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SDN Communications high school internship paved way for tech talent in Sioux Falls

Danial Madson poses for a feature on a couch in the Sanford Health building
Danial Madson was a high school intern at SDN Communications in 2017. He now works for Sanford Health as an applications administrator.

Like many companies, SDN Communications’ leadership designed its successful internship program to potentially recruit future employees.

Some interns have gone on to become full-time staff members while others have become employees at SDN member companies or with other organizations in the Sioux Falls area — also seen as an internship program success story.

Nearly all interns have been college students, but Sioux Falls native Danial Madson was an intern in high school as part of SDN’s high school internship program, and now he works for Sanford Health.

“The vision our previous CEO, Mark Shlanta, had with the high school intern program was that he wanted to find a candidate who could learn the technical skills of our industry. SDN would provide financial support toward college via a paid internship, and that person would return to our community and/or industry,” said Jake VanDewater, Vice President of Engineering, Operations and IT for SDN Communications.

Internship helped set course to college

Back in 2017, Madson was a high school junior at New Technology High School in Sioux Falls (now the Project Based Learning Academy at Jefferson High School). An email was sent out to the student body, detailing how SDN was looking for a high school intern for their Managed Services team. While Madson was initially indifferent about the opportunity, his graphic design teacher knew he had plans to enroll in Dakota State University’s Cyber Operations program and encouraged him to apply. So, he applied and was accepted for his first-ever job.

Danial Madson (right) listens to SDN Managed Services Data Technician Graham Wilson
Danial Madson (right) listens to Managed Services Data Technician Graham Wilson during his high school internship at SDN Communications in 2017.

Madson credits his SDN supervisor (former SDN employee and Managed Services supervisor Bill Tetrault) for making the experience a positive one. Madson got to work on two large-scale projects at SDN — a comprehensive audit of all customer routers and firewalls and the implementation of an internal network lab to be used as a testing environment for customer configurations. These projects gave him a fundamental understanding of many basic networking topics and technologies he worked with extensively in college, he said.

“(Bill) wasn’t content to have me perform the usual intern duties like data entry or customer service. He took significant time out of his day to teach me the fundamentals of cybersecurity and network configuration, putting me on track to earn the same Fortinet certifications his team had,” Madson said. “He demonstrated immense patience for me as a fresh high school student with no prior experience, and thanks to his guidance, the networking classes I went on to take at DSU were a breeze.”

By Madson’s senior year of high school, he was enrolled in dual-credit courses at Southeast Technical Institute as well as interning at SDN, both of which gave him a head start with his classes at DSU, he said. Madson originally considered DSU’s Cyber Operations program but switched to the Computer Science program.

SDN ‘proud to be part of Danial’s story’

After college Madson considered several career paths, from data science to database administration. He knew he wanted to build software systems in some capacity — something about working with code, building software systems from scratch and the mathematical theory behind it all interested him, he said. Staying close to family and an organization that had a reputation for doing good brought him to Sanford Health, where he is an applications administrator on the IT HR/Payroll team in Sanford’s Tech Solutions department.

Danial Madson sits at his desk in the Sanford Health offices.
Danial Madson has worked at Sanford Health for two years.

He supports and configures integrations between various enterprise applications used by the Human Resources and Payroll departments. He also gets to work on various projects implementing new applications, configuring new modules built onto existing applications, data conversions, and even rolling out a new internal staffing agency.

“We are extremely proud to be part of Danial’s story. While we would love to have him back at SDN, we enjoy that he found a role with an important employer in Sioux Falls and a key SDN customer,” VanDewater said.

Madson said he highly recommends SDN as an employer for high school or college students looking to get into tech in the telecommunications industry, especially for those attending or planning to attend DSU.

Internships an important part of SDN’s workforce

Internships benefit employees, too, VanDewater said.

“These types of interactions are a great exercise for our supervisors on adjusting their management styles to fit people of all skill levels and personalities. It also presents us with the opportunity to test our training and onboarding programs,” VanDewater said.

“We are extremely proud to be part of Danial’s story. While we would love to have him back at SDN, we enjoy that he found a role with an important employer in Sioux Falls and a key SDN customer."

Jake VanDewater, SDN Vice President of Engineering, Operations & IT

SDN has embraced that internship programs are more than just making some money over the summer for students, VanDewater said.

“The internship is an opportunity for us to showcase what SDN is all about. Interns see the SDN core values first-hand,” VanDewater said. “That may be volunteering with fellow employees serving breakfast at The Banquet, assisting staff with deploying connectivity for a critical services provider or utilizing their skills to impact SDN’s business processes.”

SDN Communications will again offer internships in several departments later this year. SDN does get regular requests from local high school students to job shadow for a day, VanDewater said. There have also been discussions with local schools about cyber workforce development needs, and high school internships were an important part of that, he said.