University is a realm of academics, with drops of some fluid of practicality. One often cannot pursue the industry by confining himself into the dorm-room of a campus. It’s like the frog who croaks of the outer world whilst living in a pit. I often thought that I could extrapolate the industry norms from what I have heard and learned at my university — but I could not have been more wrong. The six-month industrial training period was an eye-opener for me as almost all of my extrapolations were flawed.
Competition is in-built to our blood from our young ages. So we weren’t built to work in collaboration; instead, we were told to surpass our best friend — the person sitting next to us. We ran a race for grades, where most of us never failed; always had straight A’s — thus failure was not our thing. We were used to be discreet — imposing constraints with the rest of the world as we could often get “ganged-up” with the wrong type of society — thus we were not prominent communicators. We were used to locking ourselves in our rooms and study for hours — thus we were not good at confrontation. We weren’t used to changes — we yearned for things to stay at their initial state. We were a lot of things — but we weren’t industry material. Here I will compile my experience in the industry as a trainee, and provide some lessons I’ve learned so that my peers and juniors can take something out of this.
To the reader...
I decided to write up this article once my internship was done — but I procrastinated a little due to various reasons which I would not utter here. This procrastination actually lead me to talk with my peers who had been in internships in different organizations (even abroad), so that I could fuse their own ideas and experiences to this article, and make this article more fruitful! Procrastination does not always lead to vague outcomes — sometimes it is needed in life to carry on. (Take a look at this TED talk by Tim Urban)
Some lessons I hereby compile were followed by my own self, and some that I did not follow and I learned to follow afterward. Heed this article as a wee-helper to remind you of what is expected, and good things to follow, when you’re taking an internship.
Lessons from Industry…
Structuring this article was a huge problem for me. I often like to write creatively, but creative writing is not the goal of this article — it is to convey messages. Therefore, I would list down and explain the lessons I have learned in an ordinary and a simple manner.
Lesson #1 — Realize your goal
Before attempting to get any task done, make sure that you know what you are up to. That is, always keep a very clear idea on what are you going to accomplish. If the line between the present, that is before the internship and the future, that is after the internship is blurry, you may not be able to pluck the fruits of an internship. There’s a prominent interview question which is asked in several organizations that I know; the question is “Where would you see yourself in five years time?”. Apply the question to your circumstance — where would you see yourself after your internship? Do you see yourself as a person who is more technically savvy, a person who is more confident in his soft-skills or both?
It’s up to you to decide. The decision depends on the current situation that you are in. If you are technically savvy already, the chances are that you might still not be industrial material, as technology is not the driving factor in the industry. What drives a person in the industry, is his overall capability to co-operate. In other words, what makes a person stand out in a corporate environment is his/her ability to contribute to the workflow. Not the knowledge he/she has accumulated beforehand. It does not matter if you are a genius — the only thing that matters is your input to the organization.
What you must notice, is that technologies are changing very frequently, and the resources for learning are freely available. The efforts of J.C.R. Licklider and the group gave us internet and Tim Berners Lee gave us the world wide web — so that information is streamlined all over the globe. What you have to do to learn is just to plug-in into this stream. However, you can’t learn how to conduct yourself this way — you have to endure hellish ordeals or failures and misfits to learn it. Therefore, realize your main goal is not to sculpt yourself technologically but to sculpt yourself into the industry culture.
Make sure that you’re there to learn. Not to spend your day by merely just doing the tasks that you’re appointed to.
Lesson #2 — Adapt to the culture of the company
Terry Eagleton is a pioneer in research on different cultures. In his book Ideology — an Introduction, Eagleton explains culture in a creative manner, depicting that the mailboxes are a result of civilization and the fact that they all are painted green (In Ireland) is a fact of culture.
The culture of a company cannot be written down and studied. It should be experienced and adapted to. Different companies emphasize their culture in different ways; the way they dress, how they organize events, their meetings, how they talk to each other, organizational hierarchies etc. All of these needs to be observed by you as an intern. It might take time to adhere to corporate culture, but it is essential.
