This was Kern's second internship at JPL. (It's not unusual for interns to return again and again, and eventually to work full-time at JPL, says Shams, who himself started as an intern in 2005.) In the summer of 2010, when Kern was working on motor control system testing at JPL, he attended a seminar by Shams on how JPL planned to use cloud computing for the Mars Rover. The presentation sparked Kern's interest, and he approached Shams and worked out an internship for the following summer.
Shams' division alone brings in 30 to 35 interns each summer. He requires his team members to identify small-group projects that are exciting for interns, not absolutely critical to the organization in the short term, and able to be completed during the period of the internship.
As for Kern, he was given a loose set of requirements for his project, says Shams. The goal was to come up with a way to cost-effectively store and replicate data securely across multiple clouds, says Shams. (He notes that all data is encrypted before it leaves JPL.)
"We described the [compression] algorithm to him, and from there he just ran with it." Kern did additional research, and wrote and installed his own domain-specific language that allows users to dictate the various parameters of how to store data in the cloud.
That's what happens when you give interns room to run, says Shams. "Very often students surprise us and come up with a better solution than what we had originally thought." This one was so much better that JPL has applied for a patent and is in the process of integrating the software into a cloud-based data backup pipeline for future NASA missions.
Executive Office of the President
Lesson learned: Best results come from projects with contained scope.
Value gained: Improved efficiency and effectiveness of everyday office tasks that formerly frustrated rank-and-file employees.
On the other side of the country, interns are making a difference in the halls of government, including the White House's Executive Office of the President. In fact, because one CIO took the time to listen to an intern, the White House has launched a new IT-focused internship program.
Early in 2011, David Gobaud approached Brook Colangelo, CIO of the Executive Office of the President, with a proposition. Gobaud, 28, a Stanford University computer science graduate, had a White House internship unrelated to IT -- he was conducting fact-checking and research for the Council of Economic Advisors.