Honors student Aaliyah John ’22 knows how important internships can be for students trying to define their career path. “An internship can provide clarity and can teach you so much about the field you want to work in and about yourself. You get to see if the environment and work culture is right for you and get valuable real-world career experience,” says John, who interned for Cognizant Softvision, a designer and engineer of apps and digital product solutions, earlier this year. As a Computer Science and Information Security major, she’s deliberately sought out experiential learning opportunities in the tech world in hopes of expanding her programming and cybersecurity skills. “As a software engineering intern at Cognizant Softvision, I helped develop an event application in a collaborative team environment. Our goal was to create a digital app from scratch under a tight deadline and deliver it on time,” says John, adding how valuable the experience was. “My internship boosted my self-confidence and affirmed that the tech field is the right one for me. Working in the tech world is what I want for my life.”
Understanding the value of internships, John’s hoping to encourage other students to seek out internship opportunities in order to learn more about their chosen career path and has already lined up two more internships in the tech field at the United Nations International Computing Centre and American Express. “Students should definitely reach out to the Center for Career and Professional Development to find out about available opportunities,” she says. “John Jay students should apply to as many internship opportunities as possible, regardless of where they are in their academic and career journey. Believe in yourself and know that you belong in these spaces. Take the leap and I promise you won’t regret it.”
“My internship boosted my self-confidence and affirmed that the tech field is the right one for me.” —Aaliyah John
Upbringing in the Caribbean
Growing up in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, John was surrounded by people passionate about criminal justice. Her parents, both high-ranking officials in the field—her dad is the police commissioner and a lawyer, and her mother is in charge of all the criminal cases in the high court—talked to her about the law from an early age, yet they never pressured her to follow in their footsteps. “I grew up aware of the criminal justice field and it created a passion for justice within me. But my parents were also protective of me, keeping me focused on my school work and letting me shape my own destiny. They always said, ‘We just want you to do what makes you happy.’”
John found a path to happiness during an accelerated math course she took while in high school. “Doing math brought me so much joy. The teacher made math fun and approachable. It was during this course that I developed a real passion for math,” says John. Knowing the world was becoming more technologically advanced and understanding the important role math has in technology, she enrolled in IT and computer science classes. “Math works behind the scenes of computer science. Computers do all these calculations. In order to fix programs you need to understand the math going on in the background and you need to excel in it. It was in those IT and computer science classes that I fell in love with computer programming and knew that I wanted to work in a field that would utilize both math and computer science skills.”
Excelling at John Jay
Coming to New York and choosing a college was an easy choice for John. “My sister and cousin both graduated from John Jay and always raved about their experience. When I saw the College had a cybersecurity program, I thought, this is perfect for me. It combines all my passions, criminal justice, math, and computer science,” she says. Now a junior at the College, John’s built an impressive resume for herself. She’s in the Honors program, a Technology Fellow at CUNY Tech Prep, a math tutor and mentor in CUNY Tutor Corps, a PRISM Undergraduate Researcher conducting research on cyber threat intelligence with Faculty Mentor and Professor Aftab Ahmad, D.Sc., and she’s Secretary of the College’s Caribbean Student Association (West Indies Massive).
John’s also participating in Break Through Tech, a program launched by CUNY, Cornell Tech, and industry partners to help propel women into careers in technology. “Break Through Tech led me to my first internship at Cognizant Softvision, and thanks to the program I’ll be interning at the United Nations International Computing Centre [UNICC] this coming January,” says John, providing details on her winter internship. “At UNICC, the internship will center around data analysis, market research, and strategy, marketing, and communications.” Next summer, John will pivot her focus into the cybersecurity world, interning for American Express where she’ll work with the Technology Risk & Information Security team. “Cybersecurity is one of the sectors I’ve always been really interested in exploring deeper. I took a cryptography and cryptanalysis class last spring and it blew my mind. It’s been one of my favorite classes thus far. I love the math behind encryptions and breaking ciphers. I can’t wait to see how the information I learned in the class translates into the real world.”
“I’d love to start a mentorship program for young women of color who are interested in the field of technology. Having people who look like you working in the field lets you know that you can get there.” —Aaliyah John
Creating A New Path
For John, work in the technology field isn’t just a way to earn a living, but also a chance to blaze a path for other women. According to Break Through Tech, the percentage of women graduating with degrees in tech-related disciplines is less than one percent. “There aren’t a lot of women in tech, and by extension, not a lot of women of color. I want to be someone other people can look up to. Having diversity and representation is so important,” says John. “I’d love to start a mentorship program for young women of color who are interested in the field of technology. Having people who look like you working in the field lets you know that you can get there.” Speaking from experience, John knows how powerful and transformative it can be for girls and young women to see women taking on leading roles, especially in male-dominated fields. “In high school, I had an economics teacher who was the embodiment of what a leader should be. Here she was teaching us Economics while running her own private and successful business. She’s one of the people I picture when someone asks me what a leader looks like. She taught us to speak up, she taught us the importance of having time-management skills, and by her example, she taught us how to lead. Seeing her, how she conducted herself, and seeing her impact was inspiring. I hope that through my future work in technology, I’ll be able to provide that same inspiration to others.”
“The opportunities I’ve received at the College and through CUNY opened up a world of limitless possibilities for me.” —Aaliyah John
As she looks ahead to her two internships next year, John is grateful to everyone that has helped her along the way, and she’s especially appreciative of the role John Jay has played in helping her grow confident in her abilities and in providing her with the opportunities to explore her passion. “Being at John Jay has taught me about my capabilities, all that I can do and achieve. The opportunities I’ve received at the College and through CUNY opened up a world of limitless possibilities for me,” she says. “Without John Jay, this island girl would not have been able to recognize her fullest potential.”
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