As a freshman adjusting to college, recruitment was the last thing on my mind last fall. I was still navigating the realm of clubs, online classes, new friends, and change in general. So I applied for a whopping 0 internships and to be honest, I don’t regret it!
Don’t get me wrong, I think having an internship after freshman year can be really rewarding and a great learning experience, but it’s definitely not the only path that can lead to an enriching summer.
This past summer, I decided to return to my summer job of 3 years for one last season. I work at my local community pool as a supervisor for our crew workers who run things like the concession stand, deck maintenance, and admission. While you may not expect to get relevant engineering experience at a pool I found that I actually worked on a lot of things that directly supported my engineering skillset!
One of my responsibilities as a supervisor was maintaining the water chemistry of a 420,000-gallon pool! This involves things like water testing, chemical calculations, and problem-solving. I would need to test chemicals, translate the results (things like drops of a solution, or color) into specific values, analyze if these values were in range and if not apply various chemical and mechanical adjustments to fix the aquatic balance. This consisted of lots of “debugging” in a sense since I would often have to combine a variety of actions to get a certain result. For example, if the chlorine was too low I could do many different things such as turning the pump to “manual” (constant flow), adjusting the flow meter (allow for more chlorine to flow), adjusting the acid flow, adding powder chlorine, and more. I had to learn when to use each method based on things like the temperature or sun outside, chemical readings, and mechanical factors.
All of this really got me thinking with an engineering mindset and allowed me to put my problem-solving skills to good use! Additionally, I got to spend a lot of time working hands-on with large-scale machinery, something that I may have missed out on in a virtual internship.
On the more admission’s based side of my job, I got a lot of experience in working with a variety of computer software. Due to the pandemic, we had to make constant changes to the way we ran, and I ended up needing to learn and train the crew on 4 completely different membership management and point-of-sale systems over the past few years. While switching systems so much was tedious, it really gave me practice with adapting to new software and learning on the fly. Since engineering is such a fast-moving field, I can only imagine the benefit this will have.
Another thing that I really valued was getting to spend a large amount of time as a software user, rather than a software creator. For engineering, it’s so important to know what functionalities will be important for the customer using your software. When using these systems every day I noticed so many little things that I would have coded differently, or taken out, or rearranged that I wouldn’t have even thought of had I been creating the software with no experience in the work environment. Overall, I think knowing this will allow me to make better decisions in future engineering projects, and allow me to better interpret customer constraints.
Beyond technical knowledge, as an admissions supervisor, I had to learn how to manage people and processes to optimize a system. The main thing that I was working on was optimizing our check-in process. At the beginning of the season, there would be long lines and unhappy customers since the other supervisors and I still had to figure out how to best check people in with our new software and new Covid guidelines. However, as the season went on we constantly were adapting by doing things like having crew workers start checking patrons in outside, allowing for early check-in, and having someone outside directing people, all of which led to us being able to check people in much more efficiently. While this kind of problem-solving was much different than the circuit diagrams and coding problems I’m used to in class, it felt very similar on a conceptual level.
The last thing I want to mention is less so an “engineering skill”, but more so something that I think is a skill outside of engineering, that every engineer should have: Interpersonal skills! A big part of my job this summer was customer service. I was the one people went to when angry customers “asked for a supervisor” and had to deal with the public every day whether it be in person, over the phone, or over email. Additionally, I had to manage relationships between the crew workers and maintain a strong line of communication between the crew and upper management. Learning how to balance this definitely took some time, but I feel like a much more confident and composed person because of it.
Overall, I was able to learn all this, make some extra money, and have a lot of fun this summer at the pool. This job helped me see the applications of the engineering mindset in everyday life and now I feel prepared for whatever next summer has in store!