Hello, I am Adway, a (now) fourth-year student in Electrical Engineering. A year ago, almost exactly to the date, I signed the IAF for Texas Instruments (India) (will just say TI now); 11 months ago, I was selected to intern there in the Signal Processing domain. And just 20 hours before I sit here writing this, I received an offer to join as a full-time Systems Engineer on 4th July, 2022 (happy birthday ‘murica), by which point I will have (hopefully) completed my B.Tech degree. Strap yourselves in as I take you on a tour of my head and thoughts in 2020. (I will also, purely incidentally, talk about my internship – I was told this is a Summer blog, not an internship blog – so if you’re here only for tips and facts strictly related to a TI internship, there are sections whose headings have ** – go read those.)
2018 me had zero interest in working at a company. Largely due to my (perhaps harsh, definitely unsound) preconceived notions about what a corporate life meant, I was certain that I would (at least in the summer following my third year) intern at a university, then go on to (eventually) do a Ph.D. and spend my life in academia. I came to IITB as a fresh-faced excited teen, hoping to do as much research as I could and very quickly clear out the path I wanted. I had built it up so much that I couldn’t wait to get started. And yet, this never took off. For a variety of reasons, project after project that I took up coughed, sputtered, and died. A cloud of disappointment and frustration was beginning to loom over what was until recently bright and hopeful.
2019 me, as any budding researcher would do, should have apped (applied to universities for an internship – a lengthy process with a tiny success rate). I was lazy and had no idea where to start. Added to a strong sense of self-doubt and fear of failing (yet another time), I kept putting it off. October-November is a good time to start. By February (2020) I had still not made a move. Which brings us to a key moment.
At this point too late to have apped for a summer university internship (for the summer of 2020), I decided to keep myself busy with projects in insti, then app for 2021, this time starting early and making sure I did not slack off. Solid plan. Except, no “in insti”. Covid sent us packing. I’m not exactly a hands-on person – I prefer theoretical stuff anyway – so distance shouldn’t have been a problem, right? I got started on a couple of projects again. But as days at home turned into weeks and months, with no classes or really anything concrete to do, and with projects that did not interest me anymore (a recurring theme by this point), I began to give up. A variety of things compounded a sense of despair that I could no longer contain. There was no more of the enthusiasm I had when I joined. I could not wait to graduate because I had had enough – but also had no idea what to do after I did. I still had the same aversion towards companies, and experience after experience seemed to indicate that perhaps research is not for me. A fine situation to find myself in, going into July 2020, with no cognizance of the passing of time, with no idea that an internship season was upon us.
‘tis the season**
There was some good news – classes would start again – after nearly 5 months (while online (ew), I was grateful for any semblance of normalcy). And then came the internship announcements – I scrambled together a resume with all the projects I had done, and waited. Univ or company? Perhaps I had been too harsh on corporate work. I had tried research and failed, maybe this was where I belonged. Definitely unfair to spurn it outright. Where would I apply though? Software was immediately rejected until I saw some of the stipends on offer – it was a more grudging reject after. I was interested in core electrical, particularly signal processing, which is also what my projects were on. I looked through the list of companies, and there was Texas Instruments – offering a Signal Processing profile, which no one else did. Of course, I couldn’t bank on just one profile at one company, so I also looked at what other elec profiles were on offer. Analog and digital (and embedded technically but I knew nothing about it so gone). Both courses that we were supposed to do in Spring 2020 but were cut short. Fantastic. I spent some time looking up what we would have done had the courses gone on as usual. Then came the test – which I went for armed with more or less just what I knew from the courses I had (or should have) done till then.
The test had fairly straightforward questions (made up for by their large cardinality), with a few tricky ones thrown in between. The time constraint makes it seem more difficult than it is. Careful thought and strong basics will get you most answers. The interview is more of the same. The interviewers don’t care about how much you know; just how well you think. Talk them through your thought process – don’t do it all in your head. It’s alright if you don’t get it in your first attempt (they don’t expect you to); they’re more than willing to help you out if you’re stuck – they see how quickly you can pick up on their hints and take them forward in the right direction.
If you don’t know some topics because they weren’t covered in courses (or otherwise), they dumb it down to what you know and build up from there – it begins to feel more like a discussion than an interview.
The results came on the same day – at nearly 11 pm. I was relieved more than anything else because the interviews were exhausting, and I was not looking forward to giving any more.
While my decision to apply for a company internship was largely me trying to justify running away from what I feared, I realized it would be good for me to postpone questioning my career plans till after the summer. In the 8 months following my selection until the start of the internship, I recharged and mentally prepared myself to start over. The courses I did rekindled my interest in academics and with no pressure to live up to the rather high expectations I maintained for myself when I was younger, I enjoyed what I was doing again.
We were asked to choose a start date – requiring us to be available for 9 weeks starting on a Monday and ending on a Friday, from May to July. We carefully chose the dates so that we would begin the week after endsems (for Spring 2021) finished, and have a couple of weeks to rest after the internship, before Autumn 2021. While we did have hopes of an on-site internship in August 2020 (surely this whole thing couldn’t go on for over a year?), and this became a fairly reasonable expectation in December, come April, we knew that Work From Home was the only feasible option. We were asked for our addresses so that they could send us work laptops, which is probably my highlight of the entire internship, and were each sent the contact information of a TI employee who would be our mentor (one mentor per intern). Everything was in place to begin.
My problem statement was fairly open-ended – we did not have a particular goal in mind when we started, except for the idea that was to be investigated. Halfway through the internship, we chalked out realistic, achievable targets and made the internship project concrete. In my last week there, I presented my work (to around 30 attendees, all TI employees working on a related topic). I was then asked whether I would like to be considered for a full-time offer, for which I would have to go through another interview – this was similar to the selection interview, but with references to my project (the interview was taken by people who attended my presentation).
The biggest drawback of it being virtual was that the project did at times feel less like an industry project with immediate applications around me (which it was), and more like an extended course project. This is not to say I learned nothing; quite the opposite in fact. And yet, offline, we would have worked at the labs and done a lot of the data collection ourselves, but here all I had with me were .txt files, making everything seem just that little bit lamer. I also had next to no interaction with other interns, which may be a drawback, depending on what you want.
tying up loose ends
Going into my internship, I had only one target – figure out whether I wanted to work in a corporate setting or stay in academia – which I did figure out. A good movie adaptation would cut to credits here – leaving my choice to your interpretation – because in this story, it is the least important thing. What I have actively made a part of my life following the events of the last year and a half, and that I hope you take away, are the following. (Some suggestions now – if you don’t agree with me that’s okay; these have made me a happier and I daresay better person) It’s perfectly normal to have down days (or weeks or months or years) – don’t beat yourself up over it. Break the cycle. When the world clobbers you down, be there for yourselves (not in the why-are-you-sad-just-be-happy way, but in the nothing-really-matters-and-you’re-here-anyway-so-have-a-good-time-by-making-a-conscious-effort-to-not-let-the-unimportant-things-affect-you way). And it’s okay to be confused; everyone is, or has been, or will be (most likely all three). Your primary goal shouldn’t be to figure everything out; it should be to have a good time – there’s a higher chance of everything falling into place if you are having fun, than of you incidentally having a good time while obsessing over figuring everything out (empirical observation based on my own experiences – also not saying give up and do nothing, just don’t lose track of what really matters).
If you are heading into the internship season (and even if you’re not), I wish you the best of luck (everyone needs it); have fun! (Do this, I didn’t grossly overshare on the internet for nothing.) Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, and I’ll be glad to help.