Michael Hockerman was at Purdue University when he applied to Xtern, TechPoint’s highly-competitive 10-week summer internship program that pairs tech-skilled college students with technology companies in the Indianapolis-Carmel area. At the time he knew little about what technology companies exist in Indianapolis, making it a challenge to see the city as a potential landing pad after achieving his computer science degree.
It didn’t take long for the Xtern program to change his opinion about Indy tech.
After graduating from Purdue University in December 2015, Michael applied for and was accepted into TechPoint’s IndyX Tech Fellowship, a two-year program for new grads crafted to place developers, designers, and product managers with leading companies where they can hone their skills, fast-track their careers, and impact our community. Michael is currently working as a software engineer at a pre-launched High Alpha portfolio company.
What was your impression of Indianapolis prior to Xtern?
I don’t remember giving Indianapolis much serious consideration as a place to build a career after graduation. It seemed that everything interesting in this industry was happening on the west coast. Thus it’s probably most accurate to describe my opinion at the time as uncaring or uninformed.
How did you hear about Xtern? What about the program was appealing to you?
I originally heard about Xtern through the intern recruiter at Interactive Intelligence. It was such a nascent program at the time that she rightly couldn’t describe it in much detail. My primary reason for choosing to do it was because it simplified and cheapened housing for my three months here.
Tell us about your 9-to-5 Xtern experience.
What company did you work for? What workplace or technical skills did you learn? What did you learn from this experience as an Xtern that you might not have learned otherwise?
I worked for Interactive Intelligence as an intern software engineer. Considering it was my first internship and professional experience, there was a huge amount to learn. I remember spending almost the entire first week outside of work furiously reading up on all of the tools and processes they used, having experience with so few of them.
While that knowledge has value, it’s true of many internships that you can spend the rest of your life never directly applying it afterwards. The most important things you walk out with aren’t what you learned, but how you learned it and the desire to keep doing so.
What was your impression of the Xtern experience outside of the 9-to-5?
Did you participate in any social activities that changed your idea of Indy’s image?
While the internship experience had tremendous value for my career, the eight hour days spent working fade-to-black when compared to the memories I have from the Xtern program itself. Between the round-town dinner outings, bar crawls, museum visits, hackathons, tech talks, and conversations with local business leaders, there was never a dull moment. Literally.
But not just the city; Xtern really changed my perception of the people here. I came into Xtern with one or two friends from Purdue and left with a dozen that I literally still talk to every day.
Would you recommend Xtern to other college students?
Xtern is an unbeatable internship experience and I can’t think of any reason why someone shouldn’t do it at least once. There are arguments to be made that you could find better looking resume experience at companies which don’t have offices in Indianapolis, but its hard to find better long-term career opportunities and social experiences. Unfortunately, these are two aspects of the decision which many people don’t take as seriously as they should.
We know you left Indiana for an internship with a west coast company (who shall not be named).
What lured you away from Indy and why did you ultimately decide to come back to Indy?
Yes, I did spend last summer with a high-growth tech company in San Francisco. Even though I had an amazing experience in Indy, ultimately I felt that some diversity on my resume would help long-term career prospects. Luckily students have several summers to fill internships with. Plus, I’d be lying if my jaw didn’t hit the floor during my uber ride from the airport, hiking lands end, or visiting the pier; that city is gorgeous.
Returning was actually a very difficult decision. Ultimately it came down to a handful of things. Living near my family in upstate Indiana was a big one. Experiencing the Tech Fellowship is also very important to me, given my history with Xtern. Simply speaking, I’ve got so many friends from Xtern and Purdue that they’d be lost without me.
What is Indianapolis’ competitive advantage in attracting awesome young talent like you?
Aww you think I’m awesome? I believe the advantages lie in growth potential, proximity to great universities like Purdue University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the craft beer scene, and cost of living. Growth potential is a specifically interesting facet; while tech companies can exist anywhere, there are very few places where the community and city itself is at such a young stage and looking for new blood.
What is your favorite Indy food?
I’m going to cheat and list a Purdue restaurant that has expanded to Indy: Nine Irish Brothers. Whiskey Peppercorn Sauce Steak, medium-rare. Side of mashed potatoes. Pint of Nine Irish Red Ale, followed by a glass of Tullamore Dew.
Now that you are in the Tech Fellowship, tell us more about the company you work for and your long-term projects.
I work for an early-stage startup out of the High Alpha offices. Due to how young the product is, there’s a tremendous amount of full-stack work that needs to be completed. This means each day I could be tweaking CSS, adding features to the iOS app, or designing database schemas. Pretty much everything. Actually I did all that stuff just today.
Where do you see yourself at the end of the Tech Fellowship? What do you hope to gain from the program?
My primary goal in the program is to contribute positively to my company and make awesome new connections around the Indianapolis area. At the end, I suppose my only hope is that I can look back and say that I’ve accomplished these things.
In addition to working full-time, Xterns participate in professional networking, skills development and community service that give them a wider view of what technology companies exist in the area and why this community is a viable option for their burgeoning tech career. For more information about Xtern, visit http://xtern.me.