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Give Your Valentine an Internship.  Seriously.  

By Lisa Seacat DeLuca

Vday_1b
Illustration by Sophie Butcher

As someone who has always loved technology, I’ve spent my life inventing things. I was born and raised in Montana with an older brother and a younger sister. As kids, we would entertain ourselves with video game consoles, and an old computer that had one of those clicky keyboards. My sister and I would also perform puppet shows, tape them with a camcorder and show the video to family and friends. We were, and are, part of a generation that has grown up surrounded by technology and continue to be passionate about learning today.

These scientific pursuits continued well into my late teens, where I taught myself how to write HTML in high school, which would later lead me to earning my degree in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. I've been involved in writing software ever since.

What I have to show for it? Nearly 50 patents awarded to me in 2013 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) — my 50 being among the 6,809 patents awarded to IBM last year. In the past eight years I’ve spent at IBM, that puts me at about 115 patents total. Among those awarded include U.S. Patent #8,494,851, issued last July, for "retrieval of contextually relevant social networking information during a phone conversation," or in layman’s terms, a better way to access information stored in the cloud while talking on the phone. U.S. Patent #8,364,165, meanwhile, routes cellphone users along different paths depending on the likelihood of their phones losing service.

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But I didn’t get to where I’m at now by solely being interested in technology. For those looking to take their passions to the next level, one piece of advice I have for all young people is to get an internship early in their field(s) of interest. Many companies today want you to have experience in order to gain experience. It may seem like a catch 22, but small steps taken through internships are vital to that in-demand experience. After all: Everyone has to start somewhere, but by working an internship, you start building your resume and can get a leg-up on the competition.

Flash back to before I started my first year at Carnegie Mellon, I had an internship in my hometown. That first internship led to another the following summer, and by the summer of junior year, I got my first internship with IBM in Rochester, Minn., followed by a second Extreme Blue internship with IBM in Raleigh, NC., the very next summer.

After IBM offered me a few different full-time positions on the cusp of my heading into my senior year, I accepted one in Austin, Texas, and for the past eight years, I've worked on a number of different IBM technologies and products, including cloud computing. Today, I'm working on IBM's mobile computing strategy. Tomorrow? Who knows what new technology will spring up.

Fortunately, at a company the size of IBM, there are always others working on a technology that you may be interested in, so when I was ready to work on something different, I found other groups who were already working on that project and reached out to them.

This kind of collaboration is also what inspires me to create. When I first started working at IBM, I noticed that there were patent awards in my co-workers’ offices, which inspired me to learn about the process. In working closely with others on learning new technologies and then brainstorming on how to improve on them by working on patents in particular I came to trust my peers not only as brilliant minds, but close friends. To wit: When I got married in 2008, I invited a half dozen IBMers — most of whom I'd never met in person — to Montana for my wedding... and they came.

Working in the technology industry inevitably means that there are people graduating from college every day who are up-to-date on the newest technologies, so there's a lot of competition. This encourages me to stay on top of what’s hot, and when I decided to go back to school, IBM supported me as I went back and got my Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization from the University of Texas while working full time.

But not everyone has the luxury of being supported by their employer to go back to school just to keep abreast of the industry at large. Another way I’m able stay up-to-date on the latest technologies is by entertaining my earliest interests by simply purchasing gadgets, playing with them, and coming up with new patent ideas about how to make them even better. If I’m able to come up with a few ideas for every item I purchase, I count that as a success.

When I purchased my first smartphone, I vividly recall experiencing a sense of relief because I no longer had to be in front of my computer, hitting "refresh" to get my email; I could be away from everything and still be connected. That's where I see the benefits of the cloud and mobile computing. They allow users to be away, but to still be connected. It's a freedom I never expected and now can't live without.

At age 30, I now have 115 patents issued by the U.S. Patent Office, but I'm not finished there: I have about 250 more filed with the USPTO. So whether I’m striving to improve my knowledge, myself, or the latest gadget on the market, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

To hear a podcast of Lisa Seacat DeLuca's talking about her work and life, click here: https://soundcloud.com/ibmtechnologistas/lisa-seacat-deluca

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