OIT’s Immersive Program for College Students Interested in Technology
By Viraaj Punia
With the hyper-competition in the technology sector increasing every year, students can find it difficult to secure an internship in the field. Fast-approaching deadlines, and difficult technical interviews make the whole process a grueling endeavor.
The Office of Information Technology’s Student Outreach Program (OSOP) is a paid internship opportunity that provides students hands-on technology experience while understanding that not everyone is an expert in the field. OSOP accepts students from many North Carolina colleges and universities, including Duke, Wake Tech, North Carolina Central University (NCCU), Durham Tech, and East Coast Polytechnic Institute (ECPI).
So far, over 100 students have circulated through the program since its inception in 2014, and 13 interns have been hired for full-time positions within Duke’s Office of Information Technology (OIT). Many other past interns have gone on to work for companies such as Verizon, Citrix, NetApp, Criterion Systems, Infosys, Lucid Dream, and McDonald’s Headquarters.
One of the most important aspects of the program is that students can experience what a technology career is like in the real world. The program helps students gauge their interest in the field before diving in full time. Students also form great relationships with their managers and others on their team, with many still being in close contact with the people they worked with during the program.
Past intern Aaron McTell, ‘20, of North Carolina Central University (NCCU), relished his memories of working in OIT, and especially appreciated the culture fostered by his manager Phillip Batton, who leads operations at the IT Security Office.
“I loved how open and diverse the culture was on the team I worked on. … People in OIT are very welcoming. They really want to develop you and build you up as a well-rounded employee,” McTell said.
Working with Batton on security operations, McTell thoroughly enjoyed his experience and gained exposure to technologies that are used in the industry, such as Splunk and ServiceNow.
“It definitely helped in my job search. They cultivate you into becoming a better IT worker. I think it brought home a more practical understanding of how things work. … I found my true interest, which was security, and genuinely love what I do now,” McTell said.
Another past intern, Alicia Pretty, ‘19, also of NCCU, said that although she did not have prior knowledge in IT or security, she felt like she perfectly fit into the team because her mentors were very receptive to questions.
“It was a valuable hands-on experience and an internship where I could actually do stuff, like working with the Service Desk and operations analysts,” Pretty said. “It also gave me an advantage over other candidates when applying for NetApp [where she currently works] because it provided good IT security experience.”
Additionally, OSOP interns had easy access to leadership who made themselves available to answer questions and provide networking opportunities.
“The most important skill I learned was being able to adapt to change. You have to grow, you have to be comfortable taking risks. … We learned something new every day in the security world,” Pretty said.
Batton, who mentored both Pretty and McTell, said that “the managers that students work with also learn a lot through the program. Interns can bring a fresh perspective to the security world, they’re not super set in their ways. I was once talking to a candidate with a public policy background, and it was interesting to see how he thought about technology problems in a different light,” Batton said.
“We aren’t looking for a whole lot of background knowledge, but more for students who are committed and will take the opportunity seriously. And we gain a sense of what someone close to graduating is proficient in,” said Rodney Cozart, manager of the OIT Service Desk.
Ann Roy is another manager in OSOP who works with interns on wireless networking.
“We really look for enthusiasm. This internship is for learning – we learn about each other, they learn about the work, and see if they like it. They also keep us informed about what latest technology is being used and how people like the wireless network at Duke,” Roy said, “I honestly wish I could have done it!”
Managers like Batton and Roy enjoy seeing the passion students bring to their teams, thriving off their willingness to learn and build on the work being done by OIT.
With meaningful relationships to build, and a great launching point for future careers, the OIT Student Outreach Program focuses on teaching industry-level skills.
McTell added, “It was more like a paid learning experience, not really a job.”
If you have any questions or want to learn more about the program, feel free to contact OIT Human Resources at OIT-HR@duke.edu.