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A Former IBM Intern Shares Her Story

Apoorva Patil, IBM Intern

ARTICLE SUMMARY

We recently caught up with Apoorva Patil: a former IBM intern. In this jam-packed Q&A, she shares huge amounts of advice, tips and tricks for getting and thriving in an internship.

We recently caught up with Apoorva Patil: a former IBM intern. In this jam-packed Q&A, she shares huge amounts of advice, tips and tricks for getting and thriving in an internship.

Where are you in your career/education journey?

I am in the final year of a BSc Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence with Industrial Year course, at the University of Birmingham. I have completed a year-long software engineering internship at IBM, and a spring internship at Morgan Stanley.

Multi-coloured coding on a black screen

What made you decide to do an internship?

My primary interest was to understand how all the bits and pieces that I had learned about at university, fit together in real-world applications. Secondly, I was aware that there are a lot of cool things going on out there, in the world of technology, and I wanted to get my hands dirty and experience the tech world outside the realms of my university course.  Thirdly, I was quite undecided about what I wanted to do for my final year project, and if I wanted to study further after graduation I realised some first-hand insight into the industry would help me make a more informed decision. 

What advice/tips do you have for finding the right internship? What were your criteria?

My advice:

  1. Cultural fit is important. You cannot work comfortably in an environment where you feel like you don’t belong. If a Situational Judgement Test is a part of the assessment process, please be authentic and answer honestly instead of trying to guess what the employer would like to hear.
  2. I would highly recommend applying to Spring Insight Programs if you are in your first year at university (or second-year on a four-year course). These are short (a few days to a couple of weeks long) programs, that give you an introduction to the workings of the company, opportunities for work-shadowing, networking, and at times even fast forward your application for a summer internship/placement year!
  3. Do your research! Please don’t limit yourself to the official website. Reach out to people via LinkedIn or your school/university’s alumni network, and get to know the company’s culture, working style, giving back opportunities, tech-stack etc. I know it is daunting to contact strangers, but usually people are happy to help with specific, genuine, and short queries.

My criteria:

  • Being able to work on a live product was of the utmost importance to me. I didn’t want to work on a side project that may or may not be used by the company in the future, and that considerably narrowed down my search.
  • I wanted my internship to be with a company that had a culture of giving back to the society, and working for the greater good.
Networking

How can other young women in tech get the most out of their internship?

  1. Networking with everyone is important but try to go the extra mile to connect with other women working there. If your induction does not mention a ‘Women In Technology’ network, ask your manager about it. If your office doesn’t have one, try to find a woman who would be willing to spare a few minutes to chat with you. More often than not, these women have been in your shoes before and would be more than happy to guide you. Being a minority can be intimidating in the beginning, and my internship experience wouldn’t have been nearly half as rewarding as it was if it weren’t for my mentor’s support.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! If you aren’t sure about something, ask. If you don’t understand how something works, ask. If you are curious about why things are done a certain way, ask. If you can’t find resources to help you learn something new, ask.  People are usually kind and happy to help. Just remember to be polite and do your research beforehand.
  3. Get involved! I would suggest grabbing every opportunity that comes your way. From outreach, to side-projects and presentations, I did everything that I could squeeze into my schedule without negatively impacting my main role. Most of them were my first attempt at things. Some things went well, some didn’t. But you only learn by doing, so give it a try. Be sure to keep your manager in the loop though. Clearly communicate how much time some activity might take and double check if they are fine with you being away from the team for that long.
  4. Keep an open-mind. Please don’t pass on a talk or a seminar because you have a feeling you won’t like it. These are industry talks and chances are there’s so much more to a particular subject that you don’t know about. You might gain a new perspective of looking at things or you might get a concrete reason for not pursuing something in your career or you might learn from somebody’s experience. A little extra knowledge never hurts. But please don’t get carried away. Keep a balance and always reflect on what you have gained by attending an event and if you would want to take any follow up actions.
  5. Talk to people! If you like what someone is working on, if you would want to shadow someone for a day or two, if you would like to know more about someone’s experience, just drop them a message and request a meeting. It will feel very uncomfortable but I always told myself that the worst thing that can happen is they would say no. Don’t take it to heart. Some times people might have a tight schedule and may not be able to accommodate your request. It has got nothing to do with you. Remember you would never have access to first hand information about the company and it’s projects once the internship is over. Make the most out of your time there.

What resources would you recommend for aspiring interns?

  • I highly recommend attending IT’s not just for the boys and STEM Women Career’s Events to get the opportunity to hear from and network with current female employees. It is also a great opportunity to get any of your questions answered!
  • I used Target Jobs and Bright Network to find open internships.
  • I used Rate My Placement and GlassDoor a couple of times, to read about the experience of previous interns and get a feel about the firm. A word of caution though- one anonymous negative experience on the internet might not be the accurate reflection of the company as a whole. Please use your judgement, give the firm a benefit of doubt and see if you can cross-verify things through someone else.
  • There were some “Getting-to-know” employer events at university that I attended. If your university isn’t doing something similar I recommend checking the website of the company that you’re interested in. They might be doing events open to everyone. There’s a good collection of these on BrightNetwork as well.
Group of colleagues all working together at a desk with laptops open, wearing headphones, IBM Intern

To conclude: What do you think are the benefits of doing an internship?

  • You get to know the company before committing to a full-time role. An internship might not be able to paint a proper picture of what you want but personally, it helped me identify factors that I hadn’t thought of before.
  • You get to explore if the path that you like is indeed the right fit for your personality. You can pursue so many more roles other than a software developer or a software engineer while coding – a devops engineer, business analyst, quality assurance engineer, database administrator, etc. Roles that I wasn’t particularly aware of before my internship. 
  • You learn professionalism. From writing emails, interacting with people to business conduct guidelines you learn about things that no university course ever covers.
  • You get to develop a plethora of skills – technical, communication, leadership, presentation, time management, working in a team etc. These skills are extremely important in the real world and help you improve your self confidence.

 

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