WiTNY 2020 Winternship at ActionIQ

Steve McColl
Feb 25, 2020 · 10 min read

This was the second year that ActionIQ partnered with WiTNY to host a “Winternship” class and yet again it was a fun and successful three weeks working with 5 STEM majors.

So what is a “Winternship”? Well, WiTNY describes it as:

The Winternship, a paid, three-week, mini-internship experience during the January academic recess, is an innovative program that creates a new pathway into those coveted summer internships. In just three weeks, ‘Winterns’ get immersed in their host company’s business and work on a challenge project.

Refia, Syeda, Neyma, Kelly, Kia Dalili (our Head of Data Science) and Kelly

The program is transformative and helps combat a catch-22 problem for many students — they cannot get internships because they have no experience, and yet with no internship, it is hard to get experience. In WiTNY’s first two years of operating, data showed that only 3.6% of the CUNY women who apply for summer tech internships receive offers. Since the Winternship program has started, 54% of participants go on to summer internships and that number needs to keep climbing!

For us, it is a chance to come back from our winter break and work with 5 enthusiastic young women who are inquisitive about what we do, why we do it and contribute new insight and energy into our company. Not only is it a fun time for us, the relationships we form with our winterns and the excitement about their future lasts beyond the 3 weeks at ActionIQ.

In great news, WiTNY has been recognized for having such a high impact that the program is going national (and therefore rebranding!). I urge you to checkout Break Through Tech and get involved in local opportunities to host an internship or winternship.

If you’re a student reading this and want to learn more about what we did and the experience of our 2020 winterns, keep on reading — Kelly, Kelly and Nayma kindly shared their thoughts on the experience below.

Nayma Labonna

What brought me here?

Although WiTNY is a program primarily for freshman and sophomores, I went through my entire first year of college without ever having heard of it. It wasn’t until my sophomore year when a friend of mine brought the Winternship to my attention, and encouraged me to apply. I did not have any experience in the tech industry prior to this internship, so I was beyond excited to find out that I got accepted into the program and was matched with a company called ActionIQ.

What was I expecting to get out of it?

I expected that I would learn a lot more about the ActionIQ platform and would gain some insight about what it is actually like to work in the tech field. I knew that ActionIQ was a startup company, but I was afraid the environment would be “cold” and unwelcoming to an intern with no experience. In terms of the project, I expected to be given something challenging that would require me to code and work with a team who were also chosen by WiTNY. I also expected that there would be a presentation at the end of the three weeks, so I hoped that would strengthen my ability to speak in front of large crowds. Overall, I knew that this Winternship would be a chance to learn new things and get out of my comfort zone.

What did I actually get out of it?

Ever since the first day of the Winternship, my fears that I would be working in an unwelcoming environment diminished. Everyone at ActionIQ was so friendly and willing to help us learn, and that’s exactly what we did. While working on the project, I learned a lot about data visualization and analyzing data using Python. It was very interesting to see things I learned in school being used in practice in “the real world”. I definitely had to get out of my comfort zone and got a taste of what it is like to work at a startup. I also found out about careers in the tech field that I had never heard of before. Through meeting people with all kinds of backgrounds, I realized that there is no specific path that a person can take to achieve their goals. There will be setbacks and challenges, but every hardship is an experience that you can learn from.

What were the positive or negative surprises?

The biggest surprise to me was how welcoming people at ActionIQ were. People went out of their way to speak to us Winterns and tell us about what they do at ActionIQ and how they got here. Everyone was genuinely willing to help us, not just with our project but with general life advice as well. I was also surprised at how transparent the company was with us, I didn’t expect that we would be included in all the company events, but we were. ActionIQ didn’t hide anything from the Winterns. As for negative surprises, I honestly don’t believe there were any. My team and I did face some roadblocks with the project, but the fact that it was challenging made it even more enjoyable.

What’s next?

Because my experience with ActionIQ has been so amazing, I am torn between wanting to work with them again and wanting to expand my horizon and try something new. As for now, I’ll be returning back to school for the spring semester. I’m going to try to hone the skills that this internship has equipped me with so that I can further achieve my goals.

Kelly Lai

What brought me here?

This three weeks of winternship experience at ActionIQ was only made possible through an organization called WiTNY(Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York), a women empowerment program that brings together young women with different technical backgrounds and are currently a Freshman or Sophomore attending a CUNY(City University of New York) by assigning them to internships at tech companies. As an alumni of this program, I decided to apply again because the past winternship experience exposed me to different career paths and made me want to experience working at different companies, such as a start-up company like ActionIQ, to see its comparison to other companies that are out there.

What was I expecting to get out of it?

