internships

Computer science interns learn hacking 101 and other cyber secrets

Internships are the most realistic way to introduce students to a professional career environment in computer science. When college students are unsure of what area(s) to pursue in their discipline, an internship can provide insight and direction. Bonus: It doesn’t hurt that internships are key opportunities to network with professionals and scope out the job market.

Meaghan Longenberger, a computer science major from Hickory Creek, Texas, completed an internship in the IBM X-Force Red unit in Austin, Texas. Tabor Kvasnicka, a computer simulation and gaming student from Enid, Oklahoma, also interned at IBM in Austin earlier this year. Both students gained valuable exposure to the many different options a cybersecurity career offers.

Hacking 101

Longenberger’s internship involved shadowing projects underway with IBM Red team communications, writing a proposal for what kind of research she wanted to conduct at IBM, presenting her research and participating in an eight-week bootcamp that covered all areas of the cybersecurity industry.
“I got experience explaining, ‘here’s what I did and here are the results’ in front of executives,” she said. “It was good practice speaking in front of people and trying to explain technical details.”

The bootcamp involved an IBM specialist visiting the Austin lab each week to give presentations on cyber topics such as how to hack wi-fi, lock-picking and physical security, pen-testing, social engineering and more. “All of these experts who work there discussed the team’s internal processes,” Longenberger explained. “It was a brain dump, but so amazing to learn from all of these different people who have been in the industry for years.”

An interest in computers combined with her father’s background in electronics and her grandfather’s experience in electrical engineering led Longenberger to The University of Tulsa and the computer science major. During her TU career, she has conducted a Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) project with Tyler Moore, Tandy Associate Professor of Cybersecurity and Information Assurance. “We did a lot of data scraping and analyzing how different cyberattacks would affect cryptocurrency and crypto-exchange marketplaces,” she said.

Working in a professional setting at IBM demonstrated Longenberger’s cybersecurity skills, and she said the connections made at IBM will benefit her career. “Interning is the closest to real-world work. I know I can always reach out to the people that I met at X-Force for advice on companies and work environments.”

Containerized environment visibility

Kvasnicka worked for in the chief information security office at IBM as part of the company’s security operations center. He served on the architect team and researched open source and internal solutions to a rising problem in containerized environments visibility. Tools exist for studying the visibility of traditional environments such as threat monitoring but fewer resources are available for monitoring environments that use Kubernetes, docker and other related technologies. “It was interesting to see a problem in the cybersecurity world that was a real-life problem for an international company like IBM with 300,000 employees,” Kvasnicka said.

His IBM internship complements the work Kvasnicka has done the past two summers at eLynx Technologies in Tulsa along with competitive learning opportunities as a TU team member at the Collegiate Cyber Defense, Capture the Flag and Collegiate Pen-Testing competitions. He is also a TU TokenEx Fellow who has received a cybersecurity scholarship from the Oklahoma-based data protection platform company TokenEx, founded by TU computer science alumni. “Dr. Hale’s lab prepared me for the IBM role because we worked with things like infrastructure and scaling,” Kvasnicka said. “I came to TU to learn how to make video games, but now that I’ve experienced what I could potentially do in the cybersecurity world, I’m strongly considering the field.”

Guidance from faculty and alumni

A simple email or phone call is all it takes sometimes to help a student find an internship. John Hale, Tandy Professor of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, told Longenberger about IBM X-Force Red and encouraged her to apply. “I’ve been talking to friends who go to other colleges, and the fact that we have professors who will reach out and say, ‘hey, here’s this cool internship opportunity,’ is important,” she said. “I think that’s what TU is good at, especially in the computer science department.”

Hale said he receives calls frequently from TU alumni at corporations such as Amazon, IBM or Google who are searching for qualified interns. Career fairs and class presentations from company representatives also lead to fruitful internships. According to Hale, placing a student on the path to a successful career can be as easy as matching an alumni member with a current student. “It’s the idea of imprinting,” he said. “That first internship, they bond with alumni whether it involves writing code, developing software, managing systems, or data science and analytics. Those interactions don’t happen as often at larger schools.”

Laser weapon control systems

Computer science junior Max Johnson of Silver Spring, Maryland, discovered his Naval Surface Warfare Center internship at a TU career fair. He was advised to apply to military bases across the country and obtained a position at a location in his home state. Through the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program, Johnson spent 10 weeks with seven other members of the software development team developing U.S. laser weapon control systems. “We looked at the processes in place for reporting laser weapon control activity,” he said. “It was a mix of development and implementation, a lot of fixing bugs and adding new features to software.”

The Naval Surface Warfare Center was Johnson’s most technical and favorite internship so far, and the developers he worked with suggested he consider returning to the team in the future. Currently, he is applying to TU’s computer science accelerated program to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. Longer and Kvasnicka also are enrolled in the accelerated option to earn both degrees. “There’s so much to explore in computer science, and my classes offer ways to explore new topics. I wouldn’t mind developing for a few years,” Johnson said.

Longenberger and Kvasnicka also agree interning in a competitive industry environment is enticing for the careers that await. “I’d say it was a 10 out of 10 for my internship experience,” Kvasnicka said. “Now that I’ve seen a little more of the real world, I’m excited for what the future holds.” 

