New internship program helps develop aspiring software engineers

Travis Johnson
pictures of the interns in the article
James B. Reed

Katie Sarmiento (left) and Kat Shatinsky are the first interns in a program intended to help software engineering students develop their skills.

January 17, 2019

As a senior in high school, Kat Shatinsky took on a research project intending to shine a light on the achievements of a handful of trailblazing women in computer science.

Among the names Shatinsky studied, one stood out. “Margaret Hamilton was my favorite,” she said. Her eyes light up when she remembers a particular story set against the backdrop of the dramatic Apollo II mission.

“They’re going up to the moon and the computer on the ship is being overloaded. The software that [Hamilton] wrote was smart enough to recognize that the computer was being overloaded and then kill nonnecessary functions to give up some more memory, so the computer could finish its mission and get them to the moon and back safely.”

The story of a young female computer scientist working against the odds to write groundbreaking programs for NASA resonates with Katie Sarmiento, too.

“There aren’t that many women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” Sarmiento said. “I don’t think I realized it until I got to college and walked into my 8 a.m. class, and I was the only girl in the room.”

The Margaret Hamilton Distinguished Internship, offered through a partnership between Penn State’s Enterprise IT Software Engineering Unit and the College of Information Sciences and Technology Alumni Society, intends to change that.

Shatinsky and Sarmiento, both students in IST, are the first interns in the program designed to enhance participants’ skills in software engineering. Since May, they have worked alongside experienced developers in software architecture, open source development, database design and development, user experience and front-end development, application and enterprise security, systems integration and interface development, development and operations and project management to develop real-world solutions for Penn State.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to support exceptional students like Kat and Katie,” said Michael Kubit, vice president for Information Technology and chief information officer. “While they are deepening their knowledge in software engineering, they are also making contributions that impact the entire University. This scholarship program is a shining example of fulfilling our mission as a service organization.”

Having opportunities to work with a number of seasoned professionals for up to 40 hours per week has helped the interns narrow their career focus. As a junior, Shatinsky believes this internship will be a good stepping stone to another one before she transitions into her final year of college. Sarmiento, who will graduate in the spring, said the experience has awakened an interest in project management.

“This internship was actually super impressive to employers,” Sarmiento said. “They would take a look at my resume and be like, ‘You’ve worked with all these tools that we work with.’ A lot of people in our position don’t really have skills like that under their belt.”

As one of their final internship projects, Sarmiento and Shatinsky have been tasked with redesigning the two-factor authentication system faculty and staff use to verify their identity when logging on to Penn State systems.

“Coming out of college, you kind of think you know what the job of a software engineer is,” said Shawn Smith, director of software engineering. “Giving students the opportunity to embed with a real software engineering team and see what that really means in context, outside of the classroom, is the goal.”