A High School Intern Shares his Experience

When I walked in on Monday to start working, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I did know the basics – the IOL is a network interoperability testing facility, staffed by mostly college students and funded through contracts with third party vendors. I knew this place saw its share of brand new, highly confidential products, and that the IOL is very unique – the only test lab of its kind in the world, in fact, according to the website. I knew that I would be working on building an IPv6/SDN demo with Intel’s Galileo board, and I knew approximately how to go about that. I considered myself prepared to dive right in.

The only experience I had with the IOL prior to my first day was my interview and the orientation. During my interview, I tried my best to remain visibly calm, cool, collected, and confident, but my head was in bitter turmoil the entire time. “Did I answer that question right? What if I misspeak? Should I have laughed at that? What if I forget something? What if they don’t like me?” I had worked hard to convince them I was worth hiring through my application, and I had worked even harder to convince myself that they were going to accept me. For me, this was now more than a summer job – this was the gateway into the rest of my life. I know that sounds cheesy and all, but its true: when I eventually got the acceptance e-mail, it felt like I was starting a career.

After the interview came a great sigh of relief. The hardest part was over – it was now out of my hands. I spent the next couple of weeks going over and over it in my head, reassuring myself. “Yeah, I nailed that question. I didn’t misspeak – in fact, I think I was pretty eloquent. That joke was definitely funny enough to laugh at. I didn’t forget to cover anything I had wanted to!” Above all, however, to prevent myself from having a mental breakdown, I just kept repeating, “They really did like me!” It was this type of psych-out that kept me calm and on task through the last dregs of the school year.

I cleared my head for the orientation. I knew that the interview wasn’t a very good indicator for how life in the lab was like; besides, I was too stressed out to notice anything except how stressed out I was. I walked in (still nervous), and I sat down at the table with the other interns. They all looked just as nervous as I felt. Though I wasn’t even in the lab, the laid back, friendly atmosphere started to become apparent to me: there were no big security checkpoints, no aggravated office lackeys, no sense of any urgency – only nervous conversation between the interns and the occasional undergrad walking calmly through the lobby. “Well, this can’t be so bad,” I thought as the paperwork started to flow. The lunch and tour afterwards was where it really started to sink in: the people here are really cool!

Then, all of a sudden, it was Monday morning. I packed up a lunch and shoved an egg into my face and off I went. Arriving at the IOL (and pretending it was just another normal day so I didn’t become totally overwhelmed), I swiped my keycard and – bam! I was in. This was it. I had a world of bits and bytes, of packets and protocols and cables lying in front of me, waiting for me to join. So that’s exactly what I did. After the informational tour and the staff meet-and-greet, I sat right down and started banging out code for this pesky Galileo board.

I had no idea what to expect from the staff. Would they be all running around, helping everyone and everything in their path, or would they all be sitting at their own little workstation, typing away? Would it be awkward in the silence (broken only by the incessant fans), or would everyone be too focused to care? What would the lab morale be like? What I found was a pleasant surprise. Yes, everyone generally stayed at his or her station – until someone else needed his or her help. The lab was generally quiet (except, of course, for those nonstop fans), but breaking the silence did not produce the usual nervous self-consciousness. Above all, however, I noticed a distinct attitude in the lab. I’ve not seen a frown in here yet. I get the impression that every single person is here because they want to be; I feel like the people in this lab would not mind coming in early or working late in order to finish a project. It feels more like an amusement park than a workplace – the fun starts when you walk in the door at 9, not when you walk out at 5. It’s the kind of environment I would like to spend the rest of my life working in, and the kind that makes every task, from the mind-numbingly tedious to the horrendously complicated, feel more like a challenge to be completed than a job to be done. I walked in the door Monday nervous and on edge, worried about liking the lab, and I’m walking out the door on Friday with any fears I had put to rest. And it’s only been one week!

On Thursday, after having so much fun all week at the lab, all the interns went on an adventure down to Massachusetts to visit an HP site. Even just walking in I felt an air of importance – we were going into a secure, camera-restricted area that some HP employees weren’t even allowed to see! We met Barry Maskas, a storage networking engineer who also works with interoperability testing in his lab. He showed us a presentation to explain exactly what he did, and then we got to go up to the lab. I had walked in thinking, “oh, we’ll get to walk around a few server racks, and maybe we’ll get to open one up and see all the pretty lights. We’re definitely not going to get to touch anything.” You know what they say about assuming, however, and sure enough he had us up in his lab wiring and testing a demo he had run in Las Vegas a week earlier. After an hour of work, we ran all sorts of data integrity tests – and it turns out, we had only one pair of wires reversed. This experience blew my mind: this was top-of-the-line, world-class equipment, and he let us put our grubby little hands on it! We didn’t even break anything! All through the tour, I found myself thinking, “While my friends are bagging at Shaw’s or playing videogames at home, I’m getting an opportunity to learn about and touch high-end networking equipment, equipment that’s driving business and communication worldwide, equipment most of society uses everyday.” The site visit experience was absolutely incredible, and if the other visits live up to the standard set by HP, I’m in for a very exciting summer.

Nicholas Piscitello, 2014 High School Summer Intern