Therese Van Ryne speaks with NFL defensive lineman Eric Lee about his externship experience with Zebra
By Therese Van Ryne | April 20, 2020

Why We Drafted NFL Defensive Lineman Eric Lee for a Job Shadow Experience with Our Team

While NFL teams were preparing to make their 2020 draft picks, we were helping a current player prepare to one day make the transition to life beyond football.

Many professional athletes will confirm that, despite the countless opportunities they have to experience the world during their careers, they typically miss out on the opportunity to explore the various career options available to them beyond their sport due to fast transitions from school to the national stage. NFL free agent Eric Lee is one of them. Despite attending college and receiving a business degree in management information systems from the University of South Florida, he did not have the privilege of completing an internship before moving onto the National Football League (NFL). However, he has participated for multiple years in the NFL Players Association’s externship program.

Much like an internship, the three-week externship provides players with a job-shadowing opportunity for business development and networking purposes. As Eric explained to us during our time together, “this players’ union program is crucial for many of the athletes who are vying to understand their skill sets off the field as well as develop placement for their post-NFL careers.”

For Eric personally, being drafted as Zebra’s sole 2020 extern gave him a unique opportunity “to solve varied problems with an optimal lens” in a real-world corporate setting, which is fitting considering that Eric is also an amateur scenic photographer:

The three-week externship also allowed Eric, who is a self-described food enthusiast, music lover and entrepreneur, to experience a day in the life of dozens of professionals who work behind the scenes at Zebra, including engineers, marketers and more, as you’ll read about below in his “second career scouting report.”

Before you do, though, I recommend that you take a few minutes to listen to the conversation I had with Eric during week two of his externship. It may help you to understand how his professional ambitions and personal passions align with Zebra’s business and why he jumped at the opportunity to join our team:


Read more below about how Eric describes his externship experience at Zebra:

“A Journey That is Celebrated Along the Way Can Only Be Described as Fruitful”

Week One:

I was already aware of Zebra Technologies before I started my externship due to the company’s role as the Official On-Field Player-Tracking Provider for the NFL, and I was fortunate enough to start my Zebra tour in San Jose, California, where you’ll find the locationing solution operators that support this NFL initiative. (Living in a beautiful state has its perks but there is more to add to the inviting list.)  Zebra has a command center tasked primarily with NFL game day logging, hardware initializing, practice monitoring, data analysis and reporting. All televised NFL football games leverage Zebra’s locationing hardware and software to propagate meaningful player performance metrics for the league and its clubs. There are some teams that even take advantage of these metric generators for their practices to help shape team operations and player longevity. Our society’s day-to-day is represented by an influx of technology and it’d be naïve to think that it wouldn’t grace the many football fields of the NFL. However, the command center is not the only appeal of Zebra’s San Jose office and the NFL is not the only customer this team supports.

NFL defensive lineman Eric Lee on his first day of his externship with the Zebra team

Mostly engineers, developers, and product management move the gears in this particular innovation factory. With the help of HR, sales and other integral departments, the San Jose office seems to hold a promising trajectory for good business in the specialized location solutions realm. However, this team does interact with others within Zebra’s global operation to provide top-tier hardware, software and services to a plethora of customers. Though I lack engineering competencies, I’ve always had respect for the pursuit of defining many answers to many problems, and data analysis and software development are tools that have now been placed in my toolbelt. Will I ever have the opportunity to use them? Who knows? But horizontal growth opportunities are truly synonymous with my previous moments in life. All in all, the week I spent in San Jose provided deeper insight into my sports world but also a glance into a technological era to come!

