Forget coffee and copies: Internships kickstarted careers for these 5 Chicago techies

by Michael Hines
May 9, 2018

Fetching coffee, making copies and answering phones: These are the stereotypical tasks of interns. But at many Chicago tech companies, interns take on much greater responsibilities, designed to teach real-world skills and make an actual business impact.

We spoke to five local technologists who started as interns at their companies to learn more about how their experiences prepared them to take on full-time roles.

 

Optiver Internship program
OPTIVER SOFTWARE DEVELOPER OWEN YANG (RIGHT)

Optiver is a global tech-driven trading firm that specializes in pricing, execution and risk management. The company's Chicago team is based in the Loop and works out of an office overlooking Millennium Park.


Who: Owen Yang

First role: Software development intern

Current role: Software developer

 

What drew you to Optiver’s internship program?

At the time I was looking for an internship, I didn't know much about fintech, trading or Optiver. I was just looking for a place where I could use computer science to solve interesting and challenging problems. Luckily, I stumbled upon Optiver's booth at my university’s career fair. After speaking to a couple of their engineers, I discovered that Optiver was exactly the type of environment I was looking for.

After speaking to a couple of their engineers, I discovered that Optiver was exactly the type of environment I was looking for.

How did this internship prepare you for a full-time role?

I used my internship to evaluate three things: myself, if I fit in and could effectively contribute, learn and thrive; Optiver, whether the people and culture aligned with my values; and the industry, whether the problems were actually interesting and would help me grow as an engineer. I tried to experience as much as I could, and by the end of the summer, I had checked all three boxes and was confident that taking on a full-time role was the right choice.

 

What advice would you give to those considering joining Optiver?

Come in open to learning and receiving constructive criticism. That's how you'll grow and ultimately contribute the most. We also really emphasize good design and collaboration. Problems are rarely solved by quickly hacking together a fix or tossing new, unevaluated technologies into the mix, so make sure this fits into your philosophy as a developer.

 

Vail Systems internship program
Former engineering interns turned full-timers (from left to right): Pawel Zimnoch, Angela Huang and Innocent Nkubito

Vail Systems’ telephony software and cloud-based communication tools are used by companies to streamline and enhance the customer caller experience. Its analytics tools are used to analyze calls to locate consumer pain points and can also provide real-time feedback to maintain higher levels of caller engagement.


Who: Pawel Zimnoch

First role: Web software engineer intern

Current role: DevOps engineer


What drew you to Vail Systems internship program?

I was initially interested in Vail Systems because it’s an established company that values innovation and experiments with new technologies instead of simply supporting monolithic legacy applications. Vail’s internship positions all utilize quickly growing web technologies that are becoming more in demand in the workforce. Gaining familiarity with these technologies and building a project from the ground up with the aid of experienced developers set this internship apart from others. Additionally, knowing that the code we wrote as interns still lives in real products made for a fulfilling experience.

The knowledge I gained during my internship is something I now use every day.

How did this internship prepare you for a full-time role?

Many of the skills I learned during my internship are not part of most university computer science curriculums and are hard to learn on your own. The knowledge I gained during my internship is something I now use every day. Processes, team culture, using a ticket-based workflow system and following real-world agile methodologies allowed me to quickly get up to speed when I came on full time.

 

What advice would you give to those considering joining Vail Systems?

If the position you are applying for is development focused, study up on voice-related technology like session initiation protocol. Brushing up on basic telephony industry terms and having a high-level conceptual overview of how the tech works would also be helpful. Also, Vail has two offices, one located in the Chicago Loop and the other in Deerfield, so be sure to double check that the position you’re applying for is at your preferred location.

 

IMC Chicago internship program
IMC SOFTWARE DEVELOPER VERONIC PETERSON (CENTER)

IMC is a tech-driven market maker that trades on over 100 stock exchanges around the world. In addition to trading, the company is also focused on giving back, with the charitable efforts of employees supporting 186 different organizations in 2017.


Who: Veronica Peterson

First role: Development intern

Current role: Software developer

 

What drew you to IMC’s internship program?

I met a software developer at a University of Illinois career fair. She talked to me about how working at IMC was such a positive and challenging experience. She clearly enjoyed the people, the culture and the projects she was working on. 

She explained that most problems at IMC are open ended and there is rarely a pre-defined “right” answer. I really liked the idea of working on problems like that. I also liked hearing about the wide variety of interesting projects, from-low latency programming to hardware and developing algorithms that could be applied to a wide range of problem sets.

I was also drawn to the people I met during the interview process — people who’d worked at NASA, were high-level Java programmers and math and physics PhDs — who were excited to share their knowledge. Also, IMC does not have a traditional hierarchy so career paths vary. Someone who just started is as likely to make an impact as a person who’s been here for 10 years.

