Just Roll With It: An Unconventional Intern Story
| May 9, 2017 | in
I have been an intern at Nebraska Global/Don’t Panic Labs since January of 2016. I work part time during the school year, and I worked full time at Nebraska Global last summer. I have been part of several different departments, and I am not even sure how to describe my job further than “intern”. I was hired as a business development intern, which morphed into an analyst intern, then marketing intern, and now research and product development intern. I began on the Nebraska Global side of the company, and last fall I started working much more closely with Don’t Panic Labs. My internship experience has been much richer and more varied than I could have predicted.
A short timeline of my work
When I started in January 2016, I worked with Tom Chapman to cold-call assisted living facilities to set up interviews about the software they use to track patients. I also explored the possibility of licensing an internally-developed system so it could be used by other companies to track volunteering hours and community reach. I built a website for the product and got my first taste of market research by meeting with philanthropy chairs of Greek organizations at UNL. I found that I liked market research interviews and disliked cold calling.
After that, I started working more with Adam Hunke, researching corporate innovation centers and learning more about what venture capital firms do to find, assess, and close investments. I also learned about the financial calculations involved in valuing and calculating equity payouts for startups. One of my favorite parts of the job was practicing with Excel valuation formulas and reading about VC and startup trends. Another aspect of the job that I enjoyed was sitting in on advisory meetings Adam held with local startup founders, learning more about the startup process and observing entrepreneurs firsthand.
Over the summer, I also worked with Jennifer Nottlemann, the bookkeeping/HR/Swiss Army Knife of Nebraska Global. I learned how to use QuickBooks to record bills and invoices, and observed the accounting and HR side of running a business. Of all my jobs so far, working with Jennifer was the closest to what I thought I would be doing as a business intern: stapling, printing, and doing general administrative work. Accounting work is not the most glamorous way to spend your summer, but I appreciated it because I gained new insights into how a company functions. I saw the “back end” of Nebraska Global, and I know the work that goes into making the trains run on time.
Toward the end of the summer, I collaborated on a marketing project with Catey Osborne, a Nebraska Global marketing intern. We generated plans to highlight DPL’s products and partnerships, to best tell the story of DPL. This was a more difficult assignment than my previous work because it was more abstract and I was not as familiar with marketing. I learned about DPL’s clients and products, and I found I do not like marketing as much as research, design, and analysis.
Since September, I have been working as a product and market research intern for Doug Durham and Brian Zimmer. My job is to research technology, companies, and software products and conduct competitive analyses, exploring popular products and their features. My research has covered a wide variety of industries, and I have become the resident expert on project management tools. I became much more comfortable interviewing people over the phone and in person, speaking with project managers around Lincoln about the software tools they use and the way they integrate with development platforms. During my research, I learned to pull data out of qualitative research and synthesize it to reflect the different ways projects are managed. I am also trying my hand at UI design, which I enjoy. Until recently, I never thought of myself as a creative type. But through learning to wireframe, I am discovering that making software easy to use and attractive is both a challenge and a lot of fun.
Looking Back (and Ahead)
My experience at Nebraska Global and DPL has been incredibly unique. My job is autonomous, and I have learned to direct my work myself rather than relying on task assignments from a supervisor. I entered Nebraska Global with nearly zero expectations for the spring and summer of 2016, and after nearly a year and a half I feel like part of the team. I have learned both hard and soft skills, including product interviews, research, data synthesis, presentation, design, and self-advocacy. I know I need to ask for what I need and to direct myself on a day to day basis to be productive without constant supervision. I can communicate succinctly and clearly, and I have gained a lot of confidence, especially when it comes to talking on the phone to strangers.
Over the past 15 months, I have held a huge variety of interesting, fulfilling and educational roles. I have learned skills that work for me both in college and in everyday life, but I can boil the best parts of working here down to two points. First, I have a long-term investment here. I feel like I’m genuinely contributing to the company and making a real impact. The open-ended nature of my internship motivates me to keep contributing and finding new and interesting things to learn, like design in the future. Second, I like the people I work with. Hopefully this one isn’t as unique, but I feel like I’m accepted and people enjoy talking with me. I don’t feel isolated or unimportant just because I’m an intern.
My hyper-varied internship with Nebraska Global and Don’t Panic Labs has been a lot of work, a lot of learning, and a great time. Out of everything I’ll take with me from this internship, the most important lesson is to be open to new roles, responsibilities, and experiences. If I hadn’t been willing to work on seven or eight different projects and departments and to dive into projects I’d never done before (and in some cases, was not totally enthusiastic about, like cold calling!), I wouldn’t have met the people or gained the experiences I did. Because I was willing to attempt every task I came across this past year, I came away with invaluable skills and connections above and beyond my paper-pushing expectations.
Working with Nebraska Global and DPL was much more rich than I expected, and more diverse than my classmates’ internships– especially because I was willing to sometimes just “roll with it”.