Pursuing opportunities for diversification and growth By Susie McCormick March 16, 2020

Meet Jacob Sanford: IT Software Engineer and Problem-Solver Extraordinaire

The on-the-job Jacob Sanford of three years ago is hard to find in the software engineer you see today. Sure, off-the-clock gaming Jacob still aspires to become the Dragonborn (from Skyrim) – and he also enjoys fresh air like he always did. Biking, swimming, and hiking – but never running – have been favorite activities since childhood.

But career-wise, Jacob is in a very different place than he was three years ago. Then, he was tired of working in fast food. When an Indeed ad for a Nelnet customer service position with the Service and Repayment Center caught his eye, it was time for a change. He stopped throwing fries in the fryer and threw his hat in the ring for something that “seemed more professional than fast food.” Indeed it was – and with more opportunities for advancement.

By April 2019, Jacob was a full-time software engineer. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to work in IT. At first I wanted to be a video game developer, but I didn’t want to drop $50,000+ on student loans/school, so I went to a local community college (Southeast Community College) while working full time with Nelnet, and got an associate degree in web development.”

But wait.

Jacob was hired as a customer service representative at Nelnet three years ago and now he’s a software engineer? What happened in between?

Four words: Nelnet’s IT Pathway internship.

Two years into his customer service job, Jacob added eight months of responsibilities as an IT Pathway intern to his customer service role. The Pathway program is designed to give students the opportunity to explore multiple Nelnet departments to find the fit for them. Nelnet introduced the IT-focused Pathway program in 2018.

“I loved the internship. It gave me a lot of good experiences with different teams,” said Jacob. “I got to have three different looks at how teams use Agile. (Agile is a methodology for getting work done effectively and most of the IT world uses it.) I also got to broaden my knowledge of what Nelnet does as a company. It was also super useful for networking and getting some contacts.”

Jacob’s team works on two products – NDS Financial Solutions and National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). NDS Financial Solutions “has a lot of processes that balance financial transactions and generate reports – and it also has a website that we manage,” said Jacob. “NSLDS is a massive file that we generate based off of loan data for all of our borrowers and send to the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid so they can keep the NSLDS updated for all federal loan borrowers nationwide,” he added.

Because of the way the team’s Agile framework is set up, it’s easiest to describe Jacob’s job duties on a two-week cycle. “We work in two-week iterations or cycles, called sprints. The first day of every sprint, we plan out what our team will work on for that sprint, based off of priority. Then we spend the next two weeks trying to get done everything we committed to during planning.” On most days, Jacob focuses on what he calls “sprint work” – but he also has a meeting or two each day to attend.

Jacob’s favorite part of the job is the problem-solving. “I love a challenge, and the feeling that you get when you overcome it. Not having to work with customers anymore is also a plus!”

Some of the things Jacob likes best about working at Nelnet are related to people. “Extremely kind people hold doors for each other, nod and smile in the hallways, and care about each other. On top of that, Nelnet promotes lots of opportunities to give back to the community, such as our annual service day where employees are encouraged to sign up and go help out with a nonprofit such as the zoo during the workday,” he said.

One thing hasn’t changed. Jacob still thinks it awesome to get home from work and become the Dragonborn. “As far as video games, I just enjoy becoming a different person.” And in life, Jacob. You’ve been transformed.

Want to learn more about Nelnet’s Pathway program? Check out our feature on the rotational internship.




Susie McCormick

Senior Corporate Communications Writer