The summer after my freshman year at Grinnell, 1995, my dad got me an internship at the National Institute for Petroleum and Energy Research, commonly called NIPER, in my hometown of Bartlesville, OK. I was helping out the IT staff. Here are some of the things I learned from the experience.
- Nepotism is no secret. Everybody there knew I got the internship on my dad's reputation and not my own. If I'd stayed a year or more, maybe I could have made my own reputation, but his was larger than life.
- An unclear chain of command confuses everything. At the time, NIPER was jointly operated by the Department of Energy and a private company, BDM Oklahoma. Every time we did anything with a computer, we had to consider whether the hardware, software, and data were government property or private property.
- Academia is not welcome some places. At Grinnell, I was used to putting any downtime to productive use by learning something or making something even if it was not directly related to the task at hand. In this workplace, side projects were frowned upon, except by the other interns. We interns were not expected to speak at staff meetings unless we were invited to.
- Surge protectors aren't just for power circuits. There were at least a dozen serious thunderstorms that summer, and after every one I had to replace the network card in at least one printer, because somewhere on the network something wasn't protected against electrical surges, and they were getting onto the network cabling and burning out the printers' cards. The printers were under warranty, and HP dutifully sent us replacements each time, but we never did track down the problem.
- Coffee can make some people's breath smell like poop. I had a coworker who always smelled like he'd pooped his pants, and I eventually realized it was his breath!