From Intern to Employee: Making the Leap
As one of the top internships in the nation as ranked by Vault.com, we’re frequently checking in with our current and former interns, to make sure we’re providing a great learning experience.
Recently we had the opportunity to chat with Hugh Gardiner, a current intern at the Excella Extension Center at Virginia Tech. Hugh has been with the XC since 2014 and has spent three summers with Excella’s Summer Associate program. This summer Hugh will transition to a full-time consultant role with Excella. Here he shares his experience as an Excellian intern and what makes the program one of the best in the nation.
Tell me how you came to connect with Excella and acquire your first summer internship.
I first connected through a referral from one of Excella’s former clients who spoke very highly of the work they had done for their firm. After a phone call and onsite interview, they decided I was a good fit for a summer role as a business analyst.
What led you to apply for and work with the Extension Center?
During that first summer, I learned about Excella’s office at Virginia Tech where they hire students part-time to do web development for clients. Because of the great experience I had the previous summer, I was very anxious for another opportunity to continue to develop my relationship with Excella.
You spent 3 summers total with Excella. What kept bringing you back?
The main reason I kept going back to Excella was the people and the opportunities they had to offer. Everyone I have worked with has been very devoted to ensuring that I received the best possible experience. On top of the people, I have already had the opportunity to work on two different .NET projects and one Ruby on Rails project.
Tell me a little about the progression from XC team member to summer associate – how has Extension Center experience helped to grow your technical and consulting skills and prepared you for a technical Summer Associate role?
The Extension Center role provides a great introduction to the consulting world. Rather than handling all client interactions themselves, the XC Team Leads challenge the students to take any non-technical questions they may have directly to the client. These client interactions prepared me for a more technical Summer Associate role where I worked directly on site with the client and deeply interacted with them each day.
What is the difference between the Extension Center role and the Summer Associate role and how do they work together?
The Extension Center role is a part-time position that takes place in an offsite location where you interact with clients remotely from Blacksburg, VA. The Summer Associate role is an 11-week full time position directly onsite with one of Excella’s clients in the DC Area. Both positions heavily focus on your individual growth and learning experience while also expecting high-quality deliverables to the client.
Excella recruits for full-time roles from their internship programs. Have you had an opportunity to pursue a full-time role?
The Summer Associate position also serves as an 11-week interview. At the end of the summer, you will know if you will receive a full-time offer. From this experience, I had the opportunity to pursue a full-time role. I have accepted my offer and I will be working full-time in Arlington, Virginia upon graduation. Students who work at the Extension Center but do not take on a Summer Associate role are offered an opportunity to interview in Arlington for the full-time role.
Tell me how your XC / Summer Associate experiences have prepared you for a full-time role – either with Excella or another role in the technology industry.
The XC and Summer Associate experiences have provided me with both the technical and social skills that are needed to excel in the technology industry. I have been exposed to two different .NET applications and a Rails application, and was even provided with the opportunity to become a Certified SCRUM Master. The numerous client interactions have also taught me how to properly interact with others in a professional workplace.
Tell me about a typical day at the Extension Center.
A typical day at the Extension center starts off with communicating with your XC Team Lead about the work you completed the last time you were in the office. Then, you will generally be assigned a new story to work on either by yourself or pair programming with another student. Anytime you encounter something unfamiliar, your team lead will challenge you to try to figure out a solution on your own. If you still cannot figure it out on your own, your team lead will gladly explain in detail the impediment you encountered. At the end of the day, you check back in with your team, explaining the progress you made and what remains to be completed on your assigned task.
How does your role with the Extension Center work within your full-time study schedule?
The Extension Center is very flexible in terms of working with your study schedule as the team leads understand that we are here first and foremost to get a college education. If you ever have anything academic related that you need to miss work for, they are very understanding and you can make up your hours whenever works best for your schedule.
How would you describe the impact of your Extension Center experience on your technical education? (i.e., did it serve as a valuable complement to your classroom work and how?)
Being a Computer Science major, my Extension Center experience was directly applicable to my education. Not only did the Extension Center give me extracurricular development to do, but it also introduced me to several languages and technologies that we used in some of the higher level computer science courses. There are many different types of career paths that a Computer Science major could pursue, and the Extension Center helped me realized that I preferred higher level application programming over lower level C programming.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in either role?
The biggest challenge I encountered was when I first started working at the Extension Center. I was only a sophomore in Computer Science and didn’t know anything about web development. At times, it felt like I was drinking from a fire hose as I tried to take in as much information as I could. However, the XC team leads were very patient and excellent at explaining the new material I encountered.
During your Summer Associate term, you had the opportunity to meet with Excella leaders one-on-one – what was that like and what nuggets of wisdom did you gain from it?
The opportunity to interact with some of the founding partners, one-on-one, was such a great experience – an opportunity not available in all internships. The leaders of Excella were very enthusiastic when talking about the present and future of Excella as well as very interested in who I was and my opinion on Excella’s internship programs. To have that close of a connection with the highest individuals of the company speaks wonders about how personable Excella is.
For students who may be looking at Excella for a part-time or full-time summer experience, what would you recommend they consider as they evaluate their options?
Students should consider the type of experience that they wish to get out of their summer position. Excella’s internships offer students the closest taste to what a full-time position would be like by integrating you with one of their development teams either on-site with the client or remotely from Blacksburg.
Any other advice you’d give an Excella intern?
If provided with an opportunity to intern for Excella, be sure to interact with as many people as possible. Ask the leaders of Excella questions, as they are all very excited to share their experiences and love for Excella.