Ameren IT hopeful, UMSL computer science major sees new possibilities after returning to school

Jacob Li wanted better job prospects, so he went back to school for a computer science degree despite not having any coding experience. Now he's an IT intern at Ameren, which has extended his summer internship through the fall semester and up to his graduation this December. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Jacob Li wanted better job prospects, so he went back to school for a computer science degree despite not having any coding experience. Now he’s an IT intern at Ameren, which has extended his summer internship through the fall semester and up to his graduation this December. (Photo by August Jennewein)

As Jacob Li started his last semester of classes this month at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, he celebrated a small but promising victory – his summer internship at Ameren would continue.

The computer science major had just wrapped up his full-time summer internship for the powerhouse energy company headquartered in St. Louis and wanted to stay working in their information technology department into the fall.

“They’re great there,” Li said. “They really want me to get experience laterally, talk to a bunch of different teams, help them out if I can and find out what I really enjoy.”

But Li didn’t always have such luck or encouraging prospects. Two years ago, he considered his life to be in somewhat of a slump, or at least, he wasn’t where he wanted to be.

Originally from Broseley, Missouri, Li had moved to St. Louis to be near his grandparents. Li had been out of school for two years and hadn’t really settled into a stable job with growth potential. He’d been hustling around the city, trying to find jobs with his marketing and sales degree from Missouri State University.

“You get out in the real world, and it’s definitely not as easy as you might’ve thought,” he said.

He had job offers, but the positions called him to work two weeks in another state and one week in St. Louis, or they were 80-hour workweeks or commission-based.

“I worked a job where I came home after a 10-hour workday, and I had made only seven dollars,” Li said. “It was heartbreaking, especially after paying for this degree.”

That’s when his younger brother, who works in IT, suggested Li go back to school for a computer science degree.

“Good job placement – that’s like the number-one thing,” Li said.

He decided to look into UMSL’s computer science program. When he visited campus and spoke to advisers, Li found that all his general education courses transferred and that he could start immediately.

“I can’t thank UMSL enough, honestly,” Li said. “They were just so open and made it seem doable.”

The next hurdle? Li had never coded before.

“It’s hard, but I mean with the people here that are willing to help you, it’s just about putting in the time and effort more than anything,” he said.

Li started in December 2015 and set a goal of graduating with his bachelor of science degree in two years. He caught up on his math, took an 18-credit-hour semester and completed a 10-credit-hour summer semester.

He also set his mind on doing all the things he hadn’t done his first time around as an undergraduate, including networking for jobs and landing an internship.

Li’s plan worked. It was through a UMSL friend that he discovered the internship opportunity at Ameren and decided to apply.

He worked an IT internship for the company, specifically helping the service-oriented architecture team coordinate information flows, acting as the middle man between differing systems that needed to share information.

Li also worked on Ameren’s trade floor team, which buys and sells energy. He was a technical supporter who helped make sure traders had information instantaneously available at their fingertips.

Set to work part time during the semester, Li will return to Ameren to continue his information flow projects for the SOA team and try his hand at some new material as well.

“Jacob is wonderful!” said Robin Walsh, a senior technical architect at Ameren with whom Li worked. “We have really enjoyed working with him; so much so that we extended him. His attitude and aptitude are great. He is eager to accept assignments and learn new things.”

Li’s hoping his dedication will pay off.

“It kind of lines you up [for a job],” Li said. “They know how you are as an intern, and they can see your work ethic and personality.”

Feeling more hopeful about his future, Li even teased a bit about the casualness certain IT jobs sometimes offer. He used to envy his younger brother for his occasional workdays in pajamas from home. But now Li has a vision of his own.

“I’m going to travel the U.S.,” Li said, “be in the back of my truck with a Wi-Fi hot spot, log on and be like, ‘Alright guys, I’m here. Let’s code!’”

Check out Li in this short Ameren video spotlighting his internship experience.

There was a total of 13 UMSL students, including Li, working internships or co-ops at Ameren this summer. Those who chose to be identified are listed below.

Tyler Bryzeal, senior business administration major, IT Intern
Yvonne Dickinson, senior computer science major, Cybersecurity Analyst
Jacob Li, senior computer science major, IT Intern
Hance Makic, senior electrical engineering major, Engineering Co-op
Joseph Sulzer, senior computer science major, Computer Co-op
Dennis Thrower, senior electrical engineering major, Engineering Co-op
Dani Wydick, senior computer science major, Computer Co-op

The UMSL Experience

Share

Short URL: http://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=70037