Union Pacific strengthens tech workforce with internships for first-generation college students

Omaha-based Fortune 500 company Union Pacific recently gave two young Omahans a unique behind-the-scenes look at the world of tech. This summer, after participating in a coding education program during their senior year of high school, Omaha South alums Suraj Poudel and Evelyn Espinoza Macias began working paid tech internships at the 158-year-old enterprise. The…

Photo courtesy of Union Pacific
Photo courtesy of Union Pacific

Omaha-based Fortune 500 company Union Pacific recently gave two young Omahans a unique behind-the-scenes look at the world of tech.

This summer, after participating in a coding education program during their senior year of high school, Omaha South alums Suraj Poudel and Evelyn Espinoza Macias began working paid tech internships at the 158-year-old enterprise.

The internships were the culmination of a journey that began in January when Poudel, Espinoza Macias and 10 other Omaha South High School students took part in an intensive after-school coding curriculum taught by the AIM Institute, a nonprofit that grows, connects and inspires the tech talent community by providing tech education for youth, a code school, tech conferences, leadership development for IT professionals, an annual tech awards show and Silicon Prairie News.

By the time Poudel and Espinoza Macias completed their six-month internships, they’d gained skills applicable to continued employment in the tech industry. Not bad for students barely halfway through their first semester of college.

Addison Parker, a senior project engineer at Union Pacific who helps oversee the interns, said the students were exposed to the wide array of tech jobs available.

“There are so many different paths you can take down the road if you decide to go into tech,” Parker said. “Healthcare, marketing and sales, finance, and supply chain are all non-tech fields of work that rely on technology to help them do their jobs efficiently. Pick anything that interests you, and I bet there is a tech component behind the scenes that that field relies on.”

To that end, students worked on a variety of projects, exploring different aspects of technology.

After receiving training from the IT department on how the company uses different programming languages to write software applications, Poudel and Espinoza Macias started writing an application that the Union Pacific real estate department will use to look up the deeds for land that it owns, Parker said. 

As part of this project, students are working on both the front end—developing interactive screens for users—and the back end—building programs that connect to the company’s database and query user-submitted data.

Both studying computer science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Poudel and Espinoza Macias are the first members of their respective families to attend college. 

“(The internship) enhanced my knowledge of how I could apply what I’ve learned into the real world,” said Poudel, who dreams of becoming a software developer or entrepreneur someday. “My experience at Union Pacific is precious to me because it’s not just enhancing my knowledge in the field, it also helps me understand what I’m learning at my university.” 

Espinoza Macias said her Union Pacific internship has also helped her grow as a developer.

“So far what I am learning will help me in my future career because I’m familiarizing myself with more programming languages,” said Espinoza Macias, who is pursuing a cybersecurity concentration at UNO. “It benefits me to gain more experience in languages like JavaScript because I could be ensuring the security of a web page. Which is why the more knowledge I gain, the more prepared I’ll be for the future.”

Parker, herself a former software development intern for Union Pacific, said the company’s tech internship program is good for business and good for the community: it strengthens the IT workforce and helps youth build the skills necessary to secure a potentially lucrative career in technology.

“I think when students are able to understand the big picture behind a tech job and understand that it’s not always going to be a situation where they work alone all day coding away in a cubicle, but working with other employees in different areas of a business to build an outstanding product, they will want to study a technical subject in college,” she said.

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