The Value of the UNH-IOL Student Advantage

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the UNH-IOL, and the recent celebrations have put many of our longer-term employees in a nostalgic frame of mind. I’ve only worked at the lab for a year, but in this short time I have formed my own warm feelings toward this organization.

When I was first hired, as a sophomore majoring in Computer Science, I didn’t know about the seven core values of the UNH-IOL. I didn’t even really know what went on at the lab; I was simply happy to secure a year-round job where I would learn things that were relevant to my degree.

I quickly learned that the UNH-IOL has a dual mission—to provide a neutral environment to test conformance and interoperability, and also to educate students for future employment in the fields of engineering and computer science. In my first few weeks at the lab, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information to learn. I was also a little intimidated by my coworkers, who seemed to know everything. I felt like I could ask questions all day long and they would know every single answer, and I wouldn’t make a dent in the pile of things I didn’t yet know.

When I learned about the seven core values of the lab, one in particular caught my attention—we are a learning institution and we value the pursuit of further knowledge and the (sometimes long and winding) path to get there. I was relieved to realize that no one expected me to be fully trained in the first couple of weeks. Managers realize that there is an endless amount to learn, and they expect that new hires come in with little to no experience. As employees, we are encouraged to do what it takes to find answers. In an effort to truly understand, we may not take the most efficient route to the answer the first time around, but the process itself is valuable.

One of my favorite things about the UNH-IOL is that I’ve learned things that aren’t directly related to what I learn in the classroom. Instead, the experience here complements what I learn in classes, and I find myself with more well-rounded knowledge than I expected. My coworkers—who had intimidated me at first—were the biggest reason for this. As our conversations drifted away from topics relating to testing, I asked questions about a hundred other topics, ranging from version control, Linux distributions, troubleshooting tips, things I struggled with in class, cool things my coworkers were learning in their higher-level classes, and my personal favorite—history lessons. These “off-topic” discussions were the best source of new information, and something I never could have gotten without this job. I feel much more confident knowing that I have a broader foundation to the things I learn in class.

I used to hesitate to try new things, out of a fear that I might break something or just look stupid in front of my coworkers. The more time I spend at the lab, the more I realize that I've been thinking backwards. If my coworkers know more than I do, then they can help make sure I don't break things. I’ve also learned that no one expects me to know everything…and it's ok to look stupid every once in a while.

I've learned a lot as a result of being willing to simply step out and try things. One of our seven values is empowered employees, and I finally understand what that means. As student employees, we are the UNH-IOL. We know our technologies very well. We're comfortable with standards and good at performing testing. Our reports are valuable to the industry. In addition, we all love what we do. All employees are encouraged to get involved and pursue projects that excite them.

I’m in the minority as a computer science major—not just because I’m female, but also because my end goal is not a large salary in an industry position. My long-term goal is to teach high school students. About a year ago, I was offered the position of Academic Coordinator, which gave me the opportunity to coordinate our seven-week High School Internship Program. I gained so much through this position; I came in contact with other enthusiastic educators, and also industry professionals who chose to sponsor our program or host our group for site visits. As a junior in college, I already have a solid professional network that will help me as I pursue the career I want. I also, of course, got to work with high school students who were both brilliant and fun. I can't think of another position where I would be able to participate in a technical role while also working with students. This allowed me to do both, giving me valuable experience toward teaching CS to high school students.

In the past 25 years, the UNH-IOL has developed into the ideal workplace for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing careers in engineering and computer science. We enjoy flexible hours, hands-on experience with technology and development of transferrable skills through communication with vendors, giving presentations—both for internal training as well as tours for visitors—and participation in lab-wide committees like Human Resources, Training and Marketing. Those who have been around the UNH-IOL for a while may have heard the term “IOL student advantage”. This is so much more than a phrase to sound nice on marketing brochures. Every day I wake up excited to come to work here, and I know that this experience is preparing me to be a professional and capable employee in the future. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this lab, and I’m thankful for every person who worked to make this lab what it is today. I’m also thankful for each of our member companies who support student employees by choosing to work with the UNH-IOL. They choose us for good reason—we are the best at what we do, and they receive a positive return on their investment. As students, the work they give us also provide us with experience that trains us to be better employees—for them—in the future. This is the definition of a win-win scenario in my book, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of it.

Amy Davies, iSCSI Technician