WalmartLabs – Ayushraj Mehrotra

Hi! I am Ayushraj from the electrical department and in this ridiculously long blog, you will find:

(i) My pre-internship BT

(ii) My internship experience

(iii) Some teeps and trikks

All the world’s a stage!

The good ol’ internship season is back in its full swing and a flurry of emotions like confusion, anxiety, insecurity, and anticipation must be dwelling inside even the bravest of hearts. Is my resume good enough? Would I make it to a day-1 company? Will I be able to clear the CPI cutoffs? How should I prep for my dream company? Questions like these must be echoing incessantly in most of your heads and being encumbered with the burden of maintaining your acads, juggling third-year PORs, and balancing several other commitments, you’ll soon realize that the internship season is nothing but an unrelenting adrenaline rush!

Well before we delve into my intern story, I must highlight one thing above all others: no two players in this elaborate act have the same script and everyone has a different expectation with oneself and a unique modus operandi. Contrasting your experience with your peers who succeeded early and then feeling melancholic will only invite unnecessary contempt and will be detrimental to your own cause. It doesn’t matter “when” you exit the play, what matters is how much you cherish, learn, and grow on the stage!

A peep into the past

I rarely recall a time when I have been busier than the last week of July the previous year. My summer project was approaching its completion, my POR responsibilities were at their peak, plus resume deadlines and course registration (back when asc still used to work :P): all were culminating in a treacherously short interval of time. Furthermore, I had still not made up my mind which field interested me the most, but nonetheless, things were still looking great and optimistic with basically every item ticked in the intern checklist. I was involved in multiple projects, my CPI was good, I had a POR whose work I treasured, and based on my past record I could have ventured into both core and non-core profiles. Then what could have possibly gone wrong when everything seemed so perfect? Well as it turns out, a lot of things! Little did I know that I had signed up for a roller coaster ride!

Double Trouble 

The first couple of weeks whooshed by while attending PPTs, filling SOPs/applications, and practicing coding and aptitude tests. Charmed with all the commotion and hype surrounding the day-1 companies and their lucrative offers, it almost came as nothing less than a rude shock that I was forbidden to even apply for a large majority of them! Nope, my CPI was not abysmally low, nor did I piss off the ICs or the companies in any manner. It happens that I was blissfully unaware that being a dual-degree student, I was rather not allowed to sit for these companies due to their PPO policies or some other poppycock.

Apparently persistently bugging the company officials and the placement managers served little purpose, and I gradually missed out on many companies that I would have loved to apply to. Not being able to participate while your peers are getting busy was a harrowing experience, but that was not the end of it!

Out of the few day-one companies that had shortlisted me, gradually I was rejected by all of them one by one. The day-one period whizzed past me as swiftly as it had arrived, and the FOMO of not getting a top-shot intern started consuming me. The “Craxx Machaxx” posts on Facebook timelines (:P) did no less to further aggravate my woes. 

Not willing to lose heart, I still resolved to do better thereafter and interviewed for several coveted companies like McKinsey, Adobe, Morgan Stanley, AmEx, and many others, yet the result was all the same. Something was seriously amiss and it was certainly not my resume or test performances (since I was getting shortlisted everywhere and pretty much nailing all the coding & aptitude tests). Gradually, after consulting with seniors and introspecting, I started to polish my interview skills and zeroed in on the mistakes I committed in previous interviews.

Enters Walmart 

By the time Walmart arrived, I had already started applying externally through LinkedIn as a backup, and it was not wrong to say that all the rejections had started to take a big toll on me. In fact, I signed up for the JAF practically at the last hour and only because the work profile was highly diverse and looked somewhat interesting. 

The selection procedure was straight forward, there was a technical round and later interviews were scheduled. The technical round was divided into two sections, the first having a couple of typical coding questions and the second one containing MCQs from various concepts in CS like cryptography, SQL, machine learning, and HTML. I don’t quite remember the duration of the test, but I do remember that I arrived 10 mins late for no particular reason at all. That much how half-hearted my endeavor was! 

The interview shortlist was announced a little while later and I was a bit surprised that the company had jumped the technical interview and was conducting the HR round straight away. The HR round went pleasantly as well, with questions centering majorly around the growth and prospects of the company in India, the space it is trying to capture here, the work and the teams involved, and a general discussion over my past projects.

Habituated to not expecting anything after interviews, I was indeed taken aback after seeing my name in the final selection list. Guess nonchalance is the first step to success!

The COVID Conundrum 

“Man plans and God laughs.” 

