Rajiv is a current junior, attending Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University, majoring in Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations. During his internship, he is the Department Head of Web Development, managing the full web ecosystem of the DME Interns.

Rajiv talks a bit about how he transitioned from the web security team to the position of department head, and gained more responsibilities. His favorite project so far has been the America250 project because he enjoys problem-solving and tackling the challenges that come with those tasks. Rajiv elaborates on the ways he has worked through these challenges, and the skills he gained from the process. He also offers advice to others in similar leadership positions.

Speaking about the leadership skills that have been most transformative in this role, Rajiv talks about how managing a large group of interns boosted his confidence, interpersonal skills and character. He also explains how he discovered this internship, as well as the process of constantly completing applications as a college student. He gives advice to his fellow students, especially those seeking technical roles, suggesting they boost their resume and add hands-on experience. He closes by recommending everyone to follow their dreams and to apply to the VA if they ever choose to enroll in the VSFS.

Use the audio player to listen to Rajiv’s full interview, or read the transcript below: https://anchor.fm/dme-podcast/episodes/Rajiv-Thummala-e1aufrt



Serena Aguilar:      Hello and welcome to the DME Interns podcast. I’m your host, Serena Aguilar, and I hope you will join me in learning about the DME Interns, what they do, and what they hope to do in the future. 


Serena Aguilar (SA): Hello everyone, today we have Rajiv from Web Development with us. Rajiv is a current junior at Schreyer’s Honors College at Penn State, majoring in Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations. Rajiv, how you doing today?

Rajiv Thummala (RT): I’m good, how are you?

(SA):                          I’m doing alright. So, tell me a little bit about what you do in the DME interns group.

(RT):                           Yeah, so I’m the Department Head of Web Development. My main role is to pretty much manage the full web ecosystem of the DME interns. So I work on my own technical projects related to web development, that includes patching things, working on wire frames, and other projects as well. I also spend a lot of time as the DH managing and helping other individuals in the Web Dev team with their own tasks. You know, that’s assigning tasks to Trello and other things as well.

 (SA):                          Okay, nice. So, you said web ecosystem. I’m not too familiar with a lot of web development terms, could you explain that a little bit more?

(RT):                           It’s pretty much all the – all the stacks related to web development, again that’s another technical term but it’s all the technologies related to the website, pretty much. Cause our whole DME interns uses WordPress, and there’s a bunch of different technologies within WordPress that is used and I pretty much help manage that.

(SA):                           Nice. Okay, so, you’re not only an intern but you’re also a Department Head with us-

(RT):                           Yeah.

(SA):                           So were you brought on, like, into that leadership position or were you a previous intern that got promoted?

(RT):                           So I actually came in through the Web Security team because that was my major and that’s what I wanted to do. And then, the previous Web DH had left, had resigned, and they had like a gap and a lot of stuff that needed to be done. So they kinda posted a message in the Web Security team cause a lot of us have experience with Web Dev cause it’s kinda in the same alley. And then I decided to step us because I had some experience working on other government Web Development projects and I told Dom about my experience and he said I would be a pretty good fit. He asked about what I’ve done and yeah, he said it would be – he kind of detailed like the guidelines of what I would have to do. And I just stepped up and decided I want to do it.

(SA):                           Yeah, that’s pretty good kind of gumption for ya.

(RT):                           Yeah.

(SA):                           So, what has been kind of a favorite – you said that you do of like almost independent work – what’s been a favorite project of yours or like maybe multiple projects that you’ve really enjoyed?

(RT):                           So my favorite right now is pretty much the America250 project because that’s what we’ve been working on for a really long time. I think just – I encountered a lot of like challenges with that in the beginning and overcoming those has been kind of fun, cause I kinda like the challenges that I’ve gotten with that. Yeah, pretty much like all the tasks related to A250 has pretty much been my favorite. I also liked making the guideline documents, cause throughout my time as DH I’ve had to make detailed and make a couple of important documents that needed to be used across other departments. So, includes like a bootcamp guideline document, that includes onboarding and offboarding procedures for interns coming in and off, and exiting the DME interns, so that has been quite fun for me as well.

(SA):                           Mhm. That’s pretty cool to hear about, I think I was chatting with somebody else about the America250 project and it seems amazing.

(RT):                           Mhm, yeah. Yeah I mean-

(SA):                           Yeah, talking about – no, go ahead.