Someone who just started is as likely to make an impact as a person who’s been here for 10 years.

How did this internship prepare you for your full-time role?

It was a great bridge between academic work and a full-time job. I learned how to schedule my day between meetings, programming and testing code, which was very different than my university schedule. As promised, there was a wide variety of projects and it was fun to have a say in what I got to work on.

I’d never studied anything finance-related before. Through training, IMC brought me up to speed in a way that was fun, interesting and made me excited to learn about the history of trading. I also received instruction and spent a ton of time with my mentor working on my programming skills and observing tools that I now use daily.

Philanthropy is important to me and, as interns, we volunteered with elementary school sports camps. Now I serve as a high school algebra tutor, volunteer with the Humane Society and am running a marathon this year. Throughout all of this, IMC proactively offers support, which feels pretty unique to me.

My internship was very personalized. I felt valued and people went out of their way to make sure I was having a positive experience. It was amazing to build relationships, be a contributing member of the team and be set up for success in the long term. 

 

What advice would you give to those considering joining IMC?

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never studied finance. IMC teaches you what you need to know from the bottom up and all the interns alongside you are in the same situation. Also, start thinking about problems differently: Get comfortable with the mindset that there is no set answer but multiple potential solutions. In the real world, you won’t have a professor guiding you.

Talk to as many people as you can. IMC’s culture is collaborative, so you have to like working with other people. Everyone is passionate about working toward common goals and open to discussing their work. IMC also cares deeply about having an international, collaborative workforce and promotes shared, major company goals.

 

Gesture Chicago internship program
GESTURE DESIGN MANAGER AMANDA ALDEIR (LEFT)

Gesture helps organizations raise more money at events through its mobile silent auction and donation technology. In addition to fundraising, the platform also offers solutions for guest management and data reporting.


Who: Amanda Aldeir

First role: Marketing intern

Current role: Design manager

 

What drew you to Gesture’s internship program?

I was drawn to the company because of the work it does, the fact that it began as a startup and the idea that I might have the opportunity to work with nonprofits at fundraising events.

I had the opportunity to truly learn what Gesture did by collaborating with others.

How did this internship prepare you for a full-time role?

The internship helped me in many aspects. Most notably, I had the opportunity to truly learn what Gesture did by collaborating with others. As an intern, each department wants your help, so I was able to meet most of the company and learn about its different aspects.

Additionally, I was able to receive hands-on experience in marketing, build my resume and make connections with people in the industry. I learned how to work in a corporate environment and made some great friends.

 

What advice would you give to those considering joining Gesture?

Gesture is an amazing place to work. We have a great work environment and lots of opportunities to learn and grow. Be prepared to do something different each day and feel good about the work you're doing to help nonprofits fundraise more.

 

Neighborhoods.com internship program
Neighborhoods.com marketing manager OMAR ORTIZ (MIDDLE, FRONT)

When house hunting, finding the right home or apartment is half the battle. The other half is finding a neighborhood you actually want to live in. Neighborhoods.com works to take the mystery out of the move by pairing apartment and home listings with data and original content on surrounding schools, restaurants, transportation options and more.


Who: Omar Ortiz

First role: Digital marketing intern

Current role: Marketing manager

 

What drew you to Neighborhoods.com’s internship program?

The summer after my junior year in college I accepted an internship at a pharmaceutical company in Indianapolis. I was set on pursuing a career in finance. While I learned a lot about the finance industry, I realized I wanted to find a company with a more laid back, but still motivating, culture. In my senior year, I decided to look for an internship at a company whose culture was the complete opposite of the corporate world. I found Neighborhoods.com and their website conveyed a company culture that was exactly what I was looking for. After starting my internship, I quickly learned that Neighborhoods.com’s culture is one of its greatest assets.

My internship allowed me to apply the knowledge I learned in the classroom.

How did this internship prepare you for a full-time role?

My internship exposed me to all facets of digital marketing. I was able to jump right into projects utilizing tools like Google AdWords, Bing Ads and Facebook Ads. My internship allowed me to apply the knowledge I learned in the classroom. I also got to work cross-functionally with other teams, which gave me a deeper understanding of how the company worked. My internship experience was truly invaluable. It prepared me to transition into a full-time role, and eventually to lead a team of analysts and interns.

 

What advice would you give to those considering joining Neighborhoods.com?

Let’s get it! That’s my advice to anyone considering joining the team. Also, definitely come in with a winner’s mentality and confidence. Although we have a great culture that may be more laid back than other companies, we all strive to accomplish incredible things by working together. It’s a wonderful feeling to wake up and look forward to going into work every day. That feeling speaks volumes toward the effort each team member contributes in making this company such a great place to work.

 

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