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The Internship

After my Freshman year of college, I got an internship at the Tennessee Valley Authority, a power-producing company headquartered in East Tennessee.

My role was basically to be a software developer for a bunch of civil and mechanical engineers. It was a good job for me: it paid better than the usual Summer job of working in fast food or retail, it wasn’t very high-pressure or high-stakes, and they were fine with the fact that I’d had all of two semesters of formal computer science education.

I actually ended up taking this internship each Summer for three years. I feel it was a mutually beneficial arrangement, as I was able to complete a number of projects for the company, and I was able to apply what I had learned in my classes.

As I was working for the hydroelectric power group, occasionally I’d be tasked with going on-site to one of TVA’s many hydroelectric dams. Usually it was to do some sort of routine task like replacing a computer with a slightly newer, better computer or figuring out why one piece of specialized hardware was no longer reporting data (9 times out of 10: because someone had unplugged it from its modem in order to illegally connect their computer to the Internet or had unplugged it from the wall in order to illegally plug in their portable TV / radio / whatever).

One time I drove to a dam out in Guntersville, Alabama. They had just finished repairs from when one of the turbines failed catastrophically. The guy told me the turbine broke free from its housing and shot through the powerhouse wall into the river! I looked the incident up later and I don’t think it was as dramatic as he tried to have me believe (it seems to have gotten a few sentences in a local paper). I think the blue collar guys at the plants liked telling stories to the new kid from engineering. I found it improved my relationships with the locals if I accepted everything they said with wide-eyed wonderment.

Most of the other people on my team were old enough to be my parents, with the exception of a few who were old enough to be my grandparents. I definitely felt like the new kid, especially that first Summer, and I’m very grateful that all those folks accepted me as well as they did. I felt very much like I got along with everyone.

That job doesn’t even appear on my resume anymore. With over a decade of experience as a software engineer, I don’t really need it. But it was still a good job, and I think it was the job I needed at the time.


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