Your junior year in a Bachelor’s program can be daunting. Partaking in four year degree-programs after completing high school can give an uneasy, yet hungry, desire to just… get out and work.

I found myself in that position around this time last year, but I had little luck in scratching that itch. As a recapitulation…

  1. I applied to 35+ internship positions, willing to work anywhere in the United States.
  2. I aimed high, looking at renowned tech companies, video game studios and pseudo-startups.
  3. Almost every single application ended in failure. I did not even receive a response for ~65-70% of them.

In the recruiting market’s defense, my applications included few extra-curricular experiences in the vein of engineering and “technical” projects. I had always wanted to unify my love for systems with my love for engineering, but did not have enough experience to directly pursue those kinds of roles.

My fortune began to change after I had taken our Computer Security course with Dr. Errin Fulp. Prior experience in “LINUX-ing EVERYTHING” from my high school days meshed nicely with this new, academic foundation. There were (and will always be) alterations in mine (and your) career preferences, but at this point, my job search did began to narrow towards computer/cyber Security.

Rolling into the first weeks of 2018, I began to prepare for the second round of internship applications.

  • Repeated visits to faculty leaders’ offices and the Office of Personal Career Development eventually helped me become a (read: mostly) informed and prepared applicant.
  • Online exercises and honing my technical skillset was important as well, but that’s a story for a different day.

HOWEVER… TODAY! Today is about the journey to NetApp and why I think you, the most-likely-undergraduate reader, should also embark on that journey.

How I Found NetApp

Apart from the usual university jobs here and there, being a summer intern was some of the most fun that I have ever had working. The value of “real world” experience you gain as an intern is insurmountable.

I am proud to say that my “real world” internship experience was at NetApp in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

So… how did I get there? Well, reverse engineering helped me remember that I signed my internship offer in mid February of 2018. By reverse engineering, I mean looking through emails, documents, and files… Always remember to save everything in the right place and organize early!

My goal was to find opportunities near my university since I wanted to…

  1. Explore North Carolina’s cities beyond my usual visits as a Pennsylvania native.
  2. Live in driving distance of PA and WFU due to only living “abroad” for 10–12 weeks.

The searches began to yield results in Raleigh, Durham and Research Triangle Park. Information Security appeared frequently as a field of work. Intern positions were more common than I had thought.

I found NetApp repeatably on career sites and within my LinkedIn network. NetApp persisted further and further into my search and admittedly… I had not heard of NetApp before my job search.

The cloud storage, Fortune-500 juggernaut had slipped right under my nose in the midst of the “sexy” smartphone and multi-media distribution outlets. However, the further and further that I dove into NetApp’s history and portfolio got me more and more excited to apply. Sunnyvale companies of such high prestige seemed uncommon to find in North Carolina.

Eventually, I had realized just how much of a hotbed that Research Triangle Park is for technology and innovation (Epic Games, IBM, RedHat, Lenovo, Cisco, Citrix, and more). NetApp was no exception in my eyes. Some students and aspiring interns may not buy into corporate missions and advertising jargon, but NetApp showed their down to earth culture and inspiring work environment from the very first interview.

The Come Up

My second round of intern applications was a success!

  • Tailoring my resume and self-presentation towards specific job functions was vital.
  • However, continued practice in computer science and security also enabled me to evolve into a better applicant.

As interviews began to accumulate, NetApp’s Information Security Internship piqued my interest above all. One of the university recruiters reached out with one of the most human and direct emails that I had received thus far. That may sound rudimentary, but my inbox contained many robot-like emails and few had the same personality as NetApp emails.

The proceeding phone calls and interviews retained the same levels of human personality and sense of responsibility that were present from the start.

  • All employees of NetApp echoed their praises for the company culture and people.
  • From their descriptions of the work itself, the environment promoted and encouraged cutting-edge innovations and improvements to employee workflows (read: shit changed constantly in order to stay happy and competitive).
  • Constantly, I had seen and heard: “If you ask anyone at NetApp why they work here, the answer is inevitably the same: it’s the people. At NetApp, we place trust, integrity, teamwork, and caring at the heart of what we do.”

Exposure to true colors and company culture does not start from the first day on the job. Rather, it begins the second you read the position description and see the application.

I had fun for the first time while interviewing. Apart from my extracurricular activities, I had a great conversation with one of my potential teammates about our university’s first-ever hackathon, my experiences in my computer security class and my independent research activities in Linux and containerization. That may not sound like fun to you… but it was really fun to just “nerd out”!

In these interviews, I could freely express my enthusiasm to learn in conjunction with what skillset I had currently possessed.

  • I wanted to learn more about: information security, networking, and red team engagements in an enterprise setting.
  • I wanted to leverage: my skills in Linux systems, and software engineering abilities from academia

At this point, I was sold. The culture, people, interviews, and work experience were not only convincing, but real and transparent. My offer letter had hit my inbox and I was ecstatic. The climate was entirely different than just months prior: 35 denied applications in 2017 and a handful of opportunities at the start of 2018.

Browsing the articles and pictures of past internship experiences indicated that the same level of care and personality that I had seen was very real. The culture at the full-time level trickled down and persisted at the internship level.

I think you know where this goes next… I decided to sign the offer! Only three months until May.

Hello There

Three months had transpired and I moved into my miniature (but inexpensive!) dorm room at NC State, located in downtown Raleigh.

