We’re officially in the middle of summer and at Cisco IT that means we’re knee deep in our summer internship program. 

Working with the summer interns is one of the best parts of my job. I absolutely love our interns’ unbridled energy and enthusiasm. They are refreshing in their honesty and bring new ideas and new ways of looking at things, viewing work through a different lens.

And I also admire the way they work.  It’s not surprising that as smart, enterprising young adults, they want to add value fast and not get bogged down with bureaucracy. They want experience and the chance to work on different projects. Unlike other generations, Gen Y interns are natural collaborators – working as a team doesn’t have to be taught, it’s just built into their DNA. Case in point: two years ago, when our interns were still assigned to a standard office with cubes, the interns took down the padded cubicle walls to see each other and better collaborate. They were literally breaking down the barriers! Our interns are enterprising and not afraid to ask for help.  And while they have very high expectations for themselves and for their peers, it’s very rarely about individual success. 

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed my colleague Lance Perry about working with Gen Y’ers – I encourage you to read it to learn more about cultural differences with the millennial workforce. A few of our key findings are that interns are very dependent on technology and have very little patience when technology doesn’t work. They also don’t understand why companies still use what they view as “old” ways of communicating. Email is about as relevant to them as black and white TVs with antennas. They far prefer new modes such as Cisco Jabber, text and video. The Baby Boomer goal of achieving the fancy corner office has also gone by the wayside.  Interns want to work together in teams in collaborative settings or wherever they are outside of the office.

We realize we can learn a lot from our interns. That’s why we’ve developed an informal “reverse mentoring” program to capture these new insights.

Of course, we believe we do a great job with our intern program, beginning with recruiting a solid group of talented, high potential students.  Our motto is “recruit once, hire twice” because we want to bring our interns on full-time after they graduate.

This summer we are fortunate to have 42 interns in the U.S. and U.K. (our Bangalore interns start in the fall), working on 43 different projects building on the theme of “Accelerated Learning through Networked Collaboration.” Under the guidance of our IT project managers, our interns are helping us create new IT tools and programs.

Here’s a sample: 

1-      A new job scheduling and automation tool, a system to schedule maintenance tasks that have to run periodically. The outcome will be to move away from legacy applications and, in doing so, get a higher level of security and efficiency.

2-      Search ambassador – a project to augment our current search algorithm to add a dimension of relevance.

3-      IT service feedback – a centralized feedback mechanism that allows for in-the-moment feedback for IT Services. 

We know we have a successful program based on the results and intern feedback.  Many tell us that they are excited to come to work each day at Cisco – they prefer it to attending classes.  The value our interns bring us is incredible. It is very exciting to be part of the development of our future workforce.

Happy collaborating!