(RT):                           Yeah, no, I just can’t wait till that’s like – it’s fully done. I mean obviously, it’s a long time until then but I can’t wait to see the progress for that.

(SA):                           Mhm. You say that there were like a few challenges that you had to work through, can you speak a little bit to those challenges, kind of like how you worked through them, maybe some skills that you got at the end of it?

(RT):                           Yeah, so, in the beginning it was really difficult to kind of manage the Web DH position because I wasn’t planning to put like a lot more than 10 hours into the internship, especially because I’m a full-time student. So, managing everything at once, like, it was – and more and more interns were being added to my group. So, it was at around like 35 interns, with just me managing school and it was hard to kind of keep track of everybody, making sure I could answer their questions along with school. And then I had issues like people weren’t responding, people didn’t understand how to operate Trello, and there is nobody to answer questions other than me. So, it became very difficult trying to come up with ways to get around that and the way I did that was, I’d kinda got to a breaking point and I got up – I started to get up every day at like seven AM, even when my classes start at 10, and I’d write like a strict list and the timeline of everything I was gonna finish. And that really helped me because I detailed exactly when I was gonna work on the internship as opposed to just finishing all of my schoolwork and then hopping on the internship. I kinda prioritized the internship and that helped a lot with finishing everything.

(SA):                           Mhm. That’s a nice way to go about it. And that kind of leads pretty well to my next question. You know, we’re both full-time students, and this internship is 10 hours a week. How have you been managing time wise? Like you said kinda jotting down exactly what you need to do, but tell me a little bit about like maybe how you organize your day or what kind of tools have really been helpful for you to organize your time well.

(RT):                           So to organize my time I have like a big whiteboard in my dorm and I write down exactly what I’m gonna do, like that includes when I’m gonna shower, that includes when I’m gonna go get food and – it includes everything. And when I follow kinda that strict guideline, when I adhere to that schedule, I end up not wasting a lot of time for some reason. I don’t end up checking my phone a lot, I don’t end up going on new tabs and going on YouTube or something, I end up finishing all my work in time because I’m so focused on making sure I adhere to that schedule that I wrote so that has helped a lot.

(SA):                           Mhm. That’s pretty cool. Okay, could you also tell me, because like I mean, going into Web Development, then getting promoted to like the leadership position – could you tell me a little bit about like how you feel this internship has like helped your skills, like are there skills that you had previously that got sharpened, are there new skills that you have that have really come forward during this time?

(RT):                           Yeah, so I’ve had some like leadership roles in the past but this one in particular was really transformative in terms of my character because it’s the first time I encountered a lot of challenges with trying to like manage a large group of people at once. This was also a lot more than I’ve done before, like a lot more people in a group than I’ve done before, so – it definitely changed my character in terms of kind of getting on my stuff. It also helped a lot with my confidence, cause I had to reach out to people, I had my own meetings with people I’ve never met, and address a large people – a large individuals – group of individuals at once. Some who were kinda, really distraught and were thinking of leaving the internship and I kinda had to step into that uncomfortable zone and speak to them and that helped a lot with my character and I saw it kind of transfer over to my daily life. I was more confident with a bunch of other things as well.

(SA):                           Yeah, that is really cool. I know – and I think I’ve talked about this before, but I kinda had to step up to the XO position in my own team because ours left us very suddenly, and I knew that I wasn’t able to do both so I was interviewing people, and that was the first time I had like interviewed somebody for a job.

(RT):                           Mhm.

(SA):                           So man, like the confidence that you get from something like that – it’s amazing.

(RT):                           Yeah.

(SA):                           But you’ve seen that in like your daily life, like with classes? Are you a bit more confident talking in classes? Handing in work?

(RT):                           Yeah, I think I got a lot better with talking in front of classes with presentations. I think, cause we had like such a long break from that because of Covid, I wasn’t fully used to that and then I suddenly had to kinda get back into speed with this internship and it – I know it really helped me when I got to school because we didn’t start our like big presentations in school until after like a good chunk of the internship and I noticed that I was much more comfortable than I should’ve been, because I’d spent a lot of time, you know, talking to individuals and addressing a large group of people.

(SA):                           Yeah, that is really awe – that’s great, honestly. The confidence, even just doing the podcast, is amazing-

(RT):                           Yeah. Yeah.

(SA):                           And also being able to talk to people from completely different teams, like you’re Web Development! I – it’s amazing. Like, I’ve-

(RT):                           Yeah.

