Attention IT: Your interns have something to teach you

Interns aren't just for grunt work anymore -- properly managed, they can bring new insight to IT problems and processes.

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The SWAT team worked with Colangelo's enterprise business solutions staff, which focuses on application development and solving business problems. The interaction with real business users was a valuable experience for the interns. "We would watch people perform various tasks and listen to what frustrated them, what was consuming their time," says Gobaud.

Users may have one solution in mind while being unaware of other technologies or techniques that can help, says Colangelo. For example, they may not know that macro templates can make publishing memos quicker and easier. "Our job as technologists sometimes is to say to people, 'I hear what you are asking for, but have you thought about x, y or z to solve the problem instead?' "

The team first gained an understanding of the customers' objectives and needs, says Gobaud, then proposed a way to improve the process and, with customer approval, start developing. "We used an agile development process and worked to get a beta version to the customer ASAP," he elaborates. "We would then iterate and continue development while getting feedback from the users."

That first team completed more than 40 projects in eight weeks, says Colangelo. Among the projects were an improved parking management system, a memo generator and a dashboard showing the status of printers around the White House. (No one wants to let the President of the United States run out of printer ink.) The program has been expanded to 7 interns this summer, and Colangelo thinks that it just might inspire some IT students to go into government.

Already, it has reinforced Gobaud's goals. "I saw the amazing ability that technology has to revolutionize internal government operations and create a lean, effective federal government," he says. "Working at the White House cemented my career goal of becoming a government technology leader."

We Energies

Lesson learned: Put some teeth in your internship program by asking managers to justify student positions, not merely fill them.

Value gained: New hires already steeped in company culture and corporate values.

In years past, We Energies, a utility that provides electricity to parts of Wisconsin and Michigan, had not put much energy into its student summer opportunities, typically starting the process too late to recruit the best students.

Recognizing that both the company and its students could be getting more out of the partnerships, We Energies revamped its program a couple of years ago to make a distinction between IT interns and student summer workers, according to John Brewer, service desk manager at the company. "We wanted to turn [internships] into a program rather than just a summer hiring exercise," he says.

The company now takes on 3 to 4 new students each year into a more formalized IT internship program, which runs for two summers, as well as continuing to hire student summer workers on a more ad hoc basis. The new program gives interns an opportunity to stand out and the company an opportunity to hire the best performers.

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