While the summer interns demystify the black box of AI/ML, we look at the “black box” that is NT Concepts’ internship program
A black box is defined as anything that has mysterious or unknown internal functions or mechanisms. This summer, our 2022 NT Concept data science interns dove into the “Black Box” that is key to how our company thrives in the government contracting space: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Perhaps equally as interesting is the “Black Box” surrounding NT Concepts’ acclaimed internship program. After speaking in person with the 2022 class, I’d like to share what I learned, through the words of the interns and their mentors.
Want versus need
Internships have long served as an opportunity for rising and current college students to apply their school-taught skills in a real work setting. But beyond needing valuable employment experience, why would a student want to spend their valuable summers with us?
We come prepared. The call for intern mentors goes out seven months before the start of the program, and the talent team has locked in the selected interns by March. With the positions filled and mentors in place—still three months removed from their very first day of employment— the work projects are selected based on their field of study or interest and their calendar of events starts to fill up.
“I really liked that NT had an established program with a real project for us to be working on and a large group of people to meet.”
Data Science Team
It’s a cultural thing. With many companies abandoning internship programs due to growing remote work, NT Concepts is proud to promote a hybrid learning environment without sacrificing what makes our workplace so unique — our culture.
While the responsibility of providing work experience rests with us, we never lose sight of the fact that our interns are still students, and skills can be learned beyond the office as well. From participating in hackathons, to holding community giving back events and attending National’s baseball games in person, our summer interns get the chance to grow as people while having fun and developing their careers.
“I was a little worried at the start, with two of us starting off fully remote, but right away I felt included and there was a really smooth transition to and from remote or hybrid work. I really got to know everyone regardless of where they were working from. It was great.”
Data Science Team
A diverse group of talent. Our 2022 internship class comes from all over the country, are all different ages, and have varied educational backgrounds or areas of study. This year, we expanded to include rising college students, partnering with George Mason University and the Children’s Science Center to help students get a head start on work experience, and make important decisions about their interests and areas of study early on. Other interns are returning for second, third, and fourth stints to continue learning new concepts and gaining valuable hands-on experience.
“I do Historical Preservation as my focus in college – very different from everyone else here. My background is in Geographical Information Studies, and I did this internship because I really wanted to see if this was the path I wanted to go down, or if working with computers and programming was more appealing to me.”
Data Science Team
Flexibility is Key
Within the time constraints of a 3-month program, and while wanting to maintain realistic development timelines, it can be difficult to stay flexible in meeting the needs of a large intern group. But this is another area that remains a top priority for us — ensuring our interns get the most of their experience while also allowing for flexibility to explore and grow into the roles and topics that interest them the most.
“I was given the opportunity, even as a sophomore, to go learn more about being a scrum master and project management as a whole so I could consider going down that career path in the future.”
Data Science Team
We expect a lot from the young men and women in our program, and sometimes, they feel a change in focus is beneficial to their growth. In those cases, our mentors find ways to keep challenging the interns by allowing them to branch into new areas of interest. The internship program adapts and grows to meet the needs of the students who choose to spend their summers learning with us.
“I was originally on the back-end team but was able to switch to the front-end team to try and learn more about full stack development. With the experience of getting to work in both areas this summer, I’m a lot more interested in the idea of doing front-end or full-stack development in the future.”
Real world experience
PROJECT: Demystifying Classifier Performance Dashboard
The focus of our data science group was to develop a real-world project that breaks down what functions go into an AI application, creating a solution that utilizes but also describes AI/ML processes at the same time.
Driven by the desire to remove the mystery and increase public confidence through a greater understanding of AI/ML processes, the internship team created a project demo that takes an image input and provides context to the algorithmic processes that affect the output. This is achieved through a generated heat map showing what key areas are driving the result.
“Essentially, we want to remove the black box surrounding AI and Machine Learning. When you use one of these tools, you don’t really know what’s happening behind the scenes, so we wanted to make a dashboard that not only tells you what the subject of an image is, but what processes are going on to arrive at that conclusion.”
Data Science Team
During their final presentation, the team presented their architecture diagrams, the business value of the project, and a demonstration of the AI/ML application. This provided students with the opportunity to add to their skill sets public speaking and professional presentation of their work.
Beyond the hard programmatical skills, the students found themselves learning industry best practices in agile project workflows.
“We started using JIRA, Agile, and Scrum project management, which is really something I didn’t understand at first, but I saw quickly how effective it is at keeping things organized.”
Rising freshmen Samhita Reddivalam and Joseph Chen developed a flight tracking and mapping application. Using existing data, our interns worked with AreoAPI and online databases to aid the flight tracking and data analysis processes.
In just a few short weeks, these young developers were able to achieve their goals of real time data analysis and visualizations. The development team identified a need to aid in the detection of flight path abnormalities to aid in national security matters — a core tenant of the work we do at NT Concepts. Inputs now provide information on flights related to schedule, routes and arrival status, with paths visualized thanks to real time data continuously called from the successfully integrated AeroAPI.
For future improvements, the team was able to identify clear next steps, such as the analyzing of historical data to improve algorithms which detect anomalies and improvements to real time visualization.
“I trust myself, and I know the work that I put forward is going to be quality, but this internship helped me to move past the college mindset when it comes to work and really learn how to work on large team-based projects.”
Data Science Team
PROJECT: Business Development & Program Controls
Returning intern Bennett Ehler took on the role of business development intern this summer, further diving into the ins and outs of our business development processes. Specifically focusing on the inventory and updating of our past performances, Bennett was able to propose projects and advancements based on both his and NT Concept’s Business Development needs, including Talent acquisition projects, and repository management. Aiding in program control needs, Zacharia Caldwell assisted with contract procurement and management, gained new experience working with Salesforce, and learned about labor tasks and expense reports.
For machine learning and AI image mapping, the sky is truly the limit for where the technology goes in the future. But the same can be said for the NT Concepts 2022 intern group, as well as the internship program. The team is already planning innovations for next year’s group, and in particular, ways to continue the experience for those that want to come back for another year.
“I already have so much going through my mind for next year. Some tools we liked, and others we didn’t. More paths for students with various interests beyond front-end, back-end, and data science. We want to accommodate and cultivate future project managers, business analysts, any of the equally as important roles.”
Internship Team Lead
But for our interns entering their final years of college, many have gained a new perspective on what’s important to them in a workplace, from culture to day-to-day tasks, with some even deciding to change career paths all together.
Whether our interns decide to join us again in the future or expand into other roles or areas outside of NT Concepts, we know that their summer with us has set them up for success in addressing any of the challenges the working world has to offer.
Listen to more interviews with our 2022 Summer Intern Class!