Before I knew it, I was on the second day of the job and found myself at the global all-hands meeting for FY2019. NetApp’s fiscal year had (literally) just ended and the interns were on the frontlines helping accomplish next year’s goals. Our teams and partners were being talked about by name. Every contribution that we were going to make was actually going to matter! So exciting, right?

WRONG. I almost $#!% my pants knowing that my lack of knowledge was actually going to contribute to the company’s FY2019 goals.

However, I was quickly reassured that my team under Information Security was going to help me learn everything that I need to be a great teammate and contributor. The fright subsided and was immediately replaced with empowerment.

  • Our CEO George Kurian was more akin to your favorite sports coach than he was a distant executive.
  • Going team by team and encouraging locker room style speeches from other leaders, the leadership indicated the importance that inclusion and responsibility held for each and every team.

From day two, the people-centric culture and innovation-driven work was not only evident, but it had transformed distant mission statements into boots-on-the-ground battle plans.

I can spend forever on what happened next, so… I’ll start with our intern activities and keep it short. Not only were they frequent and really fun, but I still have a pretty large group chat from several friendships made during them. NetApp’s social media pages share a lot about these events, so I have included a list of my favorites!

  • Habitat for Humanity - building two playhouses for children
  • Scavenger Hunt - massive scavenger hunt throughout the streets of downtown Raleigh
  • Bowling Alley Trip - end of summer bowling alley and food for all interns
  • Intern Showcase - science-fair style showcase for what all interns did over the summer!
  • Intern Executive Chef Day - interns and executives make food together at the on-campus cafe, manning stations such as the pizza oven and grille
  • Weekly Fitness Activities - basketball, volleyball and more
  • Weekly Friday Lunch - intern-led lunch outings off campus
  • Durham Bulls Baseball Game - watched the Bulls play baseball and explored downtown Durham

Writing this blog post reminds me of just how many things that we all did. These events also bled into the creation of hackathon teams, off campus 4th of July parties and friendships beyond employment.

However, while I might have sold you (and myself) on becoming an intern for the social and cultural elements, I have not yet touched enough my actual work.

Go Farther, Faster

Alright, so I brought my upperclassmen level of computer science knowledge, leadership experience from WakeHacks, and my basis for teamwork from several technical jobs. As much as I thought I knew, I really knew so little.

Knowing your self-worth is critical to being a good teammate, but actualizing your potential through learning what you need to know makes you the most valuable teammate.

So what did I learn? Let’s work in reverse here. By the end of the summer, I was able to answer a lot of my own questions, which include…

  • What drives and motivates an enterprise like NetApp?
  • What does “success” look like 5, 10, 15, or 20 years into your career?
  • What does Information Security provide if they do not explicitly generate revenue?
  • What are our products/services’ primary value propositions and total addressable markets?
  • What skillset do I need to be an effective Red Team Operator or Software Engineer?
  • What does teamwork truly mean in an enterprise?

And the answer is… I’M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU.

Yep. That’s it. Blog post is over.

In all sincerity, the true value in an internship is to learn. It may sound rudimentary (even juvenile), but I generated my own questions based on the experience I gathered. What do you want out of your summer? That’s the most important question.

A lot of my job revolved around vulnerability management, providing an undergraduate perspective, and improving my technical expertise to become an asset to operational security.

With the guidance of incredible teammates, I began to automate some of my penetration testing and general work with Bash and Python. We began to apply the same principles to other tools before the summer’s end. Getting trained in using tools such as Empire, Metasploit and Burp Suite helped generate my own creativity both inside and outside of work.

Having a team full of teachers enabled me to reinvest my own desires and ideas back into the company. NetApp’s culture empowers its teams to work as a unit and allow individual contributors to actualize their skillsets by solving things on their own.

In fact, there is no pressure on learning outside of your usual scope. It’s encouraged to do so.

  • You are empowered as an engineer, operator or any kind of individual contributor to learn, grow and innovate without being told to do so.
  • I spent a lot of time with Information Technology, Engineering and Network Security.
  • I learned a ton about my own interests, but I will touch on that later.

My knowledge base in cyber security grew exponentially alongside my own understandings on how to be part of an enterprise team. The soft skills are just as invaluable as the hard skills. It’s difficult to have one exist without the other and be an effective teammate.

You’ll take this knowledge away with you and even more at NetApp. Your contributions matter. You are responsible, but you are also supported and empowered by your teammates.

Not Paid Off

I am getting paid nothing to write this blog post. My reasons are selfish: to get everyone on board with this great internship program and to express my own feelings on being an intern at NetApp.

I have just recently accepted an offer to return to NetApp as a Software Engineer following graduation! I am so fortunate to be able to pursue this opportunity, but you might have noticed that I did not return to the same role.

Make no mistake, teams may vary. However, the push for you and your colleagues to be happy and do great things in a relaxed, yet passionate, environment leads to potential crossovers within the company.

I believe that the empowerment to actualize your interests and skills as an individual contributor is unparalleled at NetApp.

The balance of fun through intern events with the responsibility of work makes for an internship experience that I cannot recommend enough! Your internship is about you. I hope that my experience gives some insight into NetApp and I hope to see you there with me this summer!

Who knows, maybe I might even see you around. If you see the Demon Deacon paraphernalia, that’s my desk.