We remember major life transitions fondly and as critical events in our lives. Think of the transformation of starting high school, the independence of receiving your drivers license or the move from your family house to your university dorm room. It is even better when you can recognize and enjoy the passage from one life stage to another while you are in the middle of the process.
As I was about to end my sophomore year of college, I was studying for my last exam, which was an excruciating 3 hour software engineering final. I couldn’t help but think of my next journey with anticipation and apprehension. What would it be like going to work every day with professionals in my field? Could I keep up with their many years of expertise? Would I understand their incredible intelligence and corporate terminology? What do I say at the water cooler to avoid sounding like a noob?
I was an incoming junior with a computer science major in the works with an opportunity of a lifetime! I would get an opportunity to obtain real world experience where all of the hours of studying came to life. A week after my last final, I purchased a one way ticket from my hometown in Pittsburgh to sunny San Diego, California to start my internship at Vital Digital. Vital Digital is a San Marcos based company that strives to help other companies with their marketing campaigns. Vital Digital connects their customer’s websites to CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems that hold and organize customer data. The CRM platforms allow the employer to track the company’s ads, forms, and page view statistics. The helpful tools provided by Vital Digital and integration with the CRM systems allow businesses to grow tremendously through digital marketing.
My first assignment was to learn more about the fundamental technologies that are leveraged by Vital Digital to link, integrate and create value from existing systems for their customers. My first basic task was to create a Zap on Zapier. Vital Digital uses an integration platform called Zapier, which they use to integrate different types of applications and services using API’s (Application Program Interface). My simple but useful program sent me an email every morning to tell me what the weather was like that day in Pittsburgh. (This allowed me to text my family many days about the great weather I was enjoying in Cali while they had a rainy summer!) With this program, I was able to integrate a weather service website with the Gmail application. This assignment introduced me to RESTful API’s and their powerful capabilities.
After week one, I was settled in and taking in every bit of information that I could handle! Whether it was learning how to navigate myself through the local beach towns or studying hours worth of regex expressions. I learned something new everyday! During the second week, I started my main assignment for the internship. My goal was to create a new software component to replace Zapier, the main integration platform that Vital Digital uses during their daily work tasks. Zapier is a great integration tool but it only allows the user to choose from a limited list of API’s. Vital Digital would benefit more from a tool that would allow any existing API to be used.
When I was told that I would be making a prototype of an integration software platform, I was overwhelmed! That sounded like an IBM super bowl advertisement and not something an intern could accomplish. The first couple of days were frustrating as I was unfamiliar with terms used and concepts I would have to understand to make progress. I would spend hours after dinner each night researching, googling and studying user forums. Knowing that I am a visual and tactical learner, I started drawing diagrams in my notebook to help myself better understand the task and writing simple “hello world” programs using the new concepts.
Chris Berarducci, the CTO of Vital Digital, helped me directly on my project along with finding cool trails or coffee shops to explore on off hours. He organized a team lunch every Thursday where there was a different lunch theme such as ‘Panini Sandwich Thursday’ or “Pasta Thursday”. It was relaxing to break for lunch with the team and catch up on work or sometimes non-work related topics. I caught a glimpse of what work/life balance means for professional engineers!I reported to the company’s headquarters in San Marcos Monday through Friday. My silly concern about being an intern that fetched coffee and ran errands each day did not pan out. I found coworkers who were there to make the company and their customers successful, which starts with making each other successful. That included me! I was quickly able to catch on to the daily objectives and the company’s goals with the help of the other coworkers in the office. All of my coworkers made the work environment a friendly and exciting place to learn. I was often asked about my project and was given positive feedback and comments daily. I gave presentations to the team on my project progress and sat in on scrum meetings as well as occasional conference calls with customers. I learned about the art of internet marketing along with the importance of CRM software and integration platforms. There was always something to look forward to in the office each day!
Living and working in this new world across the country, I learned how to adapt to the new environment. Each of my co-workers took time to teach me about their individual roles and how they were learning themselves. As I worked at my own desk surrounded by other coworkers, I learned about this engineering/marketing industry and watched closely in the group Collaboration.
Vital Digital exposed me to career and life experiences that will support my transition from college student to professional software engineer. I learned an enormous amount of skills that covered technology to project execution processes to working on a fantastic team! I was working a full work day, learning the social aspects of working alongside teammates and driving through the debugging of coding algorithms. I worked closely with Mr. Berarducci, who not only mentored me about many aspects of computer science, but also taught me to be successful in leadership and the pros/cons of being an entrepreneur. The most influential advice came during times I did not expect - on a drive through Old Town, on a beach hike or during our Thursday team lunch. These were organic, informal occasions where he would give me his thoughts on career skills and suggestions based on his own experiences. On my last day he concluded with saying, “Don’t be afraid to try things, even if it fails 100 times, that will teach you more than reaching success.”
As I start my junior year at Allegheny College, I realize how fortunate I was in being able to apply my computer science schooling at an incredible company like Vital Digital. I can now bring my newfound knowledge and skills from the real world as I continue to sharpen my education in my software engineering courses and beyond. Thank you Chris and team from Vital Digital! I’m in the middle of one of my biggest and best transitions from student to professional and it is an incredible experience!