For three of the five years I served as an employee at a very large organization, I held the title of “intern.” It was an amusing title—given that my peers and I almost all held advanced graduate degrees and several of us had previous experience in industry, the military, academia, or some combination—but it was in fact accurate: We all brought our knowledge and experience, but here we were new. For three years, internship meant taking “tours” inside various offices within the organization with interleaved internal post-graduate–level courses in the work of the organization.
The touring was particularly interesting. For three months, six months, or maybe even a year, the intern is embedded within an office within the organization. The intern learns everything possible about the office: the people, the mission, the processes, and especially the problems. The intern then spends the tour attempting to make a dent in one or more problems—or at least to gain the experience of trying, since there will in fact be extremely difficult or even intractable problems. In the end, after the appropriate pats-on-the-back or other awards, the intern produces a report and then moves along. Wash, rinse, repeat.
From the office’s point of view, the intern is at worst free labor—since the internship program owns the intern’s billet—but at best is a fresh point of view, a new set of eyes, and possibly the key to solving some problem. It is also true that each intern is in some sense a candidate for longer-term service, since, at the end of each internship, the intern is supposed to find a home and natural choices include those offices with which the candidate has toured. Careers are long, so no one expects a “home” to be permanent; rather, one hopes for a dedicated commitment with mutual benefit for some intrinsically reasonable period of time.
If, on the other hand, the intern begins with an independent streak, then this internship program surely reinforces it as the intern indirectly learns the art of independent consultancy, living outside the mainstream life within organizational boundaries. Such people often bring unique and unconventional perspective. Then again, perhaps it is the people with unique and unconventional perspective who become those who live outside the mainstream.
The preceding paragraphs are the beginning of many great stories…