After recently completing her BSc in Information Technology at North-West University, Esmari Swart started her technical internship at K2 – a company focused on process automation. She was in the early stages of this internship when COVID-19 hit, and everyone had to work from home. We sat down with Esmari to hear more about how K2 went about moving her internship online, so that she could still experience the same level of engagement and support as before.
Q: What did the structure of the internship look like when you first started?
Esmari: It’s a year-long internship, and the goal is to get experience working across a bunch of different IT-related teams. The program is split into a six-by-six month basis: You spend the first month training and, over the next five months, you rotate working in a different department monthly.
K2 makes sure you get access to everything relevant for a technical internship – dev work, support work, quality assurance, sustained engineering, backend labs, and even upskilling in professional services where you work directly with clients.
This setup was valuable because I could get a very, very good idea of what I would want to continue with and what I would want to specialise in working in IT.
For the second part of the year, you choose one of the teams to join full time so that you can start specialising in whatever interests you most.
Q: Tell us more about the training in the first month – do you feel like that set you up well?
Esmari: Absolutely. I was given access to the K2 University, which is their online platform for teaching both clients and staff how to use the K2 platform. It comes with full course material with examples, exercises, tests and exams on how to use the K2 software, and, on top of that, they sponsored us to take Microsoft exams. We also got the chance to run through the more practical things like how to set up a virtual machine.
So, K2 immediately focused on getting me certified – getting me leveled up, if we can put it that way – and getting me ready for the challenges that I’d be taking on, which obviously proved useful when COVID-19 struck.
They also had a chat with us during the first month about which department we were most excited about, and would want to start with, so that definitely made me super keen to get going because it was like I could almost ‘customise’ the experience to suit me.
Q: At what stage of the internship were you in, when remote working was enforced?
Esmari: I was in my third month of the internship program. So, I was only in my second department when Corona swooped in and stomped on everything.
Q: How did K2 approach moving everyone online?
Esmari: Luckily, they already have all the systems in place for remote online working. K2 is an international company, so a few team members work remotely from time to time.
And, in our first month, one of the tasks we had to do was to set up our VPNs and practise accessing our work from home. So, I already had an idea of how my workflow would shift if I wasn’t in the office.
Another thing they did was send everyone home a week before lockdown was enforced, so that we could figure out what equipment we needed to work effectively – maybe a different chair or extra monitors – and then they could help us get those things.
Q: How did this change what your internship experience looked like?
Esmari: I think the company was very aware of the general state of anxiety that kicked in when COVID-19 started, so they actually remodelled the internship setup by pausing the department rotation for the time being.
Because I know I’m not moving on to new teams while we’re in lockdown, it’s like the program has been switched around and we’re doing the specialising before we’re doing the exploring, if that makes sense.
On a practical level, this has helped avoid stress around not having all the physical assets in front of you that you need in order to work with different teams.
On a more personal level, the feeling of support hasn’t changed either because K2 feels that it’s extremely important to have that one-on-one interaction, especially at the beginning phase, so they’ve doubled down on that by keeping us on one team.
I was worried that it was going to be hard for me to continue building rapport with my teammates being online, especially because I had just started in the second department when we all went home. So, I was extremely anxious about it as an intern. But the reality is that it’s been easy to feel at home here because my team really makes an effort to check in on me.
Staying on one team has helped me feel comfortable with my teammates because I’ve had more of a chance to get to know them, and know who is the best person to reach out to when I have a problem.
Q: Is there anything else that stands out for you in terms of what helped you ease into this ‘new normal’?
Esmari: I think it’s been amazing how K2’s company culture has stayed intact.
This internship at K2 is my first real ‘big person’ job and, honestly, I was expecting the worst when I entered the working world after having family members rabbit on at braais about how tough it was going to be.
Everyone’s also incredibly excited about what they do, so there’s always lots of enthusiasm flying around. And this hasn’t changed since we’ve gone online. It really doesn’t feel like people are that far away at all, which I love.
We’ve also kept up our check-in cadences – like having standups every morning – so that we can have some face-time, and give each other the opportunity to raise struggles, so that we all make an effort to jump in and help.
My team also does fun things like showing each other what we look like in masks or giving everyone a preview of what our workstation looks like during video calls – we’re doing things like that to keep up the fun.
In general I think K2 has spent a lot of time setting up their teams well and giving us a lot of useful info on the current context, which I feel has really created the space for people to keep talking to each other and connecting.