This is my usual “start of the school year” message about one of the most important factors affecting our graduates career successes: the issue of internships.

Most students don’t pay enough attention to getting an internship during their years of study. I thought I would send out this e-mail at the beginning of every semester as a reminder.

Many students start wondering only during their senior year about what I call the “Catch-22” of getting a first job. The catch is that “no company wants to hire me without work experience, but how am I supposed to get work experience when nobody hires me?”. The one word answer to this puzzles is “internship”. In essence, hiring a full-time employee is a very expensive proposition for companies given that on top of salaries they also have to provide benefits, such as health insurance, that often covers family members as well. As a result, many companies are reluctant to hire a full-time employee if the only information they can have about the candidate is a transcript and the fact that the person had attended school as every good student is supposed to. That is good and nice, but not enough, because functioning in a corporate environment is a very different ball game than going to classes and doing homework. So companies really want to see evidence of work experience outside school work on your resume to consider you for employment.

Given this situation, it is vitally important that every Computer Science major and minor obtains an internship during their college years. (The same is true for Communication and Information Science majors and minors.). In our Communication and Information Science programs our faculty traditionally has achieved a near 100% internship ratio, meaning that practically every student in these majors/minors has an internship experience on his or her resume by graduation. This fact alone makes the Communication and Information Science programs belong to a small number of the most in-demand and most successful programs on campus. “Successful” in this regard means, first and foremost, that graduates of these programs get jobs instantly or in a very short time after graduation, in their chosen fields. They don’t end up on state unemployment rolls or in dead-end, non-college degree level jobs like waiting tables or stocking isles at discount department stores. This type of success is not the case in some other, very high-enrollment but less-than-high-employment-success programs on our campus.

We Computer Science faculty are aiming to make Computer Science achieve the same high, practically 100%, internship rate that distinguishes the Communication and Information Science programs. In order to reach this goal it is critically important that every one of you seeks to find an internship from very early on, basically from the day on when you decided to become a Computer Science major or minor and join the Information Technology (IT) and Computing industries and/or pursue a graduate degree in Computer Science. We send all requests from area industries and companies that we receive to you through our distribution lists. So does Career Services under the able leadership of Linda Peacock-Landrum (thank you, Linda and Karla for so many years of help and support!). It is not enough, though, to just passively sit and wait for an internship to come your way. You need to take an active role and show initiative in finding your internship. Check Career Services’ PRO (Phoenix Recruitment On-line) database often, attend Career Fairs, Networking Nights and other events with (professional-quality, highly polished) resume in hand. Make connections and start building your own professional network that will be your lifeline through your entire career (nota bene -Facebook is not the ideal place for this; think more of sites like LinkedIn).

Career Services also provides coaching in resume and cover letter writing, interviewing and networking skills that you will need to be successful as a professional. Seek out their help and advice. Take COMP SCI 460 – Systems Analysis and Project Management (sorry about the self-advertising here) which is currently our only “soft skills” Computer Science course. It features speakers (often graduates of our program) from area employers and begins with a presentation by Linda or Karla about resumes, cover letters, interviews, job search techniques and related topics. One of the first assignments in the class that every student completes is the building of a professional quality resume and cover letter of their own.

Another very useful component of a successful job search is the creation of a portfolio – a collection of flashy projects, programs, smart phone apps, games, websites or even hardware such as robots that you created during your college years, in or out of the classroom. Hobby projects and open source contributions are as useful as class projects in this respect. Keep your creations with you on a laptop, phone or at least on a USB flash drive and have the URLs ready when you show up for an interview. Printed out screen shots, database and UML diagrams, run results etc. might also be useful to illustrate what you created. A picture (or a program or a website or an app) is worth a thousand words, and interviewing employers love to see proofs of your creativity. Keep in mind that some of the most desirable characteristics companies look for in future employees are creativity and initiative-taking. Why not give them proof right away?

Finally, an aspect of being successful is the selection of the major itself and, more importantly, the pairing or combination of the major with a minor, if you have one. (Possibly, in some cases, a double major.) Computer Science combines very well with almost any field, given that just about every professional in any field depends crucially on computers: artists and engineers, scientists and managers, nurses and marketing professionals alike. Some combinations are, however, especially sought after. Such are combinations of Computer Science with graphic design and art skills, business areas and communication fields, such as creative writing. Having excellent communications skills is an absolute must in today’s workplace, and we have had very successful graduates who had Computer Science and English (of all things) as their major-minor or double major pair.

Again, one of the most important goals during your college years should be landing an internship in a timely manner. Contact any faculty member and any Career Services advisor with any questions or concerns you might have. We are here to help you succeed, but ultimately your success is in your own hands.

Peter T. Breznay, Ph. D.
Chair, Computer Science