University of Minnesota alumnus Robera Legese reflects on how the ITI program was a launchpad for his early-career success

Robera Legese ('22) knew he wanted a career in IT but wasn’t so sure about the path he would take to get there. After starting out in the U’s computer science program, he switched to the innovative Information Technology Infrastructure (ITI) Bachelor of Science Degree program in the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, which is a blend of the two disciplines. He was excited by the opportunity to explore different areas within IT, such as data science, security, and systems, and attracted to the program’s focus on real-world application.

Robera, who recently celebrated his first year as a technology development program associate with health care organization Optum, shares his advice for students in the ITI program.

Take advantage of CCAPS scholarships

Apply for the CCAPS Scholarship—or any scholarship! They are very, very, very willing to give, and they’re very kind about it. And it’s need-based, so I really appreciated that. And I hope to be able to give back when I get a little more money down the line.

Join associations within your discipline or industry

Look into student organizations and professional associations. That’s a really big way to stand out and show your involvement in your field.

After I started in the ITI program, I joined the National Society of Black Engineers, which is basically Black people with any type of STEM background, including engineers from a variety of disciplines like aerospace, civil, and software. Through that group I got a recommendation for my first internship, with Abbott. The people in the group have a lot of connections with companies and Abbott was one of those companies.

Get to know your instructors

I felt like the teachers really cared about us and how well we did and whether we were actually learning something useful. They made sure what we were learning was based on current things happening in the industry. And they would share stories about their day-to-day work, which was really insightful because it helped us understand a little about the industry rather than just learning concepts.

Definitely do an internship

I really enjoyed my internship with Abbott. They really pushed for me to get a lot of hands-on experience. My manager gave me a lot of free reign. After about a month he started giving me projects to lead myself. And the fact that he had confidence in me, even though I felt kind of nervous, it helped me develop a lot more confidence and to see that I could accomplish the tasks I was given and make deadlines and see what life would be like as a project manager.

Robera Legese stands in the entrance of the Optum building, the windows behind him reflecting the buildings across the plaza

Look for a company that lets you try out different roles

At Optum, where I currently work, there is a rotational program that allows me to develop within the company. I don’t just have to take one role and stick to that role. When I graduated, I barely knew what I wanted. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a software engineer or get into some data stuff or do project management work. So they have you work in one unit for six months and then rotate you into another. That way we can both see where my strengths are and what I enjoy most.

For the first six months, I worked as a systems analyst, mainly helping with a website upgrade. The following six months I was a technical PM, working on data we receive from this AI tool called Skan.  

Talk to a recruiter before going in for job interviews

I feel like my interviews went fairly smoothly because I talked to a recruiter first. I got that tip from someone in my network. The recruiter will let you know what you need to be prepared to talk about and what experiences you should highlight in the interview.

Robera Legese is a recipient of the Joan T. Smith Scholarship Fund and the College of Continuing and Professional Studies Scholarship Fund. See financial aid opportunities and apply here

Monique Dubos is a writer and content strategist with the U of M College of Continuing and Professionals Studies, where she has covered the College’s noncredit professional development, construction management, health services management, and IT infrastructure programs since 2018. She has also written for the Institute on the Environment, the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, and various publications. Connect with her via LinkedIn.