Electrical engineering interns power up for job prospects

Juniors and seniors in The University of Tulsa’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering have a 100% internship and job placement rate. That means all May 2019 graduates are employed in the industry, and all incoming seniors have either concluded or are still working an internship.

A competitive edge

How important is an internship when setting off on the right foot after college? It’s everything, said Kaveh Ashenayi, Hans S. Norberg Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Ashenayi, who also serves as department chair, believes that young graduates with engineering experience have a competitive edge over others who do not. “It’s easier to get a job after graduation and experiencing what it’s like to work as an engineer makes a student more desirable to employ,” said Douglas Jussaume, applied associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

That’s why Ashenayi and his faculty sat around a table two years ago and set the lofty goal to find an internship for each junior and senior in the department. “We wanted to find honest-to-goodness engineering internships where students worked on actual projects at local companies,” he said.

Faculty tapped into their industry networks, made dozens of calls at Tulsa-area companies and connected students with electrical engineering mentors. Some students received three-month summer internships while others arranged for year-round positions, allowing them to work part time during the semester and full time in the summer. “We are trying to distinguish ourselves by obtaining internships for seniors, juniors, sophomores and even the freshmen,” Ashenayi said. “Many of the students are eventually hired full time where they interned.”

For all faculty and staff in the department that includes a senior class of less than 30 students, helping young engineers complete their degrees and start their careers is the ultimate reward after hundreds of hours spent teaching, advising and mentoring. “When they get internships, their self-confidence goes up,” said department administrative assistant Marla Zumwalt. “They begin to see how what they’ve learned in class can be used in the real world.”

Mason Holley, John Zink Hamworthy Combustion

electrical engineering internshipsInternships also provide exposure to different work environments, interaction with coworkers and customer service, said senior Mason Holley who interned this summer at John Zink Hamworthy Combustion in Tulsa. “I picked up a lot of soft skills and learned how the business aspect of engineering is a lot bigger than I realized,” Holley said. “You can build something, but if no one buys the product, what’s the point?”

Holley’s technical work involved embedded systems and hardware, but he also gave presentations to business leaders, took a speech class offered through the company and soaked in the advice he received from two company mentors who are TU alumni. “Everyone I bumped into was helpful and knowledgeable and that impressed me,” he said.

As Holley returns to campus for his senior year, he begins the semester knowing he has a job locked down at John Zink if he chooses to stay in Oklahoma. “They extended a job offer to me,” he said. “I haven’t decided yet if I want to go to grad school, but it’s pretty exciting and a relief to know that I already have something lined up. It’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Caitlyn Daxon, Cymstar

electrical engineering internshipsHolley is not the only TU intern to receive a job offer. Senior Caitlyn Daxon has interned at Cymstar since March 2019 and has the option to work there full time in the future. Although there aren’t many engineers in her family, she excelled in math and participated in Project Lead the Way as a student at Union High School in Tulsa. This summer, she has helped Cymstar employees overhaul the website that manages and communicates all company projects. She has shadowed engineers, learned about the accounting skills they often use in projects and explored the inner workings of Cymstar’s flight systems. “Engineering is very hands-on, so you don’t know what you want to do without experiencing it first,” Daxon said.

Taylor Deru, Enovation Controls

electrical engineering internships“All of the professors have been very adamant and persistent with us on internship applications and helping us make connections,” said senior Taylor Deru who just finished a summer position with Tulsa’s Enovation Controls. The Houston native joined an office of longtime employees with decades of engineering experience. His tasks included troubleshooting faulty systems reported by customers and various testing with circuit boards, displays and electronic components.

“Once you move into a professional setting, you realize the point of a degree is to learn the fundamentals such as math, physics, circuits and electrical components,” Deru said. “A degree teaches you to think critically and how to solve problems, but there’s a lot you aren’t able to learn in academics. An internship is a very valuable sneak peek at what’s to come after college.”

Patrick Maley, Aaon

electrical engineering internshipsPatrick Maley’s internship at Aaon began in July, and, as a junior, he plans to continue working part time throughout the semester. Right away, he was handed a program used in the company’s HVAC systems and instructed to test inputs/outputs and communications on the product’s circuit board. “It’s about ironed out,” Maley said, “I’ve learned how much responsibility is needed in product and design.”

His assigned Aaon mentor, Senior Electrical Controls Engineer Thomas Burrow, said Maley’s product design was so good that it was sent to manufacturing, exceeding the skillset and quality of an entry-level engineer. “I would trust Patrick to go into any meeting and represent any department,” Burrow said. “When there are employees with 40 years of experience in the room picking apart a design, that can be intimidating, but TU interns are well-spoken and can handle the criticism.”

Burrow explained Aaon often uses the internship as a job interview and, considering Maley’s outstanding performance review, the odds are in his favor. If he chooses to join the industry after his undergraduate degree, a position awaits him. However, Maley still has two years of coursework remaining at TU, and although he’s keeping his options open right now, he knows he’s in the right field. “Electricity is badass, and I wanted a career that allowed me to help people,” he said. “Choosing electrical engineering was the best decision of my life.”

Around 20 local companies hosted TU electrical engineering interns in 2019. Ashenayi said the department is working on a new goal for next summer: to find internships for all freshmen and sophomores, too.