionally to showing how to craft the perfect email. They also continue to drive home the value of networking, which is easy here. Northwestern Mutual employees are known for networking over lunch, so I strive to schedule as many lunch meetings as possible with my fellow interns, members/mentors from my team, and various other professionals I've met here.
You might just change your mind about your future! I always thought I wanted to go to college somewhere in California or Seattle (I’m actually waiting to hear back on my applications as I write this) and then head toward the Valley or somewhere there's a lot of opportunity in tech. But honestly, after having this experience and understanding the role Northwestern Mutual is playing in developing Milwaukee as a tech hub, I feel inclined to come back home after college. There are a lot of great things happening here and it's exciting to be part of it.