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," he says. In the case of the cloud software that Kern worked on, the idea was so good 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: The best results come from projects with contained scope.
Value gained: Improved efficiency and efectiveness 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.
As part of that work, Gobaud had noticed some business process inefficiencies and started, on his own, to automate some of them for employees. For example, he noticed that staffers were manually updating spreadsheets weekly. They would copy and paste data from one spreadsheet to a master spreadsheet, extending rows and manually updating charts -- a time-consuming and error-prone process. "I created a macro that turned this into a single workflow," says Gobaud. "Click a button, select the new data file and click OK."
Gobaud talked with his supervisor and then proposed to Colangelo the idea of creating a team of IT interns who could identify more areas where such small-scale automation could improve efficiency throughout the White House. Colangelo liked the idea. He named it the Software Automation and Technology (SWAT) team and asked Gobaud to help manage it. They selected four interns for the first session, which was last summer.
The SWAT team worked with Colangelo's enterprise business solutions staff, which focuses on application development and solving business problems. The interaction with real business users was a valuable experience for the interns. "We would watch people perform various tasks and listen to what frustrated them, what was consuming their time," says Gobaud.