Internships represent an exciting yet important transition in the progression of a student. Accustomed to the free-form nature of the school year, a workplace environment not only provides a drastic change of pace for the young-adult, but opportunities for new professional and social experiences. However, with these opportunities comes challenges — It’s not uncommon for students to feel overwhelmed with new stimuli. Yet I firmly believe that experiences outside one’s comfort zone are the source of personal growth. The concept is reminiscent of a video game I enjoyed as a child, Pokemon, in which you develop creatures to conquer elite trainers. When your Pokemon defeats others at higher levels, you gain more experience points, helping you to gain levels. I entertain the thought of professional competence as a function of ‘user experience’. The more you wiggle outside of your comfort zone given new challenges, the more you stand to benefit. The school year can often be a difficult time to expand your horizons. I find it easy to stay on the same schedule, hang around the same friends, eat the same foods, and largely have the same experiences. For that reason, I find summer internships an unparalleled opportunity for growth and reflection. Without further ado, my opportunities and challenges:
The sentiments above give context to my decision to live in Detroit for my internship as a Business Database Programming intern at Quicken Loans. While I live in Ann Arbor, and know many people who commute, I felt inclined to spread myself in a city I barely knew. I wanted to explore a new area, meet new friends, and generally expand my comfort zone. Months into my internship, I could not be happier with my achievement of these goals. Going in blind to the internship housing at Wayne State University dorms, I didn’t know a single person either at the company or in my residential area. Not only have I been able to find a crew of lifelong friends, but the connections I’ve established at Quicken Loans and Atchison Hall have already proved fruitful in the unwinding path of my professional career. There are phenomenal people who work here, and I’ve been lucky to tap into their minds and gain from their presence. As I approach a full time career, finding the niche of where my academic and professional interests collide as proven to be a challenge. When I began my internship, I was matched with a mentor who immediately encouraged me to explore as many areas in the company as possible. In that time, I’ve ‘shadowed’ over 17 teams, ranging from Business Intelligence to the trading desk, to application engineering and mortgage banking. These sessions have allowed me a comprehensive understanding of the business, while giving me ample time to sift through possible careers. The most prominent opportunity I’ve had this summer has been the flexibility in my final project. At many companies, interns are made to do menial work, or given strict assignments futile at adding value to either the company or intern. Instead, on my first day I was shown the ropes of what my team’s responsibilities, then given free reign to create my own project. I was able to analyze our processes, identify a problem, then create my own solution. I’ll cover my final project in an upcoming post, but it has been an invaluable learning experience.
The Quicken Loans internship program has a plethora of activities and competitions designed to keep interns busy and productive. While much of the programming was beneficial, like our public speaking class and money management series, the sheer volume of these events mandated high time requirements. With an ambitious final project, I often felt frustrated by my inability to devote time to it. One of these intern events was called the ‘War of the Four’, a group competition tasked with developing an innovative communications system for the company. For this project I found myself placed with a difficult team member, a self proclaimed ‘leader’ who found it difficult to accept ideas other than his own. I was able to work on my group facilitation skills, moderating discussions to ensure all team member’s voices were heard. These efforts paid off, and our group won the competition. On top of these experiences, I’ve grappled with time management — having to commute up 2 hours during each work week to receive medical treatment, getting lost in Detroit, presenting in front of executives, and countless others.
One thing I’ve realized while writing this post is that more often than not, challenges are simply disguised opportunities. The ability to perceive problems in this light has been key in my personal progression. I look forward to experiencing more challenges, outside of my comfort zone, and knowing that I will grow from each one of them.