I recently sat down with Charlotte Norman, SPR’s 2nd intern from Year Up Chicago, for a conversation related to her early career and the internship experience. Year Up works with 18-24 year-olds from resource challenged areas of the city to support their professional and, often, personal development during an intensive, year-long program. SPR’s initial intern from Year Up, Cynthia Sandoval, is now a member of our software testing team.
Charlotte’s parents were born in Ghana, a nation in West Africa on the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf of Guinea. She and her two younger sisters were born in Chicago, though Charlotte did travel to Ghana when she was quite young. Her grandparents and other extended family still reside there. Charlotte, by her own admission, is shy. She smiles easily and exudes a quiet confidence. In conversation her warmth, curiosity and interest in learning and applying new skills emerges. Charlotte is working on SharePoint support and migration for SPR and is managed by Joe Sodora, Managed Services Practice Lead. Karen Sims, Director of Project Management, also supports Charlotte’s success.
How did you learn about Year Up?
I learned about Year Up from online job boards. When I read about the internship opportunity I was pretty skeptical as they were offering so much at no charge to the applicant, but I felt that it would be worthwhile to at least get more information and apply.
What were your life circumstances when you entered the Year Up training and support program?
When I had applied to the program, my housing situation was really shaky. The month before I was at a serious risk of being homeless, since my lease had ended and I could not stay at my then-apartment because my roommates had dropped out at the last minute. My previous internship had ended recently, and I had a few part time retail and food service jobs on the side, but I was basically just surviving. I couldn’t afford to go back to UIC, so I was working to provide for myself and save up for school.
How has your life changed since then?
Year Up has given me two great opportunities in being able to intern at a good company while also earning college credit and relevant IT certifications at no cost to me. I’ve also met a lot of cool people – both other student interns and staff. I keep in touch with a lot of them. I’m sure I’d be stuck in the same situation before if I wasn’t in Year Up, and it would have taken me far longer to go back to UIC to finish up my last year.
What did you think of SPR as a potential internship?
I admittedly did not know much about SPR prior to obtaining the internship, so I had very little to base my opinion on. From SPR’s LinkedIn profile and company site, I felt excited because it seemed to be a very “techy” tech company, and that’s where I hoped I could be placed if given the chance.
Did you have any reservations, expectations?
Not particularly. Plus, during the ‘internship matching’ phase it seemed like everything moved really quickly and I didn’t have much time to dwell on it!
Now that you’re an old pro, how are you integrating into SPR and your team?
I really like SPR’s company culture. Where I’m situated, there’s a nice mix of independence and teamwork and it’s easy to get a feel for what others are working on since it’s an open environment, both culturally and in the space. I’m kind of in between two teams and everyone is very welcoming, even while being so busy. I hope to cultivate more relationships during my time here.
What aspects of your internship are you really enjoying?
Definitely the work and company culture. I love that I was put on programming projects early on in my internship and I’m grateful for these opportunities, especially since that comes with a level of trust for even allowing me to do this in the first place. I like how everyone encourages self-study and SPR encourages their employees to venture out into other areas of technology/expertise with the different presentations on practices, Internet of Things, and more.
What have been some challenges for you during your internship?
In the beginning, I worried about not being as fast as I could be when it came to completing programming projects. My first one took about a month in total – three weeks or so of that was just getting over roadblocks – and the last one was where the original program was scrapped and I started all over. It’s funny when I look back on it because I basically got stuck on several parts that weren’t even used in the final version, and I had way more progress done within that one week than three weeks prior. I guess this would be a perfect example of a learning opportunity. Since then, there have been other assignments and I find myself not stressing about this concern any longer. A new challenge for me has been trying to get to know more people – a fault of my own for being more on the quiet and reserved side – but I’ve been trying to branch out more!
Have you grown as a young professional during your internship to date?
Yes! I am treated like a regular employee and these expectations have given me more confidence in producing more quality work like code and documentation. It’s still a pretty foreign feeling that, even as an intern, I have the ability to push something into production that will actually be used by others at SPR.
Has this internship provided you with any new insights on career direction or the tech industry from a solutions provider perspective?
Yes, it has totally opened my eyes to the consulting and solutions world. Before SPR, I did not know much or what to really expect. It has helped me become more familiar with this type of perspective as well as career direction.
Do you have any advice for younger candidates like yourself who may be facing similar challenges?
I would advise them that there’s always something they can do to accomplish their goals. It will be tough and it probably won’t be the same path as everyone else’s – even among family. You have to be willing to do as much as you can or else you might get stuck or regress in your circumstances. Whether that is picking up multiple jobs, and juggling that with school, family, etc., then so be it. Do whatever you can to keep yourself afloat and moving along. Also, be aware of things that may put you at a disadvantage, and come up with good work-arounds and coping strategies to those challenges.