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The Internship Experience: Week One

This post is part of our weekly series, The Internship Experience. This series details Thomas’ experiences as a summer intern at The Principal Financial Group. For a full recap, check out the series preview.

Diving is an intense experience, particularly when the object directly beneath your dive is something like a cup of water or a freshly laid patch of asphalt. However, even diving into a pool is an experience that is both physically and mentally stimulating. Similarly, “diving in” to a new situation or environment can also be a stimulating experience. The combination of the stress, the new surroundings, and the uncertainty that a new experience brings is something that usually keeps you on your toes.

Surprisingly, my first few days at my new internship did not bring me the expected sense of “diving in”. The job got off to a decidedly slow start, in fact, and at first I wondered what it was I was actually doing.

On Monday I drove to work for orientation, which was scheduled to take place during the first half of the day. After walking in, sitting in a room for a while, and getting a snapshot of my beautiful mug for my ID badge, I found myself on the third floor of one of the corporate buildings along with most of the other starting interns. The orientation session consisted of a welcome speech, a briefing of physical and information security, and a tutorial on how to log into our computers. After that, we were each united with a separate leader who was to whisk us away to our final destination department.

My leader’s name is Chris, a cool guy who knows a hell of a lot about networks and runs a jiu-jitsu school when he’s not working. After eating some delicious Quiznos, we headed up to our floor where I got situated in my new workspace:

Cube 1
Started like this…

…sigh. Somewhere in the excitement of going to college, looking for an internship, applying, trying to impress the recruiters, and getting pumped up when you get land it, you forget that working for a major financial services company means… gray cubicle. Google this ain’t. However, I soon remedied this lack of color.

Cube 2
…now lookin’ like this.

Band posters and PS2 game covers make everything look better! Really, you just have to think of that gray wall as a canvas with which to built your expression of self (or something like that). Everyone else working here does it. I did see a particularly interesting piece of expression that went something like this:

A herd of buffalo can move only as fast as the slowest buffalo. When the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.

In much the same way the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, we all know, kills brain cells, but naturally it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That’s why you always feel smarter after a few beers.

Though I’m not a drinker, I got a good laugh out of that.

On Wednesday of this week I woke up bright and early at 4:45 a.m. and rode my new road bike to work. While it was a little cold, the experience was a joy. A good 13-mile ride to and from work really helps to break up the sedentary act of sitting at a desk all day – which brings me to my next important observation:

What I’m doing is mainly desk work. This was a big surprise to me because, in my imagination, network techs are people who have to run around all day fixing network outages and the like. This isn’t usually the case. Sure, there’s the odd outage from time to time, but what I’ve found it is that virtualization has really taken a lot of the physical maintenance out of networking. So, as a result, my work is done at a desk. That’s alright, though. I get plenty of walking done during my break in Des Moines’ huge skywalk system.

Back to the whole “slow start” deal. For the first few days, there really wasn’t a whole lot for me to do. I perused a bit of documentation, and eventually got access to a system so I could learn the interface, but that was about it until around Thursday. This was a shock to me, because:

  1. I’m what you call a busy beaver
  2. Every job I’ve ever had has been training and then BAM! Get to work.

My job last summer explains my “workplace culture shock” quite well. I was an orientation assistant, or “Cyclone Aide”, at ISU last summer. I went through an entire semester’s worth of training the spring before, an intensive week of final training during the last part of May, and then immediately dived into helping out the new students who were coming through orientation.

My first few days here weren’t really like that. There wasn’t an intensive training session, and there was no boss holding a truckload of work to dump on me. After asking a few people about this, I learned that this is what a lot of corporate jobs are like. Getting an internship or job at a big company doesn’t always mean there’s a crack team of experts who have an intense training regimen for you right when you walk in the door. It takes time to integrate you and get you up to speed, and your bosses and co-workers can’t just drop what they’re doing for you. This, I believe, is a pretty important thing to learn.

My leader and co-workers are, however, very friendly and inclusive. I really enjoy working with them – they’re a great bunch of guys. I’m planning on bringing homemade cookies for them on Monday. Protip: do this.

Anyway, let’s move onward. Yesterday and today were when things actually started to pick up. Granted, I wasn’t busy the whole day, but I actually got to go through some of the procedures I’ll be doing in detail, and I learned a lot. Next week should be even more productive.

So, since this is a more journalistic series, I think it’d be a good idea to cater to all you TL;DR types and provide some takeaways. Here they are:

  • You might start out slow, but stick with it. Stuff picks up in time.
  • Get in tight with your coworkers; bring them food.
  • Cubicles can be as pretty or as boring as you want them to be.

To continue following my adventures, check out Part 2.