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For Baltimore students like us, an internship is the brass ring | READER COMMENTARY

Shannon Gravette, Kierra Harrison, Christen McWithey, Kristen Basham, Max Gleber, Angel Mills and Izumi Hansen spent a pre-pandemic summer interning at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. (Al Drago/Baltimore Sun).
Shannon Gravette, Kierra Harrison, Christen McWithey, Kristen Basham, Max Gleber, Angel Mills and Izumi Hansen spent a pre-pandemic summer interning at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. (Al Drago/Baltimore Sun). (Al Drago, Baltimore Sun)

Technology is how we access the world — watching videos, researching the things we want to learn, playing and becoming inspired by games. And technology as a profession is full of opportunity, if you can find or make your way into it.

This summer, as part of our plans to build a future for ourselves working in technology, we are participating in the Baltimore Tracks internship program. We are working with tools and languages like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Elixir, GitHub, PostgreSQL and BASH, learning how the pros work in tech, developing skills that will help us to make our own careers in technology. In the mornings, Code in the Schools and Pass IT On lead us in sessions where we talk about positive attitudes and values to bring with us in our work. Then we meet with our mentor at our host companies, in our case SmartLogic and Protenus. We discuss the work for the day and the challenges we are facing, and we make a plan for what we will accomplish over the next few hours. If we have questions later on, we use Slack to chat back and forth with our mentor, so that we can resolve any issues and continue to be productive throughout the day.

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Coming into this internship, there were so many things we didn’t know about working in tech. Getting to work with technology professionals is so valuable for us; this is our opportunity to go in and learn what the pros are doing. The experience is more than just learning about tools and techniques; we are getting to learn what it means to be a technology professional, what the work actually is.

One example is an eye opening experience from the first few days of the internship, learning about what it means to be a good problem identifier. For three days, we had a problem we were trying to solve, but didn’t know where the issue was coming from. We had to look for it by trial and error. Once we actually found the problem, we were able to solve it in something like 15 minutes. This was both a stressful and wonderful experience that showed how important patience and problem hunting are when working in technology. It is just one example of the kind of learning we are doing that is not an experience we could get in the classroom.

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Internship programs like YouthWorks and the Baltimore Tracks program are so important for young people like us. They help us form a career to make money, be able to support ourselves, be independent and work in a field we love. Trade schools, internships and professional learning opportunities are a great way to provide more opportunity for Baltimore youth who want to build a better future for themselves, whether that’s in technology or in another field.

If you want to support the youth in this city, think about how you can help connect them to professional learning opportunities, whether that be through mentoring, internships, helping them find resources, or providing access to vocational training. For those of us in the Baltimore Tracks internship, technology is the future we see for ourselves, and we’re hard at work making that future real, taking full advantage of the skills and connections we’re building this summer.

Gilles Perry Dongmo and Keith Hughes, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, a senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and a 2021 graduate of Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School.

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