Student Voices: Intern Edition “Alignment of the Stars”

Student Voices

by Brendan C.

My name is Brendan. I’m a graduating senior at Lanier High School. During this past year, I’ve been taking part in Work-Based Learning, or WBL, a class taught by Dr. Kyle Jones, the author of this blog. This class encourages students to get out into a field of their choice to learn vital skills through a job, internship, or other form of work. To be completely honest, it’s been one of my favorite classes out of the entire four years I’ve been in high school.

Let’s start from the beginning. In February of 2017, I was approached by some teachers at my school who thought that I should take the Gifted Internship class, which is run by the county and has really strict rules about placements. For example, you absolutely cannot have a paying job as your placement. As part of their vetting process, students had to have an interview, where they discuss what field they’d like to pursue and what they may already have lined up. Much like WBL, if you don’t already have a placement, you can still join, but you’ll have to work with the teacher to find one. When I went in for my interview, I told them that I’d like to do Computer Programming, specifically with video games. I had been talking to the tech teacher at our school, who has bestowed upon me many opportunities, and he said that he’d be happy to help me find a place to work for this class. Unfortunately, the interviewer said that if this was the field I wanted, I should find another class to take. She told me her communications with Hi-Rez Studios, a game studio in Alpharetta, had broken down and they hadn’t taken anyone from our school in a long time. She didn’t really know any other studios.

After this, I started talking to the former WBL teacher before Dr. Jones. She told me that she’d be happy to take me, and that even if I didn’t get the placement I had originally thought of, whatever the tech teacher and I found would be eligible for WBL. Not long after, I found out the news that she was retiring to become a stay-at-home mom, and that Dr. Jones would be taking over. I’d never really talked to Dr. Jones up until that point, other than the occasional wave in the hallway. I reached out to him, hoping that everything I talked about with the former teacher wasn’t for naught. Thankfully, he was extremely accommodating and understanding, even though I signed up for the class halfway into the summer.

“Interestingly enough, he remembered me as well, despite it being about two years since he visited. I guess high school sophomores don’t give him business cards too often.”

When August rolled around, I still didn’t have a placement. I kept talking to my tech teacher to try to see what leads he had and if anything might be coming soon. Nothing. It wasn’t for lack of trying; people were just really busy. Then, in late September, I got the news: there’s this guy who had visited the school before who might be interested. He was this guy who worked for Hi-Rez Studios in the past, but started up his own company, Action Figure Games. I racked my brain and came up with a vague idea of who he was, remembering the time he came to the school and I met him. Interestingly enough, he remembered me as well, despite it being about two years since he visited. I guess high school sophomores don’t give him business cards too often.

On October 2nd, I was introduced through email to Mr. Burton Posey, who had waited so long to contact me because he was working extremely hard on landing a project at the Georgia Aquarium, a project that he did end up getting. On October 6th, Burton drove to Lanier High School and took me to lunch at the best ramen place. We talked about a lot of things, including my movement from using Unity3d to using Unreal Engine. These are essentially pieces of software that are used to create video games. The first is known for being more entry-level, while the second is almost an industry-standard. I drove home, and fired up Unreal Engine and every how-to video I could find.

“WBL has allowed me to leave the school at noon, get home, and begin working on my projects as soon as possible, something I love…. It’s hard to overstate just how incredible the experience really is.”

We decided to do meetings every Friday over Skype, so that I could show him what I did that week, present whatever problems I’d been having, and just talk about the industry and whatever wisdom he could impart on me. Since the first meeting, I’ve learned so much about Unreal Engine, C++ (a computer language), and, more importantly, the industry in general. WBL has allowed me to leave the school at noon, get home, and begin working on my projects as soon as possible, something I love. I get to leave school early to create video games from the comfort of my home. It’s hard to overstate just how incredible the experience really is. It’s made all the more incredible because of Dr. Jones’ flexibility and understanding.

For about two months before I found the placement, Dr. Jones put up with me sitting in his class, day after day, week after week, with absolutely nothing to do. I couldn’t leave because I had nowhere to go. I couldn’t work on my paperwork because I didn’t know where I’d be working. When I finally did get a placement, it wasn’t a traditional internship or job, but more of a mentorship. None of it phased Dr. Jones. He did everything in his power to get me to go home to work on stuff, even at one point allowing my tech teacher to serve as my “interim boss”, so I could go work on games at home.

One thing that one wouldn’t expect about Work-Based Learning is the reasonable amount of assignments. When I first signed up, I was worried, because I didn’t think I could handle the placement and a ton of assignments about it. Instead of having a gajillion assignments a week, I’ll typically have two or three a month. Each of these will usually be able to be done within a day or two, which means I can focus on my work, rather than assignments.

“This class has brought out the best in me. It’s taught me responsibility, hard work, persistence, and job-specific things, such as writing readable code, collaboration on code, and how to write up what I did and what I changed.”

This class has brought out the best in me. It’s taught me responsibility, hard work, persistence, and job-specific things, such as writing readable code, collaboration on code, and how to write up what I did and what I changed. Even though it wasn’t required, I’ve put up a website that explains what I did each day, because I think it helps me gather my thoughts for each day. It’s amazing to go back through and read how much I got accomplished each day. Sometimes I’ll read it, and something that I thought I did a week ago only happened a day or two ago, because I’m able to get so much done and learn so much in such a small amount of time.

The experiences I’ve had in this class have also helped me outside of this class. As I enjoy nerdy things like programming and video games, it should come as no surprise that I joined the school’s robotics team this year. Working on my projects in WBL has helped me with my robotics programming and vice-versa. Mr. Posey also pushed me to write a resume and cover letter to apply for an internship position at Hi-Rez Studios. I knew I would likely get looked over as a candidate because it was intended for college students, but I didn’t care. I learned to write a great resume and cover letter. I also felt the thrill of creating my first application for a job that I want to make a career in. Of course I’d applied for jobs before, but never any that could actually help start my career.

I can honestly say that if the stars didn’t align absolutely perfectly like they did, I wouldn’t be nearly as good of a programmer as I am. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a long way to go. One of the reasons I enjoy programming is that fact that no matter how long you do it, there’s always something new to learn. I do, however, feel that working with Mr. Posey has taught me about so many things. For example, if it weren’t for him, I’d still be using Unity and C#, a software with a fraction of the jobs that Unreal Engine and C++ have. I’d still be writing code that only I could read. I’d still be working on projects that had no chance of getting me hired anywhere. I’d still be a programmer who didn’t know a thing about collaborating with others.

Thanks to Work-Based Learning, Dr. Jones, Mr. Posey, and all of the people who pushed me to take this class, I’m no longer that programmer. I write code that others can (and do) read easily. I work on projects that are so expansive and ambitious, there’s not a doubt in my mind that they can get me hired. I know how to collaborate with others effectively. This is all thanks to this class and the time I’ve spent in it.

As I said, a lot of stars had to align for this to happen as it did. Gifted Internship could have worked out well. My tech teacher could have found someone else, or no one at all. Dr. Jones could have said that it was too late to join WBL. Mr. Posey could have decided to spend all of his time working on his aquarium project instead of helping me. Dr. Jones could have decided that I was more trouble than I was worth and kicked me out of the class. It is only by sheer luck or divine intervention or something like that that I’m able to write you this WBL success story today.

I’d like to genuinely thank you, Dr. Jones, for not deciding I was more trouble than I was worth for those two months before I found a place to work, and for helping me to thrive in the months after I did.

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