When the AT&T recruiter called in February to offer me a summer internship, I was pleased about the opportunity to work on projects that would draw on my past experience in digital marketing and stretch me with new challenges. This would also be a chance to see if working for a Fortune 100 telecommunications company would be a good fit. I looked forward to joining the Leadership Development Program (LDP), a general management rotational program that would provide a meaningful contrast to the consulting and startup work that I had done previously.
I was offered a placement in Atlanta, Georgia, at the headquarters of AT&T Mobility (a wholly owned subsidiary which provides wireless services). I briefly imagined that I might experience the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that MBA students frequently talk about, while many of my Columbia Business School classmates would be socializing in New York City during their free time. However, going to a city where I knew virtually no one was an opportunity to start from a clean slate and spend ten weeks in full exploration mode, and I dove right in. I started work almost immediately after my arrival, and I also wasted no time investigating various networks – AT&T’s affinity groups, my school and sorority alumni networks, Couchsurfing (a global travelers’ network for which I’m an ambassador), LinkedIn groups, meetups, and other interest groups.
The internship itself involved a mix of supporting two B2B marketing teams using a new social media analytics platform, working on an independent strategy project, and participating in programming to learn about the company’s various business units and strategic priorities. Along with the other interns, I attended training programs, volunteered at a food bank, experienced a “ride-along” with field technicians, viewed demos of new technology, and interacted with my peers socially. I also contributed a business idea and commented on others through AT&T’s TIP program (The Innovation Pipeline), a crowdsourcing and collaboration tool in which the best ideas from employees can turn into real products, applications, and services. One way that I made use of limited time to network within the vast AT&T ecosystem was by asking most of the people whom I met if they could suggest the next 1-2 people for me to reach out to. I also focused my efforts on getting to know several areas of the business in depth (for instance, healthcare and international solutions) and achieved nearly 100% success in making the strategic connections that I had sought.
While it’s possible to reinvent oneself throughout a career, the MBA summer internship can provide a rare opportunity to do a significant pivot. The environment was indeed quite different than what I – or many of the other interns – had experienced previously, and I have much to reflect on during my second year of business school and as I advise my classmates in my Career Fellow role. Ultimately, I’m grateful for the ten weeks that I lived in Georgia and for how the summer further cultivated my interest in technology and general management programs. I’m also appreciative for the people that I met and confident that if I should again be called upon to relocate to an unfamiliar place, I’ll be able to find community, somehow, wherever I go.