An Intern in La Paz

Writer: 
June 1, 2003

When as a student David McMillan '00 read the tiny ad buried in the classifieds in the back of The Chronicle, his second thought was, "This is just so perfect." The ad sought an intern for an "Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Bolivia," a seemingly ideal match for the computer-science major and Spanish minor.

His first thought? "This has got to be a hoax."

After all, an Internet business operating in impoverished Bolivia seemed about as likely as an ice hockey team setting up shop in Jamaica.

McMillan decided to investigate Brian Reale '97, the business owner who had placed the ad and who claimed to be a Duke graduate. "I actually went to the library," says McMillan, "where they have every yearbook ever published by Duke. I looked Reale up and found him in there. So I thought, 'This guy is probably legit.' But I never did meet him beforehand. It was all arranged through e-mail and maybe one phone call. And at that point, it was like, 'Well, come on down to Bolivia.'"

That summer, McMillan went to La Paz to work for Zupernet (now called Unete), an ISP started by Reale. And two summers later, after graduating from Duke, he returned to La Paz to work for Reale's second venture, Colosa, Inc., a software company so new that the ink on its business plan was seemingly still drying.

During his first summer, McMillan was thrust into the ambitious job of creating an online community for La Paz--single-handedly. It was not the typical paper-pushing internship. By his second summer, he was such an integral part of the fledgling Colosa that, in addition to developing components of Colosa's first software prototypes, he conducted interviews of prospective Colosa employees and advised Reale on hiring decisions.

For McMillan, who visited Argentina, Peru, and the hinterlands of Bolivia during his time at Colosa, the fact that he was earning about one-tenth his previous summer's salary at a U.S. firm was unimportant. "If I had tried to pay for the experience of living down there or traveling to the places I did, I wouldn't have made enough money in the U.S. to pay for those things. I was only able to because I was working in Bolivia where I could do some of these crazy things."

McMillan, a Houston native, now works as a database administrator for Broadlane, a San Francisco health-care technology company.