Science Intern in CSIP
HIDDEN TALENT: I play the
trumpet-Ive been playing
for 12 years.
N A NUMBER OF WAYS,
Charlie's summer with the
NSA was like any other
computer science internship. He
reported to managers, worked
with data, and completed projects
that were handed off to him. But
in other ways, the experience was
completely different: Charlie's
work was classified, for instance,
which meant he couldn't even tell
his closest friends the details, and the problems he dealt with
on a daily basis were some of the largest facing the nation.
Can you tell us about what you did during your internship? I
can't say much-the work I did was classified! It definitely
made me feel pretty important to produce work that, when
I showed the results, my managers had to double-check that
everyone in the room had the proper clearance to see what I
did. It definitely gave me the sense that I was doing something
important to help people-especially for internship work.
Did anything surprise you most when you first started? The
opportunity to collaborate definitely surprised me. I thought
my work would be so secretive that we would all be working by
ourselves and wouldn't talk to other people. But everyone was
very open, and if I had a question, anyone was happy to answer
Did the internship meet your expectations? Absolutely. The
projects I worked on were the most technical projects you
could imagine! And the people inside the NSA are really
encouraging, which was awesome for an intern. Add to that
the fact that everybody wants you back for a full-time job when
you complete your internship. It was just a great experience.
What are you most proud of in your work? I can't give many
details, but I designed a program that produced exciting
enough results that the person I was working for posted them
agency-wide. A lot of people at the NSA got to see what I
did-sometimes in an internship you're just getting coffee, so
it was neat to know my work was relevant to the people I was
What's the most fun thing you did? We got to take tours of
the Agency's different facilities-and they were really cool! I
learned a lot about what's going on in different departments,
and it was really neat to see what kinds of things are
What was the best part of the experience? I proved that I was
able to succeed at the NSA-I figure that there are very few
places in life I'll come across that deal with more demanding
problems or have more brilliant individuals working there.
The overall self-esteem boost of successfully completing this
internship was great.
W in AIN HAS SPENT more
than a few years in
POSITION: Computer college and graduate
Science Research Intern in school. Interested in computer
EDATION PhDn Compscience and artificial intelligence,
Science, 2009 he always figured he'd become
IF YOU WERE GOING TO a professor one day. But after
COMPETE IN ONE OLYMPIC deciding to look into jobs outside
SPORT, WHICH WOULD IT of academia, he stumbled upon
SEs fencing-it's strategic an internship listing for the NSA.
as well as athletic. The coolness factor of working
on classified projects for the
government was too much to ignore, so he decided to apply.
We know you have to keep the details of your internship a
secret, but can you tell us anything about what you worked on?
I spent my internship exploring machine learning problems,
which mostly included trying experiments and seeing what the
results of those experiments were. I also did a lot of writing and
presentation of my ideas.
Machine learning? It's a field within artificial intelligence. The
idea is to teach a computer to look at a large amount of data
and learn from it. For example, you might be interested in the
sales of a particular item at Wal-Mart, in relation to something
that seems strange-let's say between the weather outside and
diaper sales. The computer could then figure out whether there
was any kind of correlation, if maybe Wal-Mart would need to
stock up on diapers if the forecast called for rain. Essentially, it
would be dealing with things a human might be able to figure
out, but with a scale of data that wouldn't be easy to handle.
What surprised you most when you first started? The NSA is
not scary! For some reason, I had this idea that the people here
would be very strict and maybe mean. But they're very friendly
and helpful. It's just like any other place you could work.
Looking back on the experience, has it meet your expectations?
It's better than I expected-it's been a really tremendous
experience. I learned a lot, and I've gotten to work on projects
that are meaningful and very exciting.
Is there anything you did during the internship that you're
particularly proud of? Generally, I felt like I was able to meet
the task at hand, and I'm really proud of that. I was a little
concerned that because there were so many bright and brilliant
people here, I wouldn't be able to contribute. But I have, and
that's been wonderful.
Describe the experience in three words: Challenging, exciting, fun.
Before we let you go, are there any secrets you can share? Well,
without speaking specifically, I can say our projects are really
cool. Unfortunately, we can't describe to people much about
what we do, but once you're on the inside here, you'll see it's
FALL 2008 19