IT Interns Realize True Meaning of Networking

IT Interns Realize True Meaning of Networking

By Gail Repsher, Staff Writer

Connections, connections. Even though they're still in school, future information technology workers already know that the cliche "it's who you know" can help a lot in getting ahead.

Daniel Esrov found out about Fortress Technologies in Vienna, Va., from his friend John Long, who had worked for Geoffrey Stilley, now a Fortress vice president, last summer at Network Associates Inc., a security software developer.

"Sometimes you have to know someone. There's no shame in asking," said Long, a junior at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

The two 20-year-olds from Bethesda, Md., are getting hands-on experience in everything from setting up a computer network to fielding technical questions about the company's data encryption products. Soon they'll go to a trade show in Austin, Texas.

"We got lucky," said Esrov, a junior studying finance and information systems at The George Washington University in Washington. "They gave us a chance to prove our usefulness. I could see myself being here out of college."

That's just what their boss wants to hear. "As we grow larger, I'm sure we would probably be one of their first options as an employer," said Stilley, vice president of federal sales and marketing at Fortress.

Besides $10 an hour, Stilley said his interns are accumulating "enough stock options to satisfy their needs" after Fortress goes public, probably by early 2001. "And if they come back next year, I'm sure we'll make it even more worthwhile," he said.

Worthwhile learning opportunities are essential to Melissa Rubin's recruiting efforts. The internship coordinator for Science Application International Corp. brings on about 150 summer interns in Northern Virginia. She benefits from former interns who are eager to talk about their experiences at campus recruiting events.

"Word of mouth is very valuable" in getting the right candidates, Rubin said.

Word of mouth on campus and some strategic decision making got Naoum Anagnos, 19, and Diana Depp, 34, to SAIC this summer.

Anagnos, a sophomore engineering student at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., knew other students who had internships at the consulting firm, but his parents really nudged him in that direction.

"I wanted to be a lifeguard or a bartender," said the 19-year-old sophomore from Springfield, Va. "But my parents said, 'You should get an internship.' " Anagnos' college adviser told him that a lot of people get internships early in their college careers. "It was a good piece of advice," he said.

While working for San Diego-based SAIC in a Washington office, Anagnos has helped design a better forklift for use in Federal Aviation Administration radar towers, compile information for a course on asbestos and update FAA electrical safety practices.

"I'll actually come out of this internship learning more than I did in school," he said.

Depp, who's earning a master's degree in instructional technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pa., hooked up with SAIC after a presentation to her school's corporate advisory council, which included an SAIC executive.

Hearing good things about SAIC also helped. "A lot of my friends work here, and they really like it," said Depp, a former elementary school teacher. At SAIC in McLean, Va., she helps design computer-based materials to teach the basics of voice networks.

Depp beamed as she talked about the experience. "You actually become a fully functional member of the team. I'm a key player on the project," which is vital to a worthwhile internship, employers and interns agree.

"You need to provide [interns] with real-world experience," said Johnnie Lawton, vice president of diversity initiatives and senior minority recruiting at American Management Systems Inc. "It is part of their overall professional development. Probably the most discouraging thing is to give them a lot of clerical work."

Lauren Scott, 23, isn't doing clerical work at AMS in Fairfax, Va., nor is she teaching tennis like she expected. The Baltimore native instead researches the technical issues posed by the internationalization of software development.

"Every country has their own interpretation of coding. I'm trying to gather a list of resources where people can go and get that information," said Scott, who is earning a master's degree in international communication at American University in Washington.

Along the way, AMS employees help Scott unravel the technical aspects of technology. It is an opportunity she didn't anticipate. "I've always been interested in IT, but because I don't come from a computer science background, I thought it would be difficult to get into," Scott said.

Then she connected to the Digital Opportunity Initiative Web site. The Information Technology Association of America site links minority students with IT internship opportunities.

"I think there's a place for me" in the industry, she said. "I don't think I'll be programming, but I think I'll be able to help a company figure out what technology would be best for them."

For 19-year-old Julie Omole, a connection made this summer netted a temproary assignment at Fortress Technologies. She proved her talents in marketing and graphic design and next summer will intern at O'Keefe and Co., a McLean, Va., high-tech public relations and marketing firm that counts Fortress among its clients.

"I really did get lucky," said Omole, a junior from Dale City, Va., who studies management information systems and marketing at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "It's just putting yourself out there. You know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody."

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