Monday, June 7, 2010

AT&T demonstrates the meaning of Rethink Possible for two Iraqi interns

May 24, 2010
Sarbast Rashid and Sadeq Shnaishel arrived in the U.S. on Jan. 24, but the journey for the two AT&T interns from Iraq started months before in October. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that for the very first time, the U.S. State Department would sponsor an Iraqi Information Technology Intern Exchange program. Interns would spend 12 weeks working with some of the leading technology firms in the U.S., acquiring critical IT and entrepreneurial skills to help develop the technology industry in Iraq.
This announcement would change the lives of two young Iraqi men — and it likely changed the lives of some of the AT&T colleagues they encountered.
A journey to success
After days of filling out applications and participating in interviews, weeks of waiting and months of background checks, Rashid and Shnaishel learned they were two of six interns selected to participate in the program and that they'd be headed to St. Louis to work for one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world - AT&T.
Shnaishel, 24, is a college graduate and hoped to expand his programming skills, observe competitive market practices and learn about successful business models while in the U.S.
"When I got selected for the program, I left my job because I knew it would be a big change in my life," he said. "For us, it is three months, and it is not just an internship, it's a way to start our journey to success." Shnaishel's co-intern, Rashid, is a 23-year old college student who wanted to learn the latest technologies so he could apply those skills to his future career.
But Shnaishel and Rashid were in for a surprise. While they expected to learn about new technologies and expand their programming skills, they didn't expect the life skills, business smarts and lessons of acceptance they would learn from the employees at AT&T.
One big family
During their 12 weeks at AT&T, Shnaishel and Rashid worked on different projects related to AT&T's IT operations. Shnaishel worked as a program developer; Rashid focused more on project management, contributing to a project that will increase the efficiency of interactions between AT&T and its customers.
"We were all very impressed by their willingness to learn and participate," said Sarah Gateley, senior technical team lead, who supervised Shnaishel and Rashid. "They arrived and enthusiastically jumped into work and began building relationships with their AT&T co-workers. The program proved to be a good opportunity for all involved."
And it was the willingness of AT&T's employees to answer those questions and address new ideas that made Shnaishel and Rashid realize that AT&T is not just one of the biggest companies in the world, but also one of the most nurturing and diverse. Both interns took notice of AT&T's family-like work environment. They were greeted with smiles, they were asked for their opinions and they were introduced to other employees from neighboring countries to Iraq. "If you asked me what makes AT&T unique, I would say it's their vision and diversity, and the way they treat their employees. Sometimes, I feel like I am home," Shnaishel said.
AT&T External Affairs and other employees arranged several outings for the interns to show them life outside of AT&T and expose them to American culture. From meeting Missouri's former governor to spending time on an employee's farm to visiting area schools, Shnaishel and Rashid truly got a unique and robust view of American life. "We're not just learning what it's like in business here," Rashid said. "We have the chance to study the entire country."
Shnaishel and Rashid took notice of the cultural differences, and the advantages of living in a society that's open to new ideas. "It's really difficult for anyone to understand a new culture immediately. Some things people might find weird or not that ordinary, because of the difference in culture," Shnaishel said. "I am so happy that AT&T understands that issue."
But to AT&T, a different culture, and a different way of thinking, wasn't an issue, it was an advantage. " Sadeq and Sarbast brought fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to our business. They were open to experience all AT&T and St. Louis had to offer," said Debra Hollingsworth, AT&T, director, External Affairs. "The cultural exchange was a win-win for the Interns and AT&T employees."
A bright future
Rashid and Shnaishel returned to Iraq in late April, leaving behind their new AT&T colleagues, but taking countless memories and lessons back home with them. "I think this has shifted the way I think. Now I can look for ideas and promote them. I now have the confidence for work; I have the experience and the knowledge," Rashid said.
Rashid plans to finish his education, and then take the ideas he's formed and the lessons he learned from the internship to start an e-commerce business in Iraq. Shnaishel has plans to start building a GPS application for the iPad.
Just a few weeks ago we launched the Rethink Possiblesm brand, but as Rashid and Shnaishel learned, in reality our employees have been living and breathing the idea for years. Shnaishel remembered one conversation he had with an AT&T colleague. "He said it takes only one man, only one with a vision to make a change. Then all the problems I saw just disappeared, because I know that where the focus is; energy flows. It's that easy."
It's these types of lessons that will affect Sarbast Rashid and Sadeq Shnaishel for years to come. During their last day in St. Louis, Rashid continued to thank AT&T employees. "I may not remember your name, but I will always remember the experiences, your care and the time you spent with us."
Both men have hopes that AT&T will one day expand to Iraq. Because as Shnaishel simply stated, "AT&T is the kind of organization that you want to exist in your country and make you proud."

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