Connections provide alumni, students with jobs, internships

Chronicle Staff

On the top floor of a minimalist office building in West Los Angeles, two Harvard-Westlake parents run a medium-sized video game company. It’s the sort of place where Pikachu and Darth Vader guard every computer monitor and employees play each other in games of Marvel superhero trading cards during the lunch break. Modern art based on Super Mario Bros. hangs in the lobby.

Amid the 20-something designers and programmers working at each cubicle, many with degrees in computer science or art, Bobby Hill ’07 blends in seamlessly, installing new servers as if he worked there full-time.

“I kind of like it, because there’s not a lot of supervision or rules and stuff,” he said. “And working for them seems to be conducive to creativity.”

Hill started working at 7 Studios in the spring of 2004, after discovering that his sister was friends with the CEO’s daughter.

“I didn’t even know what they did,” Hill said. “They said that they make video games. I said, ‘Oh, that’s great!’ I needed a job.”

Hiring interns under the age of 18 is unusual for a game development firm. The demands of the video game market require that each new product be built with cutting edge technology, and so even an entry level job requires significant training and prior experience.

“We don’t even actually have college interns,” CEO Lewis Peterson (Emma ’11) said. “It’s hard to screen, it’s hard to find people. It takes at least a month or two just to figure out what you’re doing.”

But over the past three years, 7 Studios has hired Harvard-Westlake interns every summer to its Quality Assurance and IT departments, and the number applying for work keeps growing.

“The only challenge we have is making sure that the people there have a good experience and that they’re not stuffed into a corner with nothing to do,” Peterson said.

7 Studios is not alone in hiring Harvard-Westlake students. Many alumni or parents that maintain a connection to the school take Harvard-Westlake students for internships or research opportunities, either out of a sense of obligation to the school community or a belief that the school’s students can often be as smart and responsible as college interns.

“There are a lot of people who know that Harvard-Westlake students are, generally speaking, going to be good workers and it’s a nice commodity to have,” Chief Advancement Officer Ed Hu said.

After graduation, the alumni network can become an even bigger advantage for students trying to find work. For some recent graduates, the ever-growing web of alumni can mean that dropping the name “Harvard-Westlake” in a resume can prove more helpful in finding employment than the name of a particular college.

Over the past 10 years, Danny Seo ’96 has had a string of breaks due to his involvement with the school. He got a summer internship soon after graduation working for the Private Client group at the Merrill Lynch office in Century City because school parent Marsha Herman (Andrew ’97) had referred him to his future employer.

“Additionally, one of the brokers in the office, Ed Stanton ’65, was a Harvard alum and had a locker in his office with all kinds of Harvard high school memorabilia. It was then that I realized that H-W would be part of my life for the long term.”

hen interviewing for his first job after college, at an investment bank then called Robertson Stevens at the height of the tech bubble, Seo was able to get two alumni already working for the firm to speak with the head recruiter about how he would fit in well at the company. In addition, the first interviewer saw Harvard-Westlake on Seo’s resume and began by asking if he knew Kevin Goldfein ’95, who happened to be a close friend of Seo’s from the football team.

“H-W prepares you for the working world in that it provides you with the most valuable asset—a special web of networks and professionals with whom you already share a common bond,” he said.

Every January, Summer Program Director David Coombs sends out thousands of postcards to alumni soliciting summer job opportunities for current students. The results are compiled into a list posted outside Dean Jim Patterson’s office under the heading “Summer Job Opportunities.”

“The year we started we matched five students to jobs,” Coombs said. “The summer of 2001 we matched 52 students to jobs.”

Yet certain companies try to employ Harvard-Westlake students without being solicited, Hu said.

“They say, ideally, we’d like to have a Harvard-Westlake kid, and we’d like to get the word out there,” Hu said.

Tim Sarnoff ’77 (Aaron ’07), president of the visual effects and animation company Sony Pictures Imageworks, auctions off a summer internship to a Harvard-Westlake student every year at the annual parents’ event. All of the other interns at Imageworks are college students.

“We trust that the Harvard-Westlake students will perform at the same level as a college student, and it’s a way to give back to the community,” Sarnoff said.

Many of the biggest repeat employers of students aren’t firms but research labs, either at private facilities or at UCLA and CalTech.

tarting last year, physics teacher Antonio Nassar has made an attempt to find every student interested in scientific research a place to work over the summer. He was able to find research opportunities for around twenty students last year, he said. Richard Leuchter ’08 worked last summer in the research lab of Dr. James Berenson (Shira ’04, Ariana ’08) helping to find cures for myeloma, a form of bone cancer. Matt Katz ’07, who had worked in Dr. Berenson’s lab the previous summer, told Leuchter about the opportunity, since they knew each other from the wrestling team.

“So, I called Ariana’s father,” Leuchter said. “He seemed pretty happy to be hiring a Harvard-Westlake student. Pretty much all the student interns who work there are from Harvard-Westlake.”

Though 7 Studios isn’t open on the weekends, Hill sometimes goes to meet Earth Warren, the head of IT for the company, for lunch on a Saturday. Warren, a high-energy Louisiana native with a big smile, typically oversees 7 Studios’ interns because, as one co-worker puts it, “he’s good with kids.”

Warren says that of the four Harvard-Westlake interns he has overseen, two performed exceptionally well but one was a mediocre worker.

“H-W students are usually extremely bright but often lack discipline,” Warren said. “This can be easily overcome by providing a good environment where the students are motivated to succeed.”

But Peterson insists that the Harvard-Westlake interns weren’t hired just to help the school out but because they perform a valuable service.

“In a medium-sized to small company like ours, there’s a lot of work to be done and what [the interns] were doing would have had to been done by somebody else,” Peterson said. “We weren’t just making up work.”