(SA):                           -loved it and then you taught me what a web ecosystem means.

Both:                          [Laughter]

(RT):                           Yep, there’s a lot of technical terms within Web Dev, I mean it’s really hard to – I think it would be even worse for the Web Security team, like they have to try to pull out a dictionary every time they explain something.

(SA):                           [Laughter] So, can you tell me a little bit about, like, how you found the internship? Cause, everybody has a different story for how they found it and I love hearing them.

(RT):                           Yeah. So, usually through our email we get like a bunch of, like different internship offerings and stuff just through our HR department. And I saw one that said Virtual Student Federal Service, that’s VSFS, pretty much ran by the Department of State and it’s like a bunch of projects that people can do remotely for an internship. And then I listed – we got to pick three options on that application and I listed Web Security as my first one and that’s what I got onboarded onto. So that’s pretty much how I found the internship, I got an email and I just applied to it – I usually apply to every single one that comes into my email, and that happened to be one of them.

(SA):                           Mhm. Yeah, you send – as a college kid, sending out so many applications, just all the time.

(RT);                           Yeah, pretty much.

(SA):                           Speaking of, like, do you have any like tips or advice to give to people who are applying to internships?

(RT):                           Like internships in general, or this one?

(SA):                           Internships in general, this one specifically – cause for me I have – the interview and application process was very different for the VSFS for the other ones I have applied to. But, either, both.

(RT):                           So, in general I would advise people to get as involved as possible in school with different projects, like every time you’re getting one of those little emails, make sure you apply cause that’s something to add to your resume.

(SA):                           Mhm.

(RT):                           And, a lot of the times, you’re gonna have opportunities to work on little projects in class, within class. And I know for a more technical role, like mine, that’s really helpful to add to your resume. So if you’re starting out and you kinda have like a blank resume or a short one, just add projects from class that you worked on in your experience section and that will help a lot. Especially with technical roles, when applying to internships.

(SA):                           Mhm. So, yeah, that definitely makes sense. Kind of having – having a portfolio.

(RT):                           Yeah, pretty much.

(SA):                           Okay, yeah. How do you feel, kind of – we talked a little bit about like, I guess soft skills, with confidence and how that confidence has carried into normal daily life, but maybe – and I may not understand all the terms that you use – but what are kind of like some hard skills or like technical skills that you feel like you’ve gotten?

(RT):                           Through this internship?

(SA):                           Mhm. Or maybe they just kind of got sharpened.

(RT):                           So definitely, I – my full major is in web security so I don’t deal with too much web development, so I definitely got a lot of experience with WordPress. WordPress is pretty much, like a website editing tool, that’s pretty much it, where you don’t have to actually code in an IDE – again that’s like a, it’s pretty much like a text editing document for writers, that’s pretty much what it would be for a web developer. That’s what and IDE would be. So, I got a lot of experience with WordPress, cause most of my web development experience has been in an integrated development environment, or IDE. So, that’s possibly the most technical refinement that I’ve got, in terms of that. I know I’ve used Trello for a different project before and I got a lot more comfortable with utilizing Trello here. Like, with stuff like changing colors and dragging different stuff around as opposed to just clicking and joining a task, because I took on that DH role I was kinda forced to work a lot more with Trello so that’s another big technical skill I gained.

(SA):                           Mm. Yeah that makes sense. I had no experience with Trello before coming into this internship-

(RT):                           Yeah.

(SA):                           Okay, well is there kind of any, like last words, kind of any sort of overarching theme that you would like to leave with everybody listening?

(RT):                           Mm. Follow your dreams-

Both:                          [Laughter]

(RT):                           And if you’d like to, I’d advise you to apply to the VA if you ever decide to enroll in the Federal – Student Federal Service. It has a lot of opportunities, and it can really help your resume and your career.

(SA):                           Awesome, thank you so much. Thank you everybody for listening, and we will see you next time. Bye.

(RT):                           Alright, I’ll do that.

(SA):                           Thank you so much.

(RT):                           Yep, have a good day.

(SA):                           You too! Nice meeting you.

(RT):                           Yep, nice meeting you.


(SA):                           Thank you so much for listening. Please don’t foget to subscribe and if you could give us a five-star rating, we’d really appreciate it. For more information about joining the DME interns team, please visit DMEinterns.org [Link: www.dmeinterns.org]. You can also follow us on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Once again, my name is Serena, and I hope to see you all next time. Bye.

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