Tale of an internship: Juvoni Beckford at S&P

 

by Juvoni Beckford (GSB ’13)

This past summer, I got an internship with the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s as an application developer. The firm wanted me to create visualizations and 3D graphics that could be used as visual aids by S&P representatives when they appeared on networks such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

I remember my manager joking that I would have to relearn calculus to handle the task. My mindset at the time was, “OK. Whatever it takes it get the job done.” I began prototyping applications using the Java programming language and, sure enough, I soon hit some roadblocks. That did not stop me, though. Instead, I had to pick up some new skills very quickly and make the most of the resources at hand.

My personal philosophy of “learning how to learn” served me well. I broke huge problems into smaller, manageable tasks. I asked questions that needed to be asked and Googled the ones that could be looked up. I experimented with other technologies along the way. Most importantly, I never gave up, and I never doubted myself.

The mentoring I received at S&P played a part as well. My manager, Saleem Khan, the senior director of enterprise architecture, challenged me while giving me the freedom to experiment — conditions that were key to the success of my projects. I was able to move from programming with Java to using Web-based technologies, incorporating HTML5 and JavaScript. With that, the whole nature of my product changed. It was no longer just an eye-catching visual aid for analysts. It became an interactive visualization platform that could be used to educate, inspire, and convey complex information in a simple and natural form. I could create something that broadened the reach of S&P data, making it understood not only by investors and analysts, but by anyone. No specialized knowledge needed.

I made sure to make the most of my time at S&P. That meant networking with as many people as possible. It meant asking insightful questions on tough issues. I even asked a question directly to the CEO and president of the McGraw-Hill Companies (S&P’s parent company), Harold “Terry” McGraw III, who held a dinner for all the S&P interns. I also e-mailed him after the fact to follow up. I initially worried that maybe I shouldn’t e-mail him, but a thought came to mind: that one of the saddest things in the world is a squandered opportunity. I’m glad I wrote to him: I received a personal reply and an invitation for a one-on-one meeting at his corporate offices downtown. I was ecstatic, and it goes to show that people are willing to help and listen, no matter their title or position.

Where am I now? I was offered an internship extension with S&P for the full academic year, and my project has really gained traction. This fall, at the IMF meetings in Tokyo, S&P’s head of digital marketing showcased one of my applications, “The EU Story,” to illustrate our firm’s digital content strategy initiative. What’s happening in the Eurozone is a very complicated issue. Many people may not get the big picture view from news headlines, but I hope I can help S&P provide the full story, even as it continues to unravel today.

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