From IT intern to IT pro

These two IT professionals got their start as rookies

As a US high school student in 1989, Dan Puga began working as an intern for Hewlett-Packard.

Later, when he went off to college at California State University, he returned to HP for three US new until receiving his computer science degree in 1994.

By then, HP was in his blood.

Puga's interest in technology was aided by a high school teacher who taught him basic programming. He joined HP after college, working as a software test engineer, responsible for writing tests to exercise the firmware in hard drives. Today, Puga is a research and development director for HP, managing an R&D laboratory for enterprise software in the imaging and printing group.

Since joining the company after his internships, Puga has had a long list of jobs, with each one giving him new experiences and lessons. In a way, it's like his internships at HP have never stopped.

"The company's very diverse, so you don't really have to leave the company to do a diverse set of jobs," he said. "Every two years, I was doing something different. It's a big part of why I'm still here."

Two years ago, Lilly Luk, a student at the University of Texas, was an IT intern at Microsoft, working on an internal project related to customer data integration.

After graduating in December 2006, Luk was hired by Microsoft for its two-year Accelerated Professional Experiences Program (APEX), a high-profile accelerated leadership program. Luk, 23, is now in the third of what will be four six-month IT rotations, getting a feel for various parts of the company.

Her experience as an intern, she said, helped her decide to forget the other course of study she had been pursuing in college -- actuarial science.

"It definitely told me that Microsoft is where I wanted to be," Luk said.

She had previously done an actuarial science internship as well, but her positive experience at Microsoft stayed with her, she said.

"After my experience there, the responsibility they gave me and the people that I worked with completely changed my mind about what I wanted to do. In actuarial science, I found that you had to follow certain paths. At Microsoft, I found that you make your own path and do what you want to do. I thought that having more responsibility and being able to figure out what I wanted to do in that kind of environment felt like I ... was making a greater impact."

Through the APEX program, Luk said she is still figuring out where she'd like to ultimately work within the company after having a multitude of experiences. "The rotation program is helping me see different things to determine where I'll work," she said. "They're all so different that it's kind of like comparing apples to oranges. I like seeing different things and getting the networking opportunities."

For one of her rotations, Luke stepped out of the IT environment and into product group in a different capacity, working on features in a software product, and interacting more with developers and software testers.

"I had no real intention of going into the technology industry," Luk said. "It happened due to my internship at Microsoft. There's always been a little bit of a tech side to me, but I was going to find my tech niche in the actuarial side."

There were other benefits of her internship -- a close camaraderie with her fellow interns that continues today, said Luk.

"There were about 30 of us [in the internship group] and I feel we were a very close knit group," she said. "We knew each other in work and outside. We still keep in touch today and most of us are still with the company."

For Puga, now 36, the feelings are similar. He still has fond memories of his days as an intern. Today, he has his own interns working in his division and he strives to be there for them, he said.

"I've been able to do a lot of things that I find very fascinating," he said. "In a way, I try to give back to do that same thing. I take them to lunch, work with them, share experiences with them and mentor and coach them. It enables me to make myself more accessible to others going through same experiences."

"I'm a sounding board. I give them advice. I appreciate where they are at."

Puga says he's stayed with HP over the years because the company has done a lot for him, including investing in his continuing education, which includes an MBA. He also continues to be challenged at work.

"I think that a big part of why I stayed," he said.

The family legacy may also have something to do with it. His dad, Leo Puga, recently retired from HP after a 30-year career.

One valuable lesson from his internships is still with him, Puga said. "Every experience I've had has been very valuable," he said. "As an intern, I learned more than in class in college. You show up here and things have to run. I would learn so much more about software lifecycles. It's like hands-on versus learning from a book. It was huge for me. There can be a lot of busy work in school, but in a company, they don't have time for busy work. There's work to do and you're learning from it."