It was only a few years ago that parents were cautioning their children not to set off into technology careers; the recession after the boom years shattered the sheen on the field, which no longer seemed a safe place to invest ones future.
Economists, politicians and businesses alike began fretting over an anticipated tech “brain drain” and a future where all of Americas IT would have to be imported or outsourced.
While these fears have been far from assuaged, tales of Americas IT demise now seem more greatly exaggerated.
IT execs are raking in more than ever, smaller tech markets are blooming across the country, and the field boasts growth despite a slowing market.
Most promising of all is that the students who have returned to top technology programs are, judging by their summer jobs and internships, doing more impressive and innovative work than ever.
These students, taking on summer jobs from Wall Street to Yahoo, startups to the Department of Homeland Security, are applying their computer science knowledge in a host of traditional and non-traditional environments.
Project Manager at a Digital Sharing Startup
Aneto Okonkwo, a Stanford University senior and Mayfield Fellow, is interning this summer at Presto Services, a service that will allow people to share digital content while offline, intended for the Boomer population.
“My first project involves building and managing a lightweight data warehouse to produce business intelligence charts for our Beta release. On a daily basis, this involves reviewing log files, writing SQL scripts and designing reports that communicate business value.
“My second project involves designing a new e-mail and photo application to complete our existing product line and provide an end-to-end experience for our users. This involves extensive research of existing applications, spec writing, design brainstorming and meetings,” Okonkwo told eWEEK.
Okonkwo will pursue a masters degree at Stanford beginning this fall in their Learning, Design & Technology program at the School of Education and said he hopes to later attend business school.
He says hed like to eventually pursue startup opportunities in international development around improving access to technology in developing countries, which he feels his internship is helping him prepare for.
“It will help to observe many of the growing pains of a startup and observe many key strategic decisions of the company. It will also be helpful to observe the development of the company culture as more people join the team. Finally, I will get the experience of working on my own pieces of the product as this new category is created.”
Programmer at Microsoft, Guest
Programmer on Microsofts Project Phoenix
Eric Cheng, who graduated in May from Rice University, was initially offered his summer internship as a full-time job for after graduation. However, once he was “talked into” continuing school, Cheng convinced Microsoft to let him convert the job to a summer internship.
“Im working on a research project called Phoenix, developing new features for the next-generation Visual C++ compiler that is going to be integrated into a later version of Visual Studio. Ive always been interested in learning programming languages and Microsoft offered me the most opportunity to do this,” Cheng told eWEEK.
After this summer, Eric will pursue his Ph.D. in CS at Yale University.
Guest Researcher of Linguistics at a Government Agency
Emily Fortuna, a Rice University sophomore, is interning as a guest research this summer at NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), a government agency in Gaithersburg, Md., on a project related to natural language processing.
“Im creating a computer model of how people learn a second language. Im focusing on English and Spanish, mapping the way different words relate to each other. Its a continuation of a project started last summer,” Fortuna told eWEEK.
Fortunas favorite part of her internship is having an opportunity to combine two of her interests, linguistics and computer science, something she had previously not been able to do.
“The program is going to be an online database so others can look at one way we can use computers to create better tools for humans. Its a start in a long process of getting computers to process language the way we do.”
Database Administration at a Biometrics Lab
Kathy Pham, a senior pre-med student at Georgia Tech, is interning this summer at the Bioinformatics Lab at Georgia Tech. Her internship works well for her because shes chosen databases as her focus within her computer science major.
“The lab works a lot with microray and gene analysis. We sequence it, database it and analyze it. I deal with the database side of things, the back end of the work they do trying to find irregularities in microrays. I make it so they can easily access their information,” Pham told eWEEK.
Phams favorite part about her summer work, she says, is getting to apply her computer knowledge in an innovative way.
“Its nice to be able to see what else I can do with my computer science degree, to apply it in a non-typical CS environment. It goes against that image of the CS graduate sitting in a cube all day coding or being the IT guy who fixes the companys computers,” said Pham.
But for Pham, her summer work relates also to the larger issues IT workers face today.
“One of the big concerns I hear about from recruiters is that the rate of students majoring in computer science is dropping because of fears of outsourcing. But the thing is, these jobs that are being outsourced are for the most part low-level jobs.
“Im working in a biomedical field and helping with cancer research; its important that people know that theres so much more out there that you can do with your degree.”
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