The more free time I have, the less I get done! Sadly, this has been quite the essence of my journey at IIT Bombay. With so much that can be done, one may tend to get overwhelmed and get nothing done at all. With the realization that I was almost halfway through my program and that the subsequent few semesters were online, I had an intense yearning to be productive, get clarity about what I wish to do, and do that well.
Having had the experience of working on a university research project and dabbling in Machine Learning and a few of its applications, I was eager to get my hands on a company internship to experience how technologies are deployed into products and how scaling is handled.
Last year around the same time, I was on the other side of the table, an editor for Insight contacting seniors to write for the Summer Blog and share their wisdom with their juniors. It feels pretty amazing to write for the blog, which has given me glimpses into the experiences of countless inspirational seniors!
Hey there! I am Samyak Shah, an incoming senior in the Department of Electrical Engineering. I am not a regular writer, so please forgive the inadvertent rustiness in my write-up. I recently completed an internship with Sony Corporation, Japan as an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Engineer. I have tried to pen down my experiences, learnings, and highs and lows, and I sincerely hope that it offers some clarity and hope to the reader that a lot is possible if one keeps hammering.
The story begins with me trying to frame out my resume points, a very rewarding exercise to spend time on, but so frustrating. I got it reviewed by a few helpful friends and seniors. I was filled with anticipation about what the next few weeks had in store for me. During this time, I learnt that not many companies are open for dual degree students. This was new knowledge for me. After some days of ranting and feeling bad for myself, I decided that I would resort to apping in case I don’t get selected in the first few months of the internship season.
Sony Corporation, Japan, came with 5 JAFs, all tech-based roles. It opened up pretty early and asked us to write two five-hundred word essays describing our research and how we could contribute to their company. I spent 2-3 days writing the essays, nitpicking on the slightest details, thinking of alternate ways of framing things in order to showcase the skills that I felt they expected. Out of the five internship profiles, I signed for the AI engineering internship because I thought it would be good to be in an ‘engineering’ position- cleaning data, scaling and deploying AI technologies. But the primary reason for applying was the name sounded really cool and high tech to me.
Sony took their own sweet time in publishing the interview shortlist. I feel that they read each essay and resume very carefully since they shortlist very few candidates per profile. The interview was just 30 minutes long. I was taken aback by how much they already knew about my projects; they do their homework exceptionally well! I tried to be interactive in the interview and tried not to show my nervousness through my words or expressions. The interview was a mix of technical and HR type questions; the interviewers were very chill and tried to make me feel comfortable. The interviewers discuss your past experiences or projects which are relevant to their profile. If I remember correctly, the result for my profile was announced 5-6 days after my interview. I was elated to see my name on the internship blog’s selection list and very glad to know that I escaped the frustrating cycle that is apping.
Before the third-year internship season began, I made a prognosis that the situation would turn normal, COVID would be gone, and we would get to go to the office and intern physically. No, no and no, my predictions couldn’t have been more wrong!
At the beginning of April, it was clear that all our plans to visit Japan, riding the bullet trains, eating matcha cakes, visiting the Pokemon center in Tokyo, buying an overpriced soft toy there, and attending the Olympics went down the drain. The internship was now virtual, and the duration was shortened. Instead of getting frustrated, I was optimistic that at least I would get some learning out of it, even though not as much as I would expect.
The company sent their work laptop and some basic information about my project before the internship began.
The project sounded exciting to me and was one of the reasons which motivated me to perform better. It involved using AI and specific Deep Learning technologies to understand the customer’s satisfaction and concentration level during sales pitches. The long-term goal would be to increase the products’ sales and offer more personalized information sessions to prospective customers.
Being an engineering company at heart, Sony promotes tinkering, experimentation, and healthy and technical discussions about products, features, and new technologies. I found the hierarchy to be pretty flat compared to what one would expect from Japan-based companies.
It was such an empowering experience to be part of products that could change the lives of millions of customers around the globe. It was a huge privilege to interact with stalwarts who single-handedly developed cutting-edge, world-famous products. During the internship, I realized and warmly embraced the fact that a significant part of working with data is colossally non-glamorous and often frustrating. But the sheer joy that one experiences at the end of the day is well worth the effort spent as data janitors. The internship also helped me appreciate different perspectives, respect differences and diversity. It helped me get a clearer picture of how data projects are executed from ideation to deployment.
On the whole, I feel much more confident about my skills and have a much better idea of what kindles my interests. I enjoyed working in the fast corporate pace to actually deliver the fruits of the latest research on the customer’s doorstep.
Opportunities like these are very humbling experiences where you realize that there is a lot to learn and many more skills to develop. So never stop learning!
If you are reading this, a big thanks for your time in reading the full blog post. In the world of YouTube, Netflix and Tik Tok, reading plain text blogs requires a certain tenacity. Whatever you do, I am sure that it will give you some massive takeaways. Hindsight is 20/20, and when I look back, I can confidently say that the internship season, all the highs and lows are what makes the process memorable, and each day is a new opportunity to grow!