New Collar Jobs

How Two IBM Interns Spent Their “Summer Vacation”

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It’s coming up on “back-to-school” season in the U.S., and students all over the country will be asked to write the dreaded essay, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” At least that’s the way it used to be.

IBM Master Inventor Dr. Dureseti Chidambarrao (Chidu) with NECA interns Nicholas Guzman and Kevin Cayo

Education is undergoing an innovative reformulation – driven in large measure by the realities of the global economy and the 21st century workplace. On the way out: training for jobs that no longer exist. Already here: 80 schools worldwide that follow the IBM P-TECH model – an integrated program that blends college and career, and partners with industry to help ensure that curricula are mapped to New Collar jobs in growth industries such as IT, health care and advanced manufacturing.

New Collar is the new paradigm. Not traditionally “white collar” or “blue collar” employment, new-collar jobs require postsecondary education or training, but not a traditional four-year degree. This makes new-collar employment attainable by people such as military veterans returning to the civilian workforce, or by young people attending P-TECH public schools that partner with community colleges and companies across a range of industries.

At the Norwalk (Connecticut) Early College Academy (NECA) – an IBM P-TECH school – 30 percent of the school’s inaugural class (21 students) completed paid summer internships with IBM this summer. Fourteen IBM business units including Global Asset Management, Global Transformation Services and the Digital Group across four company sites participated.

Interns Kevin Cayo (17) and Nicolas Guzman (16), and their manager Dr. Dureseti Chidambarrao (Chidu) – a Master Inventor with IBM Systems Group – spoke about the summer internship program and their experiences:

Q: What were your expectations as the program got underway?

Chidu (IBM Manager): “It was tricky. It was my first time bringing a 16- and 17-year-old onto the team, and I was not sure what to expect. I spoke to about 10 different people to figure this out. It was difficult to define a problem – a clever project that would also provide IBM with value – for P-TECH students versus a typical Ph.D. intern. I wanted them to have fun while they were learning, and I hope they did!”

“Initially it took them a little bit of time to understand what we wanted, but once we sat down and spent an afternoon together, there was a moment where it all clicked for the team. We had this ah-hah! moment when all three of us were at the table. After that, I think they learned to collaborate. They would bug me for whatever they needed, but they were able to move forward together.”

“I loved that. That was the fun part.”

Q: Nic and Kevin, what were your expectations for the internship, and what were your impressions once you started working?

Nic (age 16): “I thought that it would challenge. I wasn’t sure whether I would have the skills to program, but I was anxious to find out. So, I walked in with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.”

“It turned out to be much better than I expected it to be. Programming is something that I really enjoy. Seeing Kevin’s and my work come to life was very motivating.”

Kevin (age 17): “I was expecting hard work. Working for a huge company, I was happy and excited to fit in.”

“At first, I had to do a lot of research to even understand the task. I had to learn how to ask for help when needed. I had to learn a whole new coding system, which was nerve-wracking. But I watched a 50-video tutorial on YouTube that helped.”

“It was kind of like a roller coaster… big ups and downs… I would be really nervous to ask for help, so I would always look online first. If I got the code right, I was really excited and hyper because I could turn it in.”

Q: Finally, what did you learn from the IBM internship experience?

Kevin: “Everybody doesn’t know everything. Even if you’ve worked at IBM, you’re learning new things at every moment. The first day, we all went into this room and Chidu whipped out the data. It wasn’t just one datasheet. It was a whole workbook. At that moment, it was overwhelming, and I thought this is what IBM feels like, all this data running through you every day.”

“The experience gave me an idea of what the technical field looks like. I want to keep doing this. I want to be able to sort through the data and solve the problem that the company is going through at the moment. I’ve learned that people don’t have to panic. You can actually solve the problem in the moment.”

Nic: “The internship experience gave me the motivation to improve the skills that I lack and go for the IBM job that I want. I wasn’t sure if IBM was going to be the right fit because I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be. But now I have an idea of where I stand, and where I need to go.”

“There’s a lot of teamwork when you are doing a task. You can never do it by yourself. We had to talk to Chidu a lot about our work. But once we understood the task, we could move forward.”

“In the beginning, the conversation was all about what will the interns be capable of,” says Chidu. “What I learned is that it is actually the reverse. The question is what are we – the managers – capable of? I was struggling to see whether the interns would be able to collaborate with us. But I was very impressed when we sat down at the desk and suddenly it all clicked. It was almost like a switch, and the collaborative nature kicked in. That was truly transformative.”

Kevin Cayo is interested in physics, and hopes to attend Purdue University, where he would like to pursue a double major in Physics & Mechanical Engineering and Marketing. Nicholas Guzman likes robotics and soccer. After graduating from NECA with his AAS degree in software engineering, Nic would like to work for IBM while pursuing his bachelor’s degree part-time.

Monoswita Saha is an Education Program Manager with IBM Corporate Citizenship, and IBM’s liaison to NECA. Connecticut’s first P-TECH school, NECA opened in August 2014 as a collaboration among the Norwalk Public Schools, Norwalk Community College and IBM. Connecticut opened three additional P-TECH 9-14 schools – known as Connecticut Early Opportunity (CT-ECO) schools – in the fall of 2015.

Related Resources:

Building a Brighter Future for Connecticut’s Students

IBM’s Rometty: We Need to Fill “New Collar” Jobs That Employers Demand

Learn More About NECA

Learn More About P-TECH

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