In June 2021, NFINIT partnered with Sweetwater Union High School District to launch an internship program designed to help underserved students gain highly employable skills around cybersecurity, cloud, network engineering, data science, and more. NFINIT CEO Phil Kenney teamed up with longtime friend Art Lopez, who is currently the District TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) for Computer Science (CS) for Sweetwater, bringing in NFINIT’s VP of Operations, Denis Savage, to manage the program.
The results were an in-depth, hands-on internship experience for two high school students: Arvie Cabal and John Paul Minimo. (John Paul is now employed full-time with NFINIT.) The successful program will continue, with at least two more interns joining the team in June 2022. .
NFINIT is leveraging this internship to challenge other tech companies to build similar training programs. The program is receiving attention in the local community, with press coverage in TV station KUSI and Times of San Diego. While IT jobs are booming, diversity in computer science continues to lack. In fact, CA for CS reports that only 3% of high school students in California are enrolled in computer science courses. As if that figure weren’t alarming enough on its own, less than 550 female students of color took the AP computer science exam.
The news isn;t all bad though. Together, tech companies can close those gender and diversity gaps. Keep reading for a peek behind the curtain of this new program.
Q: How did the idea for this internship come about?
- Kenney: Art Lopez started the computer science program for Sweetwater High School and has created a group of students that are interested in technology as a career. NFINIT saw this and wanted to extend the opportunity not provided to these students by helping jumpstart their careers in technology.
- Lopez: The tech and CS fields provide great opportunities. Computing is a major factor in the world around us as it’s embedded in our everyday lives while also being a huge industry in terms of employment. Many students aren’t familiar with all of the opportunities that lie within the tech and CS fields simply because they aren’t exposed. Starting a program like this helps to not only introduce students to the industry’s options but also provide them the confidence to pursue a career in the field because they’ve spent time developing a solid foundation to build upon.
Q: Why was Sweetwater chosen for the internship?
- Kenney: While serving customers and clients is the primary focus for NFINIT, that doesn’t exclude other areas of interest for us, we also see the incredible value in both giving back to the community as well as investing in diversifying the field. This partnership represents an active step to pair students in need with the talent shortage in the industry, and no better place to make that change than right here at home. We recognize that we have the ability to provide those experiences to students right in our own “backyard”. It was an easy choice since we had a connection to the school through Art.
- Lopez: The Sweetwater District has historically been underserved. As Phil mentioned before, students in the district didn’t have access to CS or related courses. The incredibly diverse District, which covers more than 40,000 students in grades 7 through 12, has a large population of students in free and reduced lunch programs in addition to roughly half of its students speaking a language other than English at home. This felt like a great opportunity to bring something new and valuable to students that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to access. The fact that we are able to partner with a company in our own community was a bonus. It was a very natural and obvious choice for Sweetwater to partner with NFINIT because of those ties.
Q: How was the internship structured?
- Savage: NFINIT interviewed high school juniors and seniors for the program to start in summer 2021. After selecting 2 students, who have since graduated, our team worked with our interns to figure out what a part-time (20-30 hour) internship schedule looks like and continued to work with them as they transitioned to their university studies. The hours and schedule are all up to them and what they feel comfortable with. We feel there is value in the practical side of an internship, including basics such as scheduling and general communication, so helping them learn to navigate and plan their schedules was the perfect jumping-off point.As far as the program itself, we wanted to provide our interns access to as much as we could. For the first two weeks, we started broad and introduced them to the different areas involved in our business as base training. Once that foundation was built, we then gave each intern exposure to engineering teams so they can work individually with staff and get a deeper understanding of NFINIT’s business. We also assigned a 6-month project for them to start researching to allow them to take a deeper dive into a more specific area of “study”.
Q: What did the students work on during the internship?
- Savage: After providing interns with exposure to a broad view of IT-related career choices, the program allowed both students to choose one area of interest to focus on during their internship. One student worked on developing a “honeypot,” a controlled environment created to lure in cyber attacks as part of a data center’s constant check for any security weaknesses. The other intern chose to build a server that allows NFINIT to perform speed tests within their network. They also learned the ins and outs of managing a Network Operations Center (NOC), including the deployment of virtual servers, remote hands tasks, creation and resolution of customer trouble tickets, cable construction, fiber cabling, and more. Both interns learned skills critical for any company requiring help with core systems, operating center, and help desk services.
- Kenney: They also spent time developing the basics of maintaining a key position within a company. As a mid-sized technology company, the interns didn’t get lost in the shuffle; they completed real projects that were useful to the business. Plus, meeting deadlines, learning to communicate with your team, and being a part of a larger collective were all skills developed during their time with us. They spent time outside of their normal roles of “high school student” and had the chance to participate as employees and team members, getting a small introduction into what having a career would be like.
Q: Will NFINIT continue with the internship in the future?
- Savage: One of the particularly interesting aspects of starting a program like this is the perspective it provided NFINIT. The students brought with them a new energy that we felt by virtue of working around them. They were excited to learn because everything around them was so new. That sort of excitement and curiosity can be contagious and extended to our team.
- Lopez: It’s hard to overstate the impact this program has had on these students. NFINIT helped to change the lives of these two young people for the better by giving them the opportunity to explore this company in the tech field. I firmly believe this will give them confidence to believe in themselves as they start their journeys into adulthood and , hopefully, down the path of a career in tech.
- Kenney: The value of the program was certainly two-fold (both for NFINIT and the students) so we’ve decided to work toward continuing the program. If everything goes according to our plan, we would add a second round of interns in June 2022 with the application process scheduled to start in April 2022. The potential is there for this program to grow over time and we look forward to any opportunity we are given to educate and provide tools to the young people of our community.
NFINIT recently announced the news that the program would not only continue for a second year, but the number of interns would be doubling for the 2022 program. Read the full release here.