As I sat in front of my plate of mac and cheese and assorted flavors of chicken nuggets, I let the talk of career fair flow in one ear and out the other. Just beyond the dining hall and upstairs on the mezzanine were 42 companies handing out swag, accepting resumes, and setting students on paths toward successful summer experiences. 42 companies and not a one that caught my eye or sparked my interest. Having handed a resume to a few companies who responded with "We're only looking for full time", or "We need an experienced upperclassman" or who just didn't seem like the right fit for me, I was feeling a little disappointed.
That is until I tuned back into the conversation around me in time to hear about WGBH. There they were, at the end of the dining hall mezz, and I had simply overlooked them. WGBH - who was on the very last page in the career fair booklet that I obviously never made it to. With renewed vigor, I grabbed my folder of resumes, smoothed the wrinkles in my slacks with clammy hands, and went upstairs to introduce myself to Tacita Morway.
I was so nervous on my first trip that I entered the wrong building! Over the summer this entrance has become a familiar home.
You know that awesome feeling when something is just right: it's like flipping over a pillow to the cool side, it's the first time you brush your teeth with a new toothbrush, its like being sixteen and falling in love for the first time. The beginning of my journey with WGBH felt like that. I didn't know that finding a summer job could feel that way. During the initial meeting and later in the interview I was nervous, overflowing with excited babble, and could not stop that feeling of energy buzzing just beneath my skin.
On our first date (my first day of work), I knew it was love. Yes, throughout the summer I had a love affair with my internship. I didn't know that having a job could feel like this. I was excited to get up in the morning. Loved every minute of my day as the clock whirred past beside me. Once, I even missed all three shuttles home, because I was debugging with my partner and lost track of time.
Responsive design was my buzz word for the summer. Here are screenshots of my promo page as seen on web VS mobile.
I got to code a promo page for a PBS series all by myself, despite going into the summer with little to no front-end experience. I was asked to create graphics and animations and skin pages through code for an upcoming NOVA lab on cybersecurity. I was given a huge amount of autonomy and responsibility and allowed to immerse myself fully into exciting projects. Over the summer, I developed friendships, gained mentors, and discovered a real passion for what I was doing.
This summer experience was the kind of experience that makes me want to get on the roof of my apartment and shout about my love over the sprawling city of Somerville. In lieu of such an act, which could easily get me arrested or bother the neighbors, I am writing this post - in hopes of enlightening some readers as to how you, too can discover the internship that's right for you.
Money VS Love
It is important for me to say that my internship was unpaid - it is the reason I worked for Olin's PGP office (Post-Graduate Planning) part-time this summer (gotta bring home the bacon!). I know there are those who have judged me for accepting my unpaid position. Most people I talk to say they would never consider it. Although I am systematically not in support of unpaid internships, taking this position was the right decision for me and it may be the right decision for you.
Being at Olin - and being an engineering student - I find that we tend to take many of our opportunities for granted. Most humanities students struggle to get an internship at all (let alone one that pays!). When I tell WGBH employees or my friends in the humanities that I feel alone in the fact that I've taken an unpaid internship and that it seems rather looked down upon at my school, they are in shock! They cannot imagine being in a position where paid internships, especially very well-paying internships, are the norm.
I understand that things have changed over the years, and that software is a field where paid internships are quickly becoming standard, but that doesn't mean you should feel pressured to turn down the unpaid internship you love for a paid internship that feels more like a chore. Find the job that makes you excited to get up in the morning and if it's worth it - if it's worth the sacrifices you may have to make or the extra effort it takes - then chase that job!
Being publicly funded means it's difficult to pay for certain things, including interns, but at WGBH it also means getting to work on some amazing projects that the employees are truly passionate about. How much of the memorabilia on this wall do you recognize?
I was incredibly lucky to have my parents help pay for my groceries, but everything outside of that I handled myself. It worked because I saved up money. I held multiple jobs during the school year and had money stocked up from years of babysitting in high school. I found the cheapest apartment I could that allowed for cheap transportation and even shared my room all summer. I only got to spend two days a week at WGBH, working at PGP the other three days to make enough money to pay rent. I lived frugally, opting for free city events over expensive luxuries.
I know that this strategy might not work for everyone; it is hard to support yourself while still in college, but if the internship that fuels the fire inside of you is unpaid, then you should spend a little time trying to see if you can make it work for you.
The Nontraditional Path
Halfway through the summer, I received a text from my west coast best friend asking if I've been able to DJ yet. She said she had spent the summer so far imagining me "...like that girl from Pitch Perfect." The thing is - you get asked where you're interning a lot. When I answer with WGBH - Boston public broadcasting, everyone assumes I'm doing radio first, video second, and very few realize I'm holding a technical position.
The standard careers at Olin are at tech companies. Big or small, start-up or corporate: they are all very similar. They develop software, they engineer mechanical systems, their pitch is focused on a clearly engineering-based position.
It's important to recognize, especially for those of us interested in software, that there are many more options! Almost all companies have positions for people who can program. WGBH is looked at only as a media company, but they have 20 or so full time software developers!
It can be useful to adjust the way you look at the job hunt, opening your eyes to companies that don't come to our career fairs. What do you love outside of engineering? Music, art, amusement parks, food - what is it that gets you excited?
For me, it's communication. I believe in storytelling and in new media. I believe in the power of information and online communities. WGBH gives me all of that from a developer's perspective. There are developers in the fashion industry, mechanical engineers at Disney world! There is a whole world out there that we are blind to. We put on our engineering blinders and have a hard time seeing the paths that lead us to alternative futures.
In the new office space, developers, designers, and producers all have easy access to each other while they work as a team to see projects through.
I could see myself working at WGBH when I graduate. I would love it. I learned so much this summer about what really drives me, what curls the pit of my stomach into the good kind of nervous knots and tingles the tips of my fingers with excitement and energy. I feel like I know myself better now; this summer I got to meet a version of myself that I am proud to be. If I hadn't given WGBH a chance this summer, hadn't made the risky choice and picked love over money, picked the job that made me sick to my stomach with nerves at the interview, I would not have gained all of the experience and personal growth that I attained.
Do I think you should give WGBH a shot? I loved it and you might too! But it's more important that you chase what you love. If that's an experience like WGBH, I will gladly introduce you into their open arms - they are dying to meet more Oliners, Oliners like you. If it's not WGBH, that's ok too. Whatever it is, corporate or start-up, technical or not, paid or even unpaid, now is the time while you're young and healthy and such paths are accessible - to give your dream a shot.
For an exciting look at what it's like to work at WGBH, click here.