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Crafting a Communications Career

Maggie Ballard

When I applied to be an intern on the Palo Alto Networks Corporate Communications team, I never imagined I’d be reporting to work from my bedroom for the summer.

I was in the beginning of my sophomore year at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, working on a bachelor’s degree in public relations when I started exploring internship opportunities that would provide me with some communications experience. When I came across a listing for Palo Alto Networks’ internship program, it immediately struck me as a strong program. It was well-structured in terms of the support offered to interns. I would experience a diverse range of both internal and external communications. And the access to support from fellow interns and other employees at different levels within the company as well as the company’s role in the booming cybersecurity industry were appealing. Although I had not specifically been seeking a role in cybersecurity or even in technology, I loved the idea of working alongside talented people in a wide range of subjects, from software engineering to threat intelligence or finance, that I could learn from.

Little did I know that “alongside” would have a vastly different meaning from what I’d expected. After a great interview, I was accepted into the three-month internship program at Palo Alto Networks’ headquarters in Santa Clara, California, and planned to start in May 2020. But on April 8, I got the not-so-unexpected call informing me that my internship would be conducted remotely from my home in Danville, CA. By that time, the pandemic had driven everyone to work from home, so I wasn’t surprised, but I was a little bummed that the experience would be different from what I’d imagined. I was nervous about what to expect for the next three months. This was going to be my first “big-girl” job, and I wondered whether I’d be able to get the same value out of the experience in a virtual setting as I would in the office.

Fortunately, my fears were put to rest pretty quickly. Everyone was so great about communicating that I never felt out of the loop. The communications team made a huge effort to include me. In fact, I often felt like I wasn’t an intern at all — I was a contributing full-time member of the team. People were super open to talking to me, both on my team and from other teams around the organization, so I was able to get to know a lot of people who could help me in my career path moving forward. Despite being unable to make connections in person, I was still able to get a sense of the company atmosphere.

Not only that but I was given a wide range of work opportunities in the PR realm — I would help with drafting story pitches, developing media lists, creating briefing documents for Palo Alto Networks spokespeople, talking to reporters, and even writing internal communications. So in addition to the PR-related work, I got a new sense of how journalists work, which was not only interesting but also will be useful as I move forward in my PR career. I had the opportunity to work with the executive team, coordinating their schedules for various roundtable events for the company, which provided me with great experience on the corporate side. One of my favorite tasks was working on our daily news briefings every morning. I worked each morning with one of my managers to draft an email summing up the biggest news of the day in cybersecurity or our company and send it to roughly 75 employees.

In short, the summer was nothing short of wonderful. I am grateful to have been part of such an amazing company this summer — thanks to the efforts made to keep the internship program running in the midst of a pandemic.

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