The way this whole Covid situation has unraveled, God’s ribs and facial muscles must be aching from all the hysterical laughter he has been getting for the past five months. In the wake of innumerable ruined plans for Bengaluru peppered by all the pandemonium of vacation-preponing and semester rescheduling, Walmart adapted brilliantly and was in fact one of the foremost companies to facilitate virtual onboarding. 

The intern duly commenced in the second week of April and after all the orientation formalities, virtual desktops (VDIs) were configured on our lappies, and we were put in touch with the project managers. There was a little bump in the road though as we were not allowed to choose our projects ourselves (as intended previously) due to such short notice and potential hassles in an online internship. 

Personally speaking, I was a part of the Global Data Platforms team and was soon communicated the objectives and details of my project, which was to integrate a knowledge-sharing platform in the company’s existing MLP. Having no past experience with SSH backend I had to figure out a lot of stuff to get started. The documentation of the knowledge-sharing platform was itself scarce and was fairly new to have considerable open-source support. 

Ironing out the details and all the nitty-gritty about integration and operation of the platform, I again had to gain proficiency in tools like Docker and Kubernetes for large scale deployments. The next part was to then enhance and figure out several utilities like Git integration and implementing authentication frameworks on the MLP. 

A side objective was also to accomplish a comprehensive (comprehensive being an understatement) market study of similar open-source knowledge platforms, fathoming a way to integrate their basic components on the MLP and assessing them. Eventually, a final presentation, which summarized my findings and progress, was conducted by me in front of the managers and other members of the team.

The project was certainly in the domain that I had not anticipated or desired for, however, the experience in itself was still an enriching one, mainly because of the support I received from the mentor assigned to me. The communication, if sporadic, was largely because of my intermittent pace (I do like to lax sometimes 😛 even writing this helpful[?] blog took me a couple of days). But even at very odd hours (way past midnight), I was assured to get a reply almost instantaneously on Slack, and on-call if urgent. There was no detailed timeline as such, and sufficient time was provided to catch up with concepts and complete tasks at one’s own comfort rate. 

The slow speed of VDI was a pain in the arse though, but again God craved for his share of amusement! 

But what if you hadn’t gotten into Walmart??

I will quote Maya Angelou here, “Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”

The internship season was nowhere close to ideal for me and I flunked some big opportunities for myself, not once but multiple times, so much so that I had actively begun contacting seniors, alumni, and literally anyone who could provide any sort of guidance for company apping. I was indeed preparing for the worst, and here are some of the pointers, based on my observations and understanding that might suit you too:

(i) Start by shortlisting all the companies that you will like to be a part of, and be extra careful to exclude those companies that have already arrived. There is a penalty or something for that, better not take the risk!

(ii) Prepare a cover letter, not a longish one, containing just a brief intro of yourself, your interests and motivation (most important), achievements, and work experience till now. Be mindful of including IIT-B in the first line and make sure that the letter doesn’t span more than a few sentences. Feel free to attach a link to your webpage/resume though.

(iii) Identify and connect on LinkedIn with the company officials, preferably belonging to IIT-B, and message them your cover letter. Now here’s the most vital part: Connect with those executives only that lie hierarchically above the HR, and can assert their will. For example, target partners in analytics or consulting firms, plant/country heads for supply chain roles, director/senior-associates in PE firms, etc. That way you will be assured that your endorsement will not be obliterated.

(iv) Don’t get restricted to LinkedIn, use other channels like emails as well. Top officials might be difficult fish to catch over LinkedIn due to all the spam they receive, hence mailing is also an effective way to reach them. If it comes to be, don’t be reluctant to even contact the CEO/MD of the company. Adjust your cover letter accordingly for mails.

(v) App at a kairotic moment. Each company has some timeline in which it designates and plans its projects, and apping in accordance with that can yield more favorable results. For consult and analytics firms, try to approach companies during the year-end (Dec to Jan). Similarly, banks and FMCG companies can also be contacted in Nov – Jan. Also, try building your relations before these timeframes, it’s better to acquire a sense of familiarity first with the person who will be referring to you.

(vi) Keep taking follow ups and updates through polite messages about the progress or situation of your application/referral, the frequency depending upon the post and busyness of the person.

(vii) Take the help of tools/extensions like Rapportive to dig out the official company IDs of the executives you are failing to get a response from on LinkedIn.

(ix) Many companies have a dedicated portal for internships too. Stay vigilant about those portals and their application timelines.

