Double alum 'connects a lot of success' to UHCL, trains future IT specialists with internships, mentorship
Landing a paid internship at a great company while still in college is one of the best ways to set the foundation for finding a great job after graduation. For Ryan Brooker and Joseph Bittinger, both pursuing bachelor’s degrees in University of Houston-Clear Lake’s College of Science and Engineering, their internships with AtLink Communications give them a paycheck, but the real value is in the hands-on experience and the work environment.
They work for Dilhar De Silva, co-founder and chief technology officer at ALlink Communications, a business software partner that builds and deploys core software solutions in Clear Lake. He’s also a double UH-Clear Lake alumnus who’s remained in close contact with his alma mater since he completed his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science in 1991, then his Master of Science in Computer Science in 1994.
“When I was getting my master’s, I took a software engineering class and my professor gave a presentation,” De Silva said. “At that time, I was delivering pizzas. The professor said he had a little company and asked me if I would like to join and work for him. It was a startup, but I jumped at it.”
De Silva said the company was a big success, and the professor brought other UHCL students on board. “We were the first three that started the company in 1995, and now we have built a company of about 60 people. We went international with the software we built, and then we were acquired by another company called Platinum Technology, for a lot of money,” he said. “The whole company was predominantly UHCL graduates.”
Later, he said, Platinum Technology was acquired by another company, but they wanted them to stay. “I stayed there till 2005, when I started AtLink. So, I connect a lot of success to UHCL and being with people from UHCL,” he said.
His continued relationship with UHCL is important to current students searching for valuable internship experience. AtLink coordinated their internships through UHCL’s Office of Strategic Partnerships and available work-based learning funding opportunities. With support from Strategic Partnerships, AtLink will be able to continue offering internships to students pursuing IT-related degrees.
“My internship with AtLink is giving me the hands-on experience I wouldn’t get otherwise,” Brooker said. “You can study all the theory and get all the certifications you want, but unless you get out in the field, you won’t get the experience you need to be good in this. The only way to get experience in information technology is by going hands-on.”
After just three weeks in the internship, Brooker said he’d already been out in the field working directly with clients over a dozen times, working on servers and troubleshooting hardware. “I also shadow more senior people, and on occasion try my own solutions,” he said.
Bittinger, a senior pursuing a bachelor of science in information technology, said he and Brooker worked with clients onsite together, as well as working remotely.
“I’m also learning a lot about the importance of good communication with clients,” he said. “It’s one thing to learn to do something, but it’s another to explain it to someone who may not understand. When you start to explain it to others, that’s when you know you understand the fundamentals.”
He added that his internship experience was critical to his education because not everything learned in the classroom is truly applicable.
“When you actually get out in the real tech force, you understand the skills are great, but the experience to back up what you’re learning is what’s important,” he said. “You learn the fundamentals in school, but you learn to implement them in the internship. It’s really valued by employers, because most applications ask for two years of experience.”
De Silva said he had four UHCL interns this year, and would continue working with the university to help train future IT specialists for the work force.
Bittinger said that interns said the same thing about their work experience. “All of us understand that when you put someone in front of a customer, that is a dynamic you cannot create in the classroom environment,” he said.
The Office of Strategic Partnerships can help students find internships across all industries. For more information, go online.