Life lessons: An intern earns his admin privileges

A techie takes his first steps into the workforce and gains valuable insight into corporate culture

Life lessons: An intern earns his admin privileges
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It's interesting to think about what early lessons or experiences help shape one's IT career. Education can take skills only so far, of course, and for me an internship brought opportunities that offered insights and skills that I've drawn on ever since.

During the last year of my IT education, all first-semester seniors were encouraged to apply for paid internships. Several positions were available at different companies, each for three months. One of the opportunities was especially good: an internship with an international corporation headquartered within an hour and a half of campus.

Everyone applied, and I found myself in the final dozen who interviewed for the plum position. I jumped through the rest of the hoops and was thrilled when I was the one who got it.

Networking newbie

The intern position was for network support, particularly data retrieval from unused and unsupported software and additional programming. When my three months were up, I was asked to stay on since it was then summer and school wasn't in session. I gladly accepted.

Partway through the summer, an opportunity arose to further my hands-on experience: The current network administrator was scheduled for vacation. As I had prior experience at the university as a student admin and had been doing a lot of assisting in my current position, they decided to grant me admin status for the two weeks that the administrator would be off.

Apparently, there had been quite a discussion as to whether I should be granted so much authority over such a large network and 200 users on our floor, as I was only an intern. Fortunately, my past performance and recommendation from my peers sealed the deal.

The two weeks passed with a few problems that I quickly rectified. I lived up to the trust that I had been given, and I learned a lot. The day the network admin returned from vacation, I was called into the GM's office and thanked for filling in. My admin status was of course revoked, and I went back to my role as in intern, which was extended for another three months.

When I'd completed the internship, I was offered a position upon graduation, which I turned down as it would have entailed many years in many different countries.

Watch and learn

But I look back at the experience as setting a great foundation for the rest of my career. I gained hands-on experience not only of technology, but also of the art of working in an enterprise setting.

For instance, I became familiar with the intricate world of international business functioning and the logistics involved to keep it humming. I also saw firsthand the downsides, such as the dog-eat-dog side of office politics as department managers tried to cut corners or shift expenses to another department in order to advance themselves in the company.

Some lessons stuck with me, such as the time I witnessed the fallout of corporate espionage. An exec in the corner office was confronted by armed guards and escorted out of the building. He was not even permitted to take his pen or briefcase with him. The reason? He had sold company secrets to a competitor.

Then there are the little details. The kitchen area had a coffeemaker with three pots, and it was maintained by all. Everyone, even the two VPs on the floor, were assigned days where it was their responsibility to check every hour to make sure the pots were full and the area cleaned up. This little rule encouraged more employee interaction and in its own way kept up morale.

The early lessons one encounters can very much enhance one's career. In this case, the overall office culture was good, the downsides were informative, and my co-workers were eager to add to my skills with wisdom they had gained over the years. I left ready to take on a career in IT.

Do you have amazing or amusing IT tales of lessons learned the hard way, war stories from the tech trenches, or a time when something went very right? Send it to offtherecord@infoworld.com, and if we publish it we'll send you a $50 AmEx gift card and keep you anonymous.