We all hope for the best, that’s the easy part, but preparing for the worst is what pulls you up back when life kicks down. Getting an intern through the Internship Cell is the best, but given the current COVID situation, there is a possibility that some of you might have to brace for the worst and in that regard, I hope these bullets might have been of some use!

Last few morsels of Gyan

Enduring the thick of the intern season with things working out in just the opposite way they were meant to, I am more than qualified to comment on things that you should not do during this whole internship process, especially interviews:

(i) Do not be reckless about your resume: Your resume is your reflection and you must know it like the back of your hand. If you have exaggerated your undertakings or inflated your achievements, learn either to defend them well or stand tall to whatever you have written. Best is to avoid taking the interview in that direction and being fully prepared for any possibility of cross-questioning. It takes only a slight misstep to convince the interviewer to drop you for the next round!

(ii) Don’t overspeak: Exhibiting a genuine enthu and keenness about your profile is certainly a green flag, but don’t overplay it. Listen, listen, and listen to what the interviewer says and acknowledge his points. Treat your words as a commodity and use them judiciously. Quality over quantity!

(iii) Research the profile (in JAF) and the company well: This is relevant not just for HR purposes but for technical rounds as well. You must have a basic picture of the role that you are applying for and general knowledge about the company. Wikipedia and Google-news will serve more than enough for the latter. Actively contact your seniors who have been recruited by the companies or appeared for the interviews to gain valuable insights.

(iv) Apes Together Strong: The best way to gauge where you stand is to form preparation groups with your friends and practice interview situations. The experience of actually interacting with a real person is indispensable and far more ameliorating than the most stimulating scenarios in your head. Also, create an HR doc containing personalized answers to all the customary questions asked during the HR rounds and critique it with your peers.

(v) Presentation always trumps knowledge: Be confident and inquisitive. Don’t let nervousness or anxiety reflect upon your mannerisms even if you are terrified from the inside. Take deep breaths if it helps. The interviewer is not there to frighten you and will make you comfortable. Communicate well, that’s the key to selection.

There are also some prevalent myths that I would like to bust:

  1. Day No. One: Maybe if David Dhawan was to direct a movie on IIT-B internships, this is the title he would choose. Sorry for the absolutely terrible pun there but that is exactly how ridiculous the fascination with Day-1 companies actually is. I am in no way belittling the monumental achievement of cracking a day-one company but even if you don’t make it, don’t beat yourself too hard for it practically results in little to no difference. It is a common trend that many unsuspecting people blindly flock to these companies without even having a motive to do so, just to ride the hype and avoid the fear of missing out. And then when a string of rejection follows, all momentum and confidence are lost. Contemplate where and why you actually want to go and fill JAFs according to that only. You don’t want to get stuck in a role that you despise in a company that you won’t like to work for. Frankly, a lot of companies visit IIT-B and if you play your cards right, you won’t be left hanging. You need to not screw just one interview!
  2. Overglorifying PORs: If you have one, well and good! But if you don’t have a “decent” 3rd year POR, don’t get tormented by it. Your past internship experiences hold as much weightage, if not more! And many companies shortlist solely through aptitude or coding tests.
  3. Judging an intern by its Stipend: Might sound cliche, but don’t do it. Out of a list of all the deciding criteria, the stipend amount must be your last. Reputable companies, if they hire you eventually, will pay considerably more salaries and you are here to learn, not to make money. For many of you, this will be your first professional experience, and your learning curve will not necessarily correlate with the stipend amount.

I was no saint either. I believed in these myths as well, especially the first and the third one. However, perspective changes gradually, and one realizes that even the day-one companies cancel internships, hand out irrelevant projects, or reduce the internship durations, whereas low stipend companies can also provide a wholesome and the best of work experiences. 

The ideal practice, of course, is to spot your field of interest early on and then work upon it. But if you are clueless even at the dawn of the internship season, just like me, then also don’t blindly sign a JAF. Instead, ruminate if you actually are interested in the work being offered. And of course, don’t forget to smile and take things lightheartedly, else you will become your own foe and spoil your chances further. Third year internships are crucial but they are still not the end of the world! 

A stroke of luck, a tinge of randomness, and a factor of choice also often snowball to give you the exhilaration of selection or the agony of defeat. Many a time you will witness people, no more deserving than you, getting recruited into prominent companies over you, or the evident cracks in the selection process turning out to your disadvantage. But the trick is to stay focused, unfazed, and level headed, and to learn the maximum out of every failure. For it is all part of the game. A game you must play! And you must play your part well! 

Feel free to approach for any kind of help! Cheers!

5 months ago