IT internship brings women from West Point to Silicon Valley

Rather than a cultural immersion internship, the two women were immersed in all things IT security in Silicon Valley

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Aside from being one of my favorite shows on HBO, Silicon Valley has long been the epicenter of technology and innovation. When two female West Point cadets, Hannah Whisnant and Jayleene Perez, had the opportunity to intern at Vidder this summer, they went west, where they were again outnumbered by men in their surroundings but not in their skills.

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From left to right: Hannah Whisnant, General Dan Balough and Jayleene Perez.

Every summer West Point cadets are sent across the globe for internships and cultural immersion missions. Instead of joining their classmates on trips overseas, Whisnant and Perez, West Point juniors from the department of electrical engineering and computer science, went to experience startup life and sharpen their cyber security skills with real-world experience.  

The U.S. Military Academy sent them to Vidder headquartered in Silicon Valley to learn about key cyber security technologies such as cryptography, public key infrastructure and software defined perimeter, as well as hacking methods.

The cadets have taken advantage of the chance to learn about the software-defined perimeter that Vidder offers, where they had a somewhat unique perspective as outsiders possessing some technical knowledge but without deep familiarity with Vidder's architecture.

Their goal was to understand the product, then offer feedback that can be used to create better resources for potential clients. Whisnant said, "This internship at Vidder has been a great opportunity for me to see some of the concepts I've learned in the classroom applied in the real world. I've taken a class in cryptography, but I had no idea what the practical requirements of creating public key infrastructure were." 

Whisnant enjoyed interacting with the people at Vidder. "Everyone has been incredibly welcoming and helpful thus far, and I'm beginning to understand the wide range of skills required to make a company like this run. There is a lot to learn from all of them," she said. 

Perez, who decided to attend West Point to be a part of something bigger than herself in hopes of being able to influence people’s lives in a positive way, expressed the same sentiment about her experience.

Having a strong interest in hacking, Perez said, "I am excited to have been interning at Vidder. I had little knowledge of cyber security, but I have been learning from people who are experts in this subject. This experience has helped me in understanding the classes I should take for my major and my future career."

While the women were outnumbered in gender, they were never keenly aware of this fact in their day-to-day experiences because the expectation, as it is at West Point, was that everyone will work hard and contribute to the team. Both cadets credit the many people they met who were directly involved with the implementation of Vidder's product.

"Each person at Vidder has their own area of expertise, and has been very generous in sharing their knowledge with us," said Whisnant. Among the people she noted were Gabor Lengyel, the cryptographer who taught them about the implementation of public key infrastructure; Dennis Griffin, who introduced them to the basics of ethical hacking and tools such as Nmap and Metasploit; and Anurag Dave, Vidder's expert on the internet of things.

While friends went to Washington D.C., South Africa, Japan, Morocco, France, Germany, and many other countries and states for their internships, which varied from assisting in a hospital, to working with the CIA, and even working with Boeing on aircraft, the cadets chose Silicon Valley because it is a hub of innovation in America.

As far as technology and software development goes, there is no better place to be. As far as celebrating the Fourth of July weekend, the Bay Area will hopefully prove to be just as memorable.

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