For Paola Cobos ’20, there are interns, then there are “Trinterns.”
That’s the affectionate name given to nine—count them, nine—Tigers working for cloud-based data security firm Jungle Disk this summer. This group is part of more than 60 Trinity students participating in Students+Startups, an annual program funded by the 80/20 Foundation that puts Tigers in the middle of San Antonio’s exploding tech and startup scene.
But what makes a Students+Startups “Trintern”? Cobos, along with coworkers Hayley Hultman ’19 and Caroline Haggard ’19, says it’s all about the connections.
“It’s so hard to find an internship that puts you in the same room as a CEO, where you can talk to them every day,” Cobos says. “You have that advantage of creating a great network, and you’re bringing that experience back to the classroom with you before you even graduate.”
That Students+Startups network will be doubling from more than 60 students to 120 in 2019, and it will place Trinity students, along with competitive applicants from schools such as Harvard, Rice, and Stanford, in similar, fully-paid summer internship positions across the nation.
"We had already planned to expand Students+Startups to other area universities, but we’ve had national inquiries about this program,” says Luis Martinez, executive director of Trinity’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “So we decided to accelerate the national roll-out to 2019 and expand to university students across the country who are interested in participating. "
That means more opportunities for students at businesses like Jungle Disk, which provides comprehensive data privacy and protection services for small-to-midsize companies (up to 250 employees). This summer, Cobos worked on Jungle Disk’s marketing efforts, assisting CEO Brett Piatt with social media accounts such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and the company’s public blogs.
For Cobos, a finance and business analytics and technology double major from Quito, Ecuador, this internship has been a chance to connect her education directly to her future industry.
“Working at a startup that is very open, welcoming, and where they are focus on letting us learn,” Cobos says. “I came in without much marketing experience, but all my coworkers have made my time here enriching.”
While Cobos got a better grasp on the marketing needs that startups face, Haggard and Hultman got a chance to work directly on programming a customer service “chatbot” for the Jungle Disk website.
Haggard, a computer science major from Prosper, Texas, has always loved computers and learned how to code with Java in high school. She came to Trinity for biochemistry, but got hooked by a computer science course, and that piqued her interest in working for Jungle Disk as part of Students+Startups. Along with Hultman, a finance major from Houston, the two have worked to build an AI system for the chatbot using Google’s Dialogflow.
“It’s fun to figure out how conversations flow between you and the chatbot,” Haggard says. “We’ve tested the AI out on different people, and we were able to get feedback to the point where the bot started making coherent sense.”
Ideally, Hultman adds, their work will help empower customers to better understand and use Jungle Disk products.
“When does a chatbot get too complicated? When does it get too creepy?” Hultman says. “The bot has to be useful for the user, or they’re just going to throw their hands up and call the support line.”
Working on this project has given both Hultman and Haggard professional experience with programming languages ranging from Python, C, and C++ to Java and Haskell.
“And in addition to our work on the bot, each of us got to choose a side project,” Haggard adds. “So now, in addition to this programming, I’m learning about web design and databases.”
The team of Trinterns took time to pass on their knowledge to a local group of students from Highlands High School, participating in a San Antonio Works mentorship program, in partnership with Jungle Disk, that gave dozens of kids a chance to learn more about careers in programming and computers.
Now, when they return to Trinity in the fall, Haggard, Hultman, and Cobos will be taking more than just professional skills away from their time at Students+Startups: they’ll be merging their real-world experience with Trinity’s tradition of lifelong learning.
“At Students+Startups, we’ve learned the tech industry is always changing—wait five months and there will be another Java update,” Haggard says. “That means there’s always new things to learn—so you’re never done learning—but that also means there’s no limit to the things you can do.”