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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One change was to ask IT managers to give a business justification for their hiring of interns. Rather than the managers saying just that they would take a student, "We want to hear what they plan to do with them," Brewer says. "We want to make sure that it isn't just grunt work." That not only makes better use of the interns, but also ensures that they are matched up with projects that suit their skills and aptitudes.

Scott Sullivan, We Energies
Scott Sullivan, We Energies

The company also extended the program over two summers, giving interns more opportunity to work in different parts of IT and also giving the company a longer window for evaluating their potential.

"Since December of 2011, five interns have graduated from school; all five have been offered permanent positions, and all five have accepted those positions within our IT department," says Brewer.

One such intern was Scott Sullivan, now 24 and an associate IT application consultant for We Energies.

"Through my internship, I was able to apply my appreciation and passion for IT to initiatives that support critical processes and functions," recalls Sullivan, who spent one year in the old summer worker program and one semester as a new IT intern. "I was given the opportunity to join the application support team and participate in an ongoing companywide software upgrade."

That process, he says, taught him the importance of stakeholders, deadlines, communication and client needs. "I wasn't merely treated as an intern, but as a team member. This internship allowed me the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally."

Interns want strong managers

In summary, their managers agree, interns are so hungry for knowledge and experience that the trick in managing them lies in striking the right balance between constructive control and unfettered freedom.

"They haven't seen any limits yet," reflects JPL's Soderstrom. "What we have to do as managers is to harness and support that energy, and of course, when they break a few eggs, help them clean it up."

Frequent Computerworld contributor Tam Harbert is a Washington, D.C.-based writer specializing in technology, business and public policy.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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