To be honest, prior to the first day of the winternship, I did not know what to expect. After knowing that I was assigned to ActionIQ, I did some research because I was unfamiliar with the company. With a little bit of research on the company, I found that ActionIQ is a start-up company with a real-time Customer Data Platform that makes it easier for marketers to transform customer experiences. Although I did not completely understand the product they sell even reading about it, I expect that it may involve data that are used for marketing from the term “Customer Data Platform”. Having done a data entry internship in the past, I initially thought that I will be sitting in front of a laptop and enter data for the entire day. Despite being still confused with the role that I will be partaking for the next three weeks, I was excited to work at a start-up company and explore a new working environment.

What did I actually get out of it?

The three-week winternship experience at ActionIQ was far beyond what I initially expected. Rather than spending the entire day working on the project that we were assigned, we got to talk to many people from different teams and learn more about the journey that got them to where they are at. In terms of the project, it was way more interesting and challenging than I first expected. I was introduced to a new platform called Jupyter and learned to utilize Python to organize and visualize data. With some knowledge of pandas and matplotlib, which are Python libraries, we were able to create graphs from the given data and analyze how ActionIQ’s clients are using their platform. Throughout the project, we came across challenges and blockage along the way, but with the help of our manager, Laura M Chevalier, and our mentor, Kia Dalili, we manage to complete our project within these three weeks. Overall, for this winternship experience, I gained the experience of working at a startup company and was introduced to a new field of Data Science, which I am very thankful for.

What were the positive or negative surprises?

A positive surprise was the impact that our project has on the company. In the beginning, I thought that we would just be dealing with some data that can be found online because it was hard to believe that they would trust college interns with the company’s data. After knowing about our project, I was amazed by the amount of trust and expectation that they have for us. Also, initially, I honestly did not expect the result that we got from our project to have any effect on the company at all since we have limited knowledge of Python and data science. However, it proved me wrong during the day of our presentation when ActionIQ employees started asking us questions about our findings and our thoughts for improving their product, which made me feel like we actually contributed to the company and that all the work that we did for three weeks were not just something that is looked at and forgotten. Although the experience at ActionIQ was short, it made me feel connected and involved as if I was an actual employee there.

What’s next?

Moving forward, I will be searching for and applying for internships that are in the tech field. After experiencing what it is like to work at a start-up company for three weeks, I would like to continue exploring companies of other sizes. I am looking forward to seeing different sides of the tech industry and develop more skills along the way. Being at a stage where I am unclear of what my future career might be, I hope that I will have a clearer view through these internships.

Kelly Dong

My name is Kelly Dong. I am a sophomore at City College of New York, studying computer engineering. I’ve had experience in front-end development before and data science after this winternship. I love both experiences and is exploring the different fields that I can integrate my coding skills into to find my very own career path.

What brought me here?

All of the winterns are with a program called WiTNY which is now renamed to Break Through Tech NY. This program is a collaboration between Cornell Tech and CUNY schools that advocate for women in tech careers. Being in a male-dominated field, a lot of women turned away from tech due to fear and lack of support. WiTNY provides me with the support early on in my career so that I would be able to gain real work experience and be set apart from other applicants when I apply to a full-time job in the future. In addition to that, I would be able to learn about the companies and different fields where I will enjoy working in.

What was I expecting to get out of it?

I was expecting to meet new people and get better at working with a team. I was also expecting to expand my network and learn about other fields where computer science can be integrated into, so I can use that information to form my own career path.

What did I actually get out of it?

I found an amazing team and friends who I can rely on. I was also about to expand my network. In addition to that, the most important thing that I got out of this winternship is the experience to learn so many new things in the marketing field which makes me curious to know other technologies that are around me.

What did I learn?

I learned about Data Science and, with that, I learned a new coding language, Python. I was also able to learn about the different teams in Action IQ and about their work and how these all come together to support Action IQ’s customers.

What were the positive or negative surprises?

I learned that there’s a lot more to learn when you are actually in the position. When I was in school, I thought that everything I learned will be implemented later on when I am at work, but I was definitely wrong. In school, they train students so we have a mentality to think critically when approaching a problem. However, this means that I will be learning new things every day while being at work which is exciting for me.

What’s next?

I want to continue to explore the different fields tech can be implemented by doing more internships, research opportunities, or study abroad. After that, I use all of that experience to pick a field that I like so that I will be able to enjoy my job.

Steve leads Engineering at ActionIQ and loves building excellent enterprise software products and excellent engineering teams. He’s been doing this a while across a number of different industries and has built software from the “good old days” of building websites in perl and writing business logic in stored procedures to large distributed data-driven systems, mobile and desktop apps and reporting tools.
Outside of the office, he spends most of his time with his wife, 3 daughters and two cats in NJ and a little time riding motorcycles or making music.

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