Online s’mores and more: Returning 2020 interns find a changed world

It’s a completely different work environment, but these Viasat interns are glad to be on board


For returning Viasat software engineer intern Alex Baratti, both his Viasat internships have been memorable, but in very different ways.

As he did in 2019, Baratti is interning with the global infrastructure apps team. And while he’s working with some familiar names, COVID-19 has otherwise made this year’s experience quite different from 2019.

“It’s obviously different than last year, but it’s been a fun experience,” said Baratti, a rising senior at Arizona State University who’s working from his parents’ home near Viasat’s Carlsbad campus. “I feel lucky in a lot of ways, and I really don’t know what I’d be doing without this internship. And I think it’s cool that someday someone will ask, ‘What did you do during the coronavirus pandemic?’ And I can say, ‘I was a Viasat IT software intern’.”

Alex Baratti photo

Alex Baratti

His 2019 internship, meanwhile, was “without a doubt, the best summer ever.”

“The best part of the day was just waking up, driving to work and seeing your coworkers,” he said. “You weren’t working with just coworkers; it felt more like friends.”

And it wasn’t all work.

“A big part of it was the social aspect,” he said. “I learned how to surf. We played volleyball and had a lagoon day where I piloted a jet ski. The internship did not feel like an internship; it was like a summer coding camp.”

Unexpected advantages

For Emily Rexrode, a government services intern who’s also back for a second summer, the 2020 internship has advantages she didn’t anticipate.

“The summer has actually been really great; it’s just different,” she said. ““I think at times the workflow in the remote setting is more conducive to efficient software development. If I was in the office, I might have meetings or people dropping by to ask questions. Even though that’s part of what makes a dynamic work environment, it’s not always the most efficient way to get your work done.

“It’s not necessarily fun to be working in a room by yourself, but in isolation you also have a tendency to be more focused on the task at hand.”

Emily Rexrode photo

Emily Rexrode

She also credits the instant messaging service Slack for giving her easy access to coworkers.

“Slack makes it easier to ask for help, which is super useful as an intern,” Rexrode said. “It’s sometimes intimidating to drop by a full-time employee’s office to ask questions, but with Slack, when I have a question I can send someone a message right away and I’ll usually get an almost immediate response.”

The big advantage for Rexrode, however, has been her family. The University of California San Diego senior has spent the last few summers away from her childhood home, taking summer classes at UCSD and living in San Diego during her 2019 Viasat internship.

“I haven’t lived at home for an extended period of time since high school,” she said. “I’m definitely getting time with my family and my dog I wasn’t ever going to have otherwise. My family’s really close, so it’s been awesome.”

A stabilizing force

Fellow UCSD student Juan Andres Espinoza Ulloa is having a very different home experience. Espinoza Ulloa, with only a few credits remaining to complete his degree, is between housing and temporarily living in a hotel. His internship, however, is not only a highlight of his summer but a stabilizing force in the midst of the pandemic.

“It really helps to have this during this time; work lets you step away from everything that’s going on outside and focus,” said Espinoza Ulloa, who’s also on the government services team. “I’m grateful to be working. I have a lot of friends who had their internships canceled or job offers canceled. So to have a job, and to be getting all this experience, is exciting – even if it is remote.

“It definitely felt like the work we were doing last year was meaningful. And I feel we’re doing meaningful work again this year.”

Like Baratti and Rexrode, Espinoza Ulloa described his 2019 internship as a formative experience, one that made him eager to return.

“I loved every second of it,” he said. “I got to meet a lot of people, and they were all so helpful and encouraging. It really showed me what you can do when you have great communication with your team, and you’re all on the same page and root for each other. It felt like an example of what really good software development is.

Juan Andres Ulloa Espinoza photo

Juan Andres Ulloa Espinoza

“I had a lot of time last year to cultivate those relationships. This year, I get to build on that.”

That sense of camaraderie and mutual respect hasn’t faded for Ulloa in 2020.

“When we had our intern orientation, we heard that it doesn’t matter where you stand in the hierarchy at Viasat – every opinion is valued,” he said. “This year’s internship has shown us how that actually is true, even more than last time. We’ve had meetings with a lot more people than we had last year, including people who are higher up in the company. Every opinion is heard and valued for what it is.

“And that’s really amazing to see as an intern. The thing they tell you in orientation – which as an intern you may think is exaggerated – it’s actually true.”

Virtual events

Baratti, Rexrode and Espinoza Ulloa have all participated in virtual intern events this summer, some of which were online versions of 2019’s highlights.

“Last year, we did s’mores on the beach,” Espinoza Ulloa said. “This year, we couldn’t do that. But they sent us a box with graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate, and we met online for s’mores.

“It’s really nice how they tried to keep that same style of events and get us all interacting with each other.”

Baratti agreed. Relationships he formed during the summer of 2019 have even become part of his social network.

“Last week, I was playing video games with one of the interns I met through the program,” he said. “We still talk regularly. It’s awesome.”

And all three said they hope to someday convert from intern to Viasat employee.

“If you asked me what my dream job is, it’s working at Viasat,” said Baratti, whose interest in Viasat was sparked during a high school science event held on campus. “Some people say, ‘Oh, but it’s not Google.’ And I say ‘No, it’s not; honestly, I think Viasat is the best place to work’.”

While Rexrode says she’d hoped for a replay of her 2019 internship, she praised the company for its response to the coronavirus crisis.

“Viasat has always been a really progressive company in that it strives to do things the right way,” she said. “So it didn’t surprise me when they had all their employees working from home so soon during a pandemic, it’s just consistent with Viasat’s core values.”

Viasat includes ‘tolerance for ambiguity’ among its key cultural ingredients, and in 2020, Rexrode said it is leaning into that idea, with employees proving their ability to operate effectively in an uncertain environment.

“We’re in a remarkably ambiguous situation now,” she said. “But what Viasat has also seen through this experience is that its people are intrinsically motivated in an extraordinary way as they’re still getting so much done and building such amazing things from home. That’s a testament to Viasat employees, but also to the company and its leadership.”