IBM Zurich – Yogesh Kumar

429 Views, Posted on: July 13, 2017

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When I say time flies, I really mean it. 8 weeks at IBM Research, Zurich have been nothing short of amazing. My research internship has gone from an impossibility, to a possibility; from a distant reality, to a near one; to an actuality and soon to be a memory. Every day is a unique story and now, I have scores of them to tell!

Certainly, I cannot do justice to all of them in just one post. Nevertheless, I’ll share my overall experience most vicariously.

Pre-Intern

Let’s start from the beginning. How did I end up at IBM Zurich? As the internship season began, I had made my mind to get a research oriented intern in Data Science. A couple of weeks into the internship season I managed to get into IBM Bangalore. I wasn’t entirely happy with it, so, I started applying to some companies abroad. Even though PT Cell imposes a heavy penalty upon the students who ditch their interns, I believe trying to get an intern which can change your life is worth it. A week into apping, I interviewed at IBM Research Zurich.

The selection process was quite straightforward, they scheduled a 30mins long interview mainly to gauge my understanding of machine learning. After the interview, they took my reviews from the professors I have worked with.

From my experience, most IBM interviews are competency-based, focusing on the candidate’s history and motivation for applying. I had read the most recent research paper the group published. I strongly advise people to go through the work of the group, if you mention a few techniques from the paper, the interviewer will be extremely impressed(during my interview, after I used one of their techniques in a question, they stopped further questioning and started explaining me the project they had in their mind for me).

As my 19-year-old self was contemplating on the more fundamental questions of life (watching football videos), I received an email titled “IBM Research Zurich Internship Offer”. It was all Disney stuff for me.

During the Intern

Life at IBM Research is one thing, and life at IBM Research, Zurich is another. You get the best of life packed in one summer. It’s IBM inside and Zurich outside.

Currently there are around 30 interns working in the entire lab, I’m the only undergraduate student amongst them. Having been done a university intern in my sophomore year, I soon realised how different industry research is in comparison to academia. In the industry, everything in business oriented. If your work saves the company a billion dollars, it’s good otherwise it’s useless no matter how creative or efficient it is.

I’m interning in the services group of IBM. The work basically involves coming up with effective machine learning models to predict unavailability of servers, network devices, ATMs etc (I can’t tell you a lot about my work due to confidentiality agreements). Some of the work is fascinating, and some is not especially glamorous, but at IBM you always have a bonus factor: the people are wonderful. That’s what really makes the difference in my work – solving problems with very smart people from all over the world, who also happen to be incredibly nice to be around. We are a small team of 12 people from 8 different countries.

The working hours are quite flexible. Actually, no one cares if you go to office at all, scroll through your facebook account, watch movies or whatever. Just make sure that you have a good presentation with some nice results to show in the weekly meeting.

At IBM, although you are working for a company who’s been there for 106 years now and has the tag of “one of the world’s largest employers”, you never feel insignificant. It’s a tech giant with a startup culture. I have had conversations on basketball, the swiss political system, my weekend trip experiences with the Director of IBM Zurich during lunch on several occasions. My project is estimated to save billions of dollars a year. Apart from a pretty huge salary, the impact of your work is the biggest perk of interning at IBM.   The beautiful view of Lake Zurich and the swiss alps from my lab

The beautiful view of Lake Zurich and the swiss alps from my lab

Zurich, Switzerland and Europe

Proclaiming Europe to be a traveller’s paradise would be an understatement. Saying the same for Switzerland would be even more so.

Traditional Swiss people are (1) extreme anti-socials and prefer living in small villages with (2) lakes and mountains around.Whereas Zurich, as a metropolis with Lake Zurich and the Alps nearby, offers you the best on both counts. People here are quite sociable and the views are exotic. There’s a street in Zurich – Langstrasse, where you can find all kinds of wasted people on Friday nights. In fact, this is the only place which doesn’t feel like Switzerland. It was actually pretty exhilarating to see completely wasted Swiss bankers on the streets :P. Make sure you do not miss these sights if you ever visit the place.

Coming to the most important part – FOOD. The idea of spicy food for swiss people is this – mashed potatoes with some hollandaise sauce (labelled as Authentic Indian Curry). Hence, I was quite concerned about the food around here. Being a major city, I luckily didn’t face any problems. There are some Indian stores around and ready-to-make Indian food is easy to find. Overall, as an Indian, I found Zurich to be a very calm and cozy living place.

Apart from Zurich, Switzerland has a lot of amazing places for an adventure lover. More than half the country is covered with the Swiss alps. There are many locations around here which one should not dare miss – Grindelwald, Interlaken, Zermatt, Lucerne, Lugano… and the list goes on.

Germany, Austria, France and Italy being closeby are ideal for weekend trips. We managed to explore some pretty non-popular locations this time – Cinque Terre in Italy being one of them. As a whole, Europe is the best package for a traveller. Each city has a distinctive feeling attached to it. People here are quite attached to their medieval history and try their best to preserve their heritage. (There’s a reason why most of the shooting locations of Game of Thrones are in Europe. It’s because, even walking down the lanes can make you feel as if walking through an ancient city.)

Conclusion:

Even now, I’m slightly bewildered at how fortunate I was to intern at this awesome place.

Beyond being incredibly instructive, my internship at IBM Research has been a truly affirming experience. Working alongside people who truly love what they do and are eager to help you develop your own passion–has vastly increased my confidence in my interests, my ability to explore them, and my plans for the near future.

I have my concerns about IBM, but I believe I can either solve or navigate around the problems. Realistically, no company is perfect and anyone who says otherwise is either a beneficiary of the status quo, lying, or just plain naive. I’d definitely consider coming back here in the future (contingent on them wanting me back!).

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