During winter break, fifty-three George Mason students participated in three-week micro-internships via Break Through Tech DC’s Sprinternship program. Assigned to one of thirteen partner companies, each student worked on an assigned project and presented findings to supervisors. Partner companies included American Express, Bechtel Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Commvault, Crown Castle, KPMG, Mastercard, Microsoft, Ticketmaster, and Verizon.
Sprinterns were able to glimpse the professional tech world, not only experiencing what it might be like to work at their assigned company but also hearing from professionals in various roles, allowing them to consider different tech and tech-adjacent roles. Three themes emerged from a survey of Mason’s 2023 Sprinterns: collaboration, collegiality, and community.
Collaboration is key.
Most Sprinterns remarked on the difference between individual classwork and the collaborative nature of professional work.
“I've never had like a collaborative project in a computer science class before,” said Wijdane Mifdal, a Sprintern at Crown Castle. “You know, they always like tell you all of your work is individual [in class].”
Part of collaborating is figuring out who’s doing which tasks. Grace Ollivant, a Sprintern at Booz Allen Hamilton, served as project manager for her ten-person team. She explained, “They were kind of letting us direct the project ourselves; so we had a few people on the engineering team, a few people on government, and a few people on operations.”
At the end of their micro-internships, each Sprintern group presented to upper-level management on their assigned project. Mifdal recalls the CEO of Crown Castle particularly complimenting her group’s smooth presentation. “He loved how we collaborated together,” she said, "It just went so perfectly, and then he himself told us to apply for summer [internships]. It was really cool.”
Collegiality is welcome.
Sprinterns were pleased by the friendliness and respect with which employees at their host companies approached them. Employees at each partner company helped Sprinterns approach and complete their projects. Davina Lim, a Sprintern at MasterCard, said, “They helped us a lot in the project. They were very open and let us ask them questions whenever we needed help.”
Such mentorship is crucial to the Sprintern experience. In addition to project guidance, most Sprinterns were able to hear from professionals in various roles throughout their assigned companies. Lim was able to attend information sessions with employees working in cybersecurity, data science, and product management. “It was good learning more about what they actually do,” she said.
Mifdal warmly remembers her supervisor at Crown Castle, who set up informational interviews for each Sprintern according to her interests. She was especially intrigued to learn about the different roles available for a software engineer, such as architecture designers working at the macro-level of a software project.
Moreover, several Sprinterns commented that their temporary colleagues were much less intimidating than a nervous student might imagine. Lim noted, “I was expecting it to be a little stricter, and I was a little intimidated at first. But everyone was really nice.” Mifdal said, “I wasn't expecting such a warm welcome like that.”
Community is built.
A sense of belonging in the tech industry is especially valuable for underrepresented students in computing. Collaboration and collegiality in the Sprinterns’ experiences fostered a strong sense of community among the Sprinterns, who were able to network with peers and professionals alike.