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High school student spends week shadowing NCSA staff

In early February, Urbana high school student Nick Johnson spent a week at NCSA as part of a job shadow program. Nick is interested in studying computer science in college and thinks he might like to be a programmer, so NCSA was a natural place for him to get a real-life view of what various IT professionals do all day! NCSA HR Director Jonathan Howell arranged for Nick to visit with several NCSA employees with very different jobs. After his visit, Nick shared his impressions with us.

Tuesday, Feb. 8

I must say, going into NCSA was probably the most nerve racking situation I have had in my whole internship experience so far. The building is very spacious and well built, with a ton of highly priced equipment. My first day consisted of a tour of the two main facilities that NCSA operates. Although the walk was cold from one location to the next, it was well worth the trip. Trish Barker provided the tour. She was highly knowledgeable and knew the facility very well. I viewed a 3D effects screen which demonstrated [visualization] projects that NCSA produces. It was very interesting to hear how much time it takes in producing such highly educational and entertaining programs. … After the informational tour, I worked with Bill Glick, Systems Administrator. He gave me a list of some of the things he does on a daily basis: Monitors servers, oversees the server rooms, manages email, VM ware, and other projects dealing with servers. He showed me the small server room that handles small tasks including email. …

Wednesday, Feb. 9

Today I worked with Alex Farthing who … deals with hardware issues and with people who have miscellaneous questions. I established a feel for a job that involves a broader set of skills as opposed to a precise and consultant style of skills. He taught me how to create a dual partition of Mac OS and Windows OS on a Mac machine. We had to help fix a small printer problem for a co-worker who works on the first floor. After we fixed the printer, we returned to his office to discuss major jobs that are involved with NCSA. We also discussed different issues he deals with as well as miscellaneous information about college and the work place. It was nice that I was able to see the inside of an IBM ThinkPad. Alex was able to show me how simple it was to install a video card.

Thursday, Feb. 10

Thursday was my favorite day at NCSA for the week, because I was working with a programmer named Nathan Tolbert. I am so happy that I was able to work with a programmer and I was given hands-on experience doing exactly what he does. I was shown the basic language he used which was PHP. He even let me play around with PHP and make my own basic starter program, which printed out my name a couple of times. It made me happy because I know C++ and PHP is actually easier to learn than C++. Creating the program made me realize how easily I could understand PHP. I was able to see one of his co-worker’s programs for mapping the local farmers markets. He created the program and he may have an iPod app! That amazed me so much and I loved seeing programming all day. I also got to see a little side project Nathan made which was a Game Boy Advance game. That was quite a day!

Friday, Feb. 11

Today was my last day at NCSA and today I worked with Galen Arnold. He is a System Engineer for NCSA. … He mainly uses C as his programming language, which I found interesting because C++ is the modern language. He gave me background information on how he became a system engineer, and how programming languages connect in interesting ways. He told me that bosses and executives spend 50 percent of their day in meetings. He himself spends about one-third of his week in meetings. We discussed how technology and meetings work together, and how because of technology, meetings can be less engaging. There is really no eye-to-eye contact anymore; most of the time individuals are sitting behind their personal laptop computers. He expressed how social aspects of work are slowly diminishing. We had a discussion about modern teenagers and technology and it was a great experience to see how college students’ interests change over time. Galen was originally a math major and as time went on he found himself interested in computers. It was a good realization for me, because it made me see how easy one can change their major over time.

In the end, I really appreciated this experience. I loved every day, and hope to come back again someday, not only as an intern but maybe a job prospect. I enjoyed the exposure and the time taken out of work in order to show me their facility. Thank you NCSA for everything!

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