NFL defensive lineman Eric Lee with members of the Zebra sports team in San Jose, CA

Week Two:

My next stop was Lincolnshire, Illinois, distanced far from San Jose geographically and on the weather spectrum. As Zebra’s global headquarters, 3OP (as it’s fondly called based on its address: 3 Overlook Point) is home to a high number of the company’s employees. There are fewer engineers but more Zebras with duties in IT, marketing, PR, finance, business communication, social media, program management, creative services, sub-project teams, cybersecurity, legal, HR and more. All these different functions collectively interact with one another to accomplish a shared mission, and I can only imagine how such collaboration validates goals and quotas for all participating parties. I found personal interest in many departments, but I’d like to shed light on two:

1.   Public relations resonate with many professional athletes who have had opportunities stemming from high school to speak with journalists, bloggers or the local news stations. We are privileged with a platform that can shape our reputation in our workplace and the media. Many have learned over the years to hone in on important subjects and project who they really are through purposeful banter with journalists and bloggers. With time, a natural skill set was formed on the gridiron. It’s arguably a similar high-performance duty for Zebra spokespeople.

2.  Additionally, a derivative within the IT department that sparked an interest for me focuses on business relationship management, or BRM for short. How does a corporation’s IT department work efficiently with the rest of the integral areas of the business? What does information look like when it’s curated rather than one-to-one? These are some of the questions the BRM strives to answer. Decision making and planning efforts are driven optimally by the BRM team’s actions and the entities involved in BRM can use their learnings to project productivity into their workforces. Paving the way towards a goal and solving problems are right up my alley!

Editor’s Note: Hear more about Eric’s personal mantra for setting and achieving goals in this 30-second video:

Week Three:

The final stop was in Holtsville, NY, which can be described as a “hardware hub” for Zebra. Here, you’ll come across technology like label printers, barcode scanners, mobile computers, augmented reality mechanisms and intelligent automation solutions (i.e. co-bots or smart robots). This location is like Lincolnshire, IL in that you’ll find hundreds of employees that work closely with one another across departments. Ensuring collaboration is a hefty job, but Zebra leverages teams that provide an objective lens to the monotony. You will find more engineers and designers here than Lincolnshire as well. With there being so many products and applications, project teams hold focal points on their respective vertical and harbor talents from entities such as the Innovation and Design and Quality Assurance team. Check out some of the pictures from the hands-on learning experience I had:

NFL defensive lineman Eric Lee get a hands-on demo of Zebra technology at the Holtsville office during hs three-week externship
NFL defensive lineman Eric Lee get a hands-on demo of Zebra technology at the Holtsville office during hs three-week externship
NFL defensive lineman Eric Lee get a hands-on demo of Zebra technology at the Holtsville office during hs three-week externship

My Overall Takeaway:

As humans, there is only so much time to do what we want in our lives. While taking ownership of each step of the way, I am confident in an extraordinary future. Exposure to new paths and ideas is a part of the journey, and my pitstop with Zebra has been a grand occasion. Being a sponge and hearing the voice of the many Zebra teams echo passion and determination only fuels the potential of what the company could manifest. Many more externs will come after me, and I hope to see the pivotal traction of their experience take on a life of its own.


NFL defensive lineman Eric Lee smiles during his Zebra externship
NFL defensive lineman Eric Lee signs a picture for the Zebra team
Hospitality, Inside Zebra Nation,
Therese Van Ryne
Therese Van Ryne

Therese Van Ryne is Senior Director of External Communications for Zebra Technologies. She joined Zebra as part of the acquisition of Motorola Solutions Enterprise business in October 2014. She and her team are laser focused on growing the company’s brand awareness globally aligned with business objectives. Her accomplishments include leading Zebra events with Harvard University and TED as well as the creation of the annual Intelligent Enterprise Index, resulting in positive media coverage, customer engagement and revenue growth.

Prior to Motorola Solutions, Van Ryne worked at SC Johnson where she led corporate communication strategies and drove PR and branding efforts for leading consumer products. One of her top achievements was leading the Windex® placement in the film, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” resulting in a 25% sales increase for the brand.

One of PR News’ 2019 Top Women in PR and Crain's Chicago's 2021 Most Notable Executives in Marketing, Therese also has experience as a journalist, editor and producer, reporting nightly from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Van Ryne holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications and Journalism from Marquette University and an Executive Leadership Master’s Certificate from Cornell University.

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