Real-World Experience for Real-World Results: The Power of a Great Internship
Agilant Solutions, Inc
I got my first computer at the age of four. It was a hand-me-down laptop that belonged to my cousin. I spent lots of time on it. The internet wasn't as prominent back in the early 2000s so I primarily spent my time playing games. I don't remember much about the laptop, except that it was a Compaq and I would spend hours playing a Madeline game.
When I evaluate my reasoning for getting involved in technology, it was all due to my father. Back in the late 90s / early 2000s, he foresaw how important technology would become. He felt that I should learn how computers worked because they were clearly the future. When I was in elementary school, home internet was still fairly new—especially high speed. That was the time of dial up. By the time I was in third grade, I was already designing and hand-coding web pages with my classmates. We built websites and enter various competitions. In the fourth grade, I was part of a team that made the New York City finals in Oracle's ThinkQuest contest (which no longer exists). My parents were very proud.
Dad’s strategy worked. I began to appreciate with computers. At his urging, I applied to a CTE (Career and Technical Education) high school and was accepted. Every borough in New York has this type of high school. I went to Thomas A. Edison in Queens and ended up on the school's MOUSE Squad in my junior year. I provided tech support for my teachers and classmates, while getting my CompTIA A+ certification—and I got paid for it. This was an amazing experience for someone that age.
Even back then, I started to realize that, as much as I loved tech, I actually wanted to teach. My parents sacrificed so I could go to school and I wanted to provide other kids with the same opportunity to learn.
From Techie to Teacher
I took a bit of a detour on the path where I am now. I spent my first year of college studying finance at Queens College and realized it's not for me. I, then, enrolled in the Success Via Apprenticeship (SVA) Program instead. It's a collaborative project run by the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), the City University of New York (CUNY), and the teacher's union (UFT—United Federation of Teachers).
The SVA Program is a five-year teaching program for recent graduates of CTE high schools. The goal is to train the next generation of CTE teachers. To be admitted, every applicant must initially submit their high school transcript and be recommended by one of their trade teachers. Then, they must be interviewed by two committees. While it isn't easy to get in, it's even tougher to get through it.
There are three components to SVA. For two years, you spend your days as a teacher at a local high school. These two years are interspersed with three as an apprentice at technology companies. At night, you study education at the New York City College of Technology (NYCCT), also known as City Tech in Brooklyn. Throughout this time, each SVA is an active member of the NYCDOE. Currently, I'm a senior at City Tech and in my second year of teaching, after a year-long internship at Agilant Solutions, Inc. (ASI) in Manhattan.
These apprenticeships are a critical part of my training process. Working in the field will provide me with practical knowledge and experience that will be passed on to my students.
A Different Kind of Apprenticeship
My ASI apprenticeship was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Going in, I didn't know much about ASI. I knew the company hosted a few students as interns when I was a student in high school, which made the opportunity seem promising. I, however, was the first SVA to work there. My supervisor was the Commercial and Dispatch Supervisor of the ASI Command Center, which is their customer service and tech support hub. During my year, I was not only mentored, but I also trained with other account leads and assisted on both OEM and customer accounts.
What struck me about ASI was the sense of teamwork. Everyone helps each other here. If you're not sure about an aspect of your job, someone has your back. This camaraderie is incredibly beneficial for an apprentice. There's endless amounts of skills to learn in IT and the answer isn't always evident. I felt secure that if I didn't know the answer, another team member would point me in the right direction.
Learning Patience and Leadership
When I was an apprentice at smaller companies, there was a lot more pressure on me and a lot less teamwork. When I didn't know something, I felt stupid. The point of being an apprentice is to acquire new skills and knowledge. If you don't know—or don't remember—something right away, how are you supposed to learn if nobody sets you straight?
Things were different at ASI. Each manager was very patient with me. If I forgot something I'd learned a few weeks earlier, they gently reminded me. Even after months of my being there, they did not angry or annoyed or questioned why I couldn't remember every single thing I learned.
