We are twins at IIT Bombay, who are final year students in B. Tech. programme in Computer Science and Engineering. This is our account of our summer internship at Prodigal, a 1 year old start-up, split between Mumbai and Sunnyvale.
We already had an experience of university interns last year when we went to NUS for the summers. This time around, we were aiming to get a corporate experience, and if possible, get an idea of the work culture abroad. At the same time, we also wanted to explore new fields instead of working on a topic similar to last year. Luckily, through Prodigal, we were able to match our self-imposed constraints. Granted, since Prodigal is a nascent company we weren’t able to get the full corporate experience, but from what we think, a start-up experience is a good compromise. After all, who knows if we’re going to start a company of our own in the future?
Getting the internship
Before we progress any further, you should know a little bit about the company itself. Prodigal is a start-up which employs a Software as a Service (SAAS) model and focuses on automating various aspects of analysis and quality control for call collection companies. The company may be working in a narrow domain, but it knows what its clients want and as far as I know, it is the only company providing such broad services for its targeted consumer base. As of July 2019, it has been only a little over a year since the company was formally founded by 3 co-founders, all of whom graduated from IIT Bombay. Shout out to Sangram, Shantanu and Saransh!
We stumbled upon the company early on (in the middle of the autumn semester) through a senior of ours who had been contacted by the company a year earlier. We promptly emailed them, asking for an internship position. They replied, saying that they would finalise their requirements by February, so we waited until then. Incidentally, we didn’t have much hopes that a start-up would be willing to take up two interns, and that too base them in the US for a while. We touched base with them again in February and they agreed to meet us. After that we met the CEO and CTO a couple of times and had a discussion about what the work would entail for us. Based on the conversations we had with them, we decided that Prodigal would be the best choice among the offers that we had at that time and finalised the internship.
The company is still developing parts of the product. We were each given the responsibility of development of specific features of the product that was meant to advance the quality of the services that the product provides. For instance, one of the features that we were responsible for was to segment the calls that we ingest into distinct topics and to use this segmentation to identify and classify calls into groups like voicemails, payment-approved calls and so on. We were given complete freedom to pursue whichever method we wanted to achieve the end-goal. At the end of each day, we had an all-team meeting (“standup”), with people from other places joining in through video calls where we discussed and reviewed the work of each member. And every two weeks, there was a “sprint” meeting where the work focus for the next two weeks was discussed.
There are no fixed office hours in Prodigal. But being a start-up, there’s a lot of work to be done. The CTO, with whom we closely interacted, worked past 10 on a regular basis along with other employees punching in nearly the same amount of work each day. Since we were interns, we were allowed leeway in terms of the work hours that we had to put in, but we were generally there 10 to 7. But when required, we worked with them late after office hours.
We were given freedom to try out different methods, although initially, we started out with regex. From there, we tried out different methods. Solving the problem was more of an application of what we learnt in lectures rather than innovation. It was interesting to see the difference between theory and practice for a change.
The team itself is split into two places: India and the US. The technical work is done out of Mumbai and the work in the US is sales. 2 of the co-founders work from the Mumbai office, which is based in a coworking space (as of July 2019). The team is very organised and easy to approach. From the start, we were encouraged to participate in the daily review meets as well as the sprint meets. We were even there during the company’s first anniversary. We had a small celebration where we cut the cake and went out for dinner.
In the US, the team consisted of the CEO and two other interns besides us. They were friendly and helped us get an idea of getting a sense of the area. We went for lunch together on most days and we got to know them pretty well in that time.
Both teams worked from co-working spaces. The Mumbai office is in Vikhroli, just 10 minutes from the campus. The US office is located in the Bay Area (also known as Silicon Valley) in Sunnyvale.
It was our first time in the US so we were a bit excited. It’s really difficult in California to go to places by foot and the public transportation system is very, very limited. Luckily, an Indian driving license is valid for at least a month in the state and we were there for a duration shorter than that. So we decided to rent a car and we managed to find a local car rental company which offered short term rentals at cheap rates (Thank you, Miles4Less!). For the duration of our stay there, we moved about in a car, including to and fro from the office.
It depends on you how much work you’re willing to take in a start-up – you could be working with something that’s at the core of the product, or you could be working on something far away from it. Wherever you’re involved in, it’s a proud feeling to know that your contributions are significant when you work in a company that’s in its infancy.
The two month stint at Prodigal was a new and fresh experience for us. It gave us an insight into how products are actually made and what drives the development and innovation in those products. And also how hard, but exciting, start-up life can be.