Benton Spruance, "The People Work–Morning," 1937. Lithograph. The Richard Lewis Hillstrom Fund P.92.15

Learning and earning: An intern reflects on museums behind the scenes

By Henock Mwanasomwe //

I am a fourth-year student at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, studying Management Information Systems at the Carlson School of Management. I was given the opportunity to intern at Mia through Genesys Works, a non-profit organization that equips youth from under-represented communities with the technical and business abilities to succeed in academics and the workplace.

When I joined Mia, I was double majoring in Computer Science and Management Information Systems. I worked alongside two excellent developers who gave me tons of projects. My first was using Natural language processing (NLP), a way of using computers to understand human language, which a former intern had begun. The project owner wanted to know the most common tag among the artworks in Mia’s collection. The previous intern had used a word cloud to display the result, but the project owner wanted a numeric chart, so I used more of the pandas library, a kind of data analysis, to plot the common words.

My second project was learning how to redesign website pages and configure them to a new platform. I initially did not know much about front-end languages such as JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. However, I became more comfortable working in these programming languages through this project, and was surprised that an art museum had this much technical capability. I am excited to see what direction the art museum industry will ahead in the future.

Prior to working at Mia, I had never visited the museum. My internship began just as Covid-19 and the work-from-home mandate began. Once Mia started offering more in-person exhibitions again, I decided to come into the museum on my off day with some friends. It was cool to see some of the artworks I had worked with via designing websites. Being an employee at Mia and then a guest offered totally different internal and external perspectives. There is a lot of internal activity that happens to make the museum function smoothly for its guests. I am glad I was able to be a part of that experience, and it gave me a profound appreciation for art and its internal operations.

One of my goals for my internship was to learn new things continuously. I would say I completed that goal. I got to work on new skills such as Google Analytics, business transform projects, web development, and writing skills. Completing my goals has made me more confident in my ability to deliver in a full-time role. I liked the company culture at Mia. All my managers, coworkers, and mentors were super supportive and offered many projects and guidance. The work culture is highly collaborative. I could message anyone at the company. I was even able to complete a couple of informational interviews with people who sit high on the Mia leadership organizational structure.

I would advise others—and myself—to always to consider the right company culture a primary requirement for choosing a workplace. On Twitter, I read some advice from designer/technology investor Garry Tan, who said  you should choose a company that helps “you learn or earn. Either is fine. Both are best. But if neither then quit.” I would say that Garry Tan’s message resonated with me and my experience at Mia. I learned a lot and went through a lot of change management throughout my year and a half here.

Fast forward to the future: I have accepted a full-time position at Accenture as a Security Analyst Consultant. Even though my industry of choice may be different than the museum, I think all the work/life experience I got from Mia will help me be a better employee.