Vivian Scott, who runs the Command Center, also encouraged me. She provided me, as well as my colleagues, with a notebook so I could keep track of the skills I was acquiring. The workplace was fast paced, with learning around every corner, so I was constantly taking notes. When I had questions, somebody always took the time to answer. People were very supportive that way.
That level of teamwork and support inspired me to work harder and to become a better teacher. Can you imagine if I made a student feel stupid because they forgot something? Think about putting that pressure on a teenager.
In the classroom, my students work in teams. Nobody has a monopoly on knowledge, and that includes myself. As their teacher, I have the final say in everything they learn but that doesn't mean I "boss them around." I’m like their supervisor, or team leader, who guides them to excel through collaboration and cooperation. Work and school operate on similar dynamics.
Taking on More Responsibility
Eight months in, my apprenticeship took a surprising turn. I was given many more responsibilities and I got the opportunity to put my training into real-life execution: I opened tickets, assigned technicians, and scheduled service calls.
It was very stressful, but I managed to pull it off. I learned a massive amount about planning and preparation from my time at ASI.
A few months later, I joined a different ASI team that was responsible for a Summer ramp-up at an education account. It was the end of the summer, just before the start of the academic year. We had very little time to set up the necessary tech support and equipment in time for the start of classes.
I worked closely with management on that project and attended onsite customer meetings. There was enough work that we needed to utilize a group of interns for administrative tasks. I supervised that team, which meant, even though I was an apprentice myself, I had taken a big step forward toward management. This project put me outside my comfort zone, but I loved tackling the managerial role.
Juggling Work and School
All the while I was working at ASI, I still had school. It was difficult to balance the two but management understood my challenge. I was never made to feel like cheap labor. ASI took an active interest in my education and still do. My supervisors would both congratulate me when I got good grades and made sure I had time to devote to my studies. To date, I still share my grades with them every semester, as well as any of my other accomplishments.
If the day was slow, they would let me leave early to get to my next class. During midterms and finals, they would give me days off so I could focus on my exams. When they couldn't, they'd let me work from home.
I learned a lot about technology while at ASI. Besides the hands-on training in the command center, I also spent time in the field and even shadowed technicians. However, the most important things I improved were my time management and communication skills. I couldn’t have succeeded at juggling my duties and meeting my deadlines if I hadn't learned to schedule my days and prioritize my tasks.
Dealing with co-workers and clients in the command center also taught me how to build professional relationships that are based on trust and open communication. These enhanced skills help me in the classroom. After all, teaching is about prioritizing time, allocating resources, and communicating in a manner that inspires trust while fostering learning.
That being said, I’m not using the technical knowledge I acquired at ASI in my teaching right now. This semester I am teaching cybersecurity, which is a new certificate we're offering at my school. I don’t have any practical experience in this area but I do have one last internship left. If possible, I’d like to return to ASI for some hands-on training in the security department. For now, I’m focusing on my last semester teaching as part of the SVA program.
My Future in Education
Once I’ve completed the SVA Program, I'm planning on attending graduate school. I am learning towards New York University’s (NYU) Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, or Columbia's Teachers College. Eventually, I'd like to work for New York City's Department of Education central office, which is the administrative department of the DOE. I want to have a hand in shaping future policy for CTE schools.
No matter what I end up doing, it's all about the kids. Right now, I'm spent almost a year teaching and watching my students learn, mature, and apply their education to their everyday lives is extremely rewarding. It reminds me of myself growing up.
I see how excited my students get. I watch them transform their passion for technology into a career path. This makes me think about my father. He pushed me to learn about technology. He knew it would open doors for me and lead to opportunities that weren't available to him and my mom.
I hope I'm making my father proud by opening doors for my students. Thanks to my internship at ASI, I am one step closer to shaping the next generation of the tech-minded kids into tomorrow’s tech workers and leaders.