By AT&T 2018 D.C. Summer Interns Kasey McGee and Sarah Rippy
(The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the student authors and are not attributable to AT&T)
Coming up the elevator the first day, we were unsure of what to expect. Would AT&T be as flashy and shiny as we anticipated? Were we about to dive into the deep end of the corporate world without actually knowing how to swim? If we answered those questions based solely on first impressions of the newly renovated DC Office, the answer would be yes. While we were right about the office space, to say our preconceived notions of what corporate life was like at AT&T were incorrect would be an understatement. Upon beginning our internships, we quickly realized that we were joining not only a team, but also a community.
The sense of comradery in our office was evident throughout our work on projects ranging from spectrum issues to wireless and wireline infrastructure. One of the projects that we found the most compelling was Universal Service. Though it was not the most glamorous subject matter, being from small rural towns in Ohio and Colorado, we understood the importance of expanding broadband to areas that would otherwise be economically infeasible. Of course, while numbers impact decisions of any business, the approach the USF team took toward broadband deployment opened our eyes to the fact that numbers weren’t the only consideration. It quickly became obvious that the end goal of expanding broadband to rural areas like our hometowns was something they took personally, and their passion made it easy for us to engage with the subject matter.
We also witnessed the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), whose main objective is to provide a unified front as the United States begins to roll out 5G, and the PACE Communication Protection Coalition, whose purpose is to work together to find a solution for robocalls that satisfies everyone. In rooms full of very diverse opinions, we were exposed to not only the importance of respect, but also the value of compromise. It was a powerful experience to see government, private industry and various stakeholders from conflicting sides come together for a common goal and agree on a solution that was workable for all parties.
On top of the amazing projects we worked on, we also learned about many of the initiatives that the company has implemented in communities throughout the country. The AT&T Aspire Program, for example, works to enhance education through supporting and mentoring the most promising and innovative startups in education technology. We also had the opportunity to get a firsthand look at one of these initiatives in the DC office. Every summer, AT&T hosts a seven-week summer immersion program called Girls Who Code for high school girls interested in the tech industry. We were able to lead an activity where the girls discussed the spread of misinformation online and brainstormed ways to solve it through coding. After the activity had ended, the conversation evolved into one about college and life. The way that these young women engaged with us made us reflect on how, as women, working in this industry matters, and we felt lucky to be able to help mentor those who were just starting on their own paths.
At the end of the day, one of our biggest lessons from this summer is that private industry and big corporations are not the big, bad wolf society sometimes makes them out to be. Public and private sector interests don’t always have to be mutually exclusive. We need to be able to look beyond picking sides and work toward a solution that all sides can work with. AT&T is ultimately comprised of people who themselves are consumers just like everyone else. Among other things, they want broadband on their goat farms, quality television programs for their children, and good cell service without interruption. While we are not sure what our futures hold, this summer we found ourselves amongst individuals that would become friends and mentors and for that we will always be grateful.