Most of the IT companies do not enforce yourself to a dress code, but you should be aware to dress accordingly. It is highly recommended to wear shoes and proper clothing to work, giving a professional outlook.
A lot of companies are very strict on their 8-hour working time period and you need to respect and adhere to this. With confidence, I can say that I have never been late for my time at the internship. Quite often (99% of the time) I went there 1.5 hours early! (Why? I would get on to that in a different lesson) Make sure you’re at least 15 minutes early to the workplace. Otherwise, it WILL ruin your reputation both as an intern and as a student of an institution. The CTO (Chief Technology Officer) of the company that I worked for, arrived 1.5 hours early as well, where only about 5–6 employees were present at the office premises! If a busy person like the CTO can make it, any intern can make it.
Even if the company does not have an 8-hour rule, make sure that you appear early, for it will be helpful to make your brand image a better one.
Industrial training is not entirely about you learning how to do stuff; it is to build your brand image as well.
Display integrity and humbleness
Being humble becomes really important when it comes to talking with your employers. You usually are assigned to a supervisor, who has already spent a great deal of his life for the industry. Therefore, you need to respect them and their opinions. When you start an internship, usually there’s an orientation period — about one month of adjusting yourself into the environment. Make sure that you talk with other people in the organization and get to know them. You can talk about things like their past experiences, where they’re coming from, their academic background, and so on and so forth (Chances are that these talks will continue and you end up being friends). Always make sure to expand your network. In doing so, be humble to them. Talk in a lowered tone. Do not speak in high tones — which will eventually make you a know-it-all and destroy your image. Always keep in mind that supervisors are generalists and not specialists. They might not have excelled at one specific area of the industry but they certainly have a better-aggregated view on the overall picture.
“ While it seems unfair, I realize now, that is how the workplace is designed. I came to understand that my manager may not know everything I may know about the project. However, if I am working for a successful company, chances are that the selection of my manager was a deliberate decision. I may not agree with the decision but I have to live with it.” — Rajeev Agraval (In his book What I did not learn at IIT)
Another important root in company cultures is the integrity of personnel. You should take responsibility for your own work, and accept its mistakes. Do not blame on other people for your mistakes. Do not blame the existing system for your mistakes. If the current system of the organization has a flaw, it is your job to heighten it to your supervisors — which eventually make your image better as well.
However, make sure that you show the stuff you know. Present yourself into situations where you can contribute. It doesn’t matter if you get it all wrong, give your opinions. Ask what’s going on from the team leaders, and ask how you can contribute.
Open yourself to criticism
In his widely famous fiction The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde saw an inimitable phenomenon in life.
“ The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about “ — Oscar Wilde
People will talk to and about you when you’re an intern. People can either utter good of you or the bad of you — it’s up to them. You should respect those opinions in return. If those opinions are untrue, treat them with a pinch of salt, and calmly and humbly talk with the person to check what’s wrong. He/She might have had the wrong impression and it is your responsibility to correct them.
What happens most of the time is that you’re bombarded with constructive criticism, and you fail to react. Your reaction should solely be internal to yourself. You should accept the criticism and internalize them in order to make yourself better. The best lessons that you gain from an internship is through constructive criticism — as they are the ones that stick to your mind.
Daniel Radcliffe, whom we all know as Harry Potter, described versatility like this.
“I think any actor worth their salts wants to show as much versatility as they possibly can” — Daniel Radcliffe
Lesson #3 — Be a Polymath
The time period of internship is a period void of lectures, exams, and other university-related activities. Therefore, you get additional time and space to investigate yourself. Heed this additional time and space to figure out your true passion — it may be academic research, developing services, becoming an entrepreneur, becoming a lecturer, etc.
“Whatever I know how to do, I’ve already done. Therefore, I must always do what I do not know how to do” — Eduardo Chillida, a Spanish Sculptor
Most of us enter the university with one vague goal. From the childhood onwards, we had a goal. Mine was to become an Engineer. But now I know that goal was too abstract. Engineering is one of the oldest academic disciplines on the planet, and it is streamlined into different fields. At first, I wanted to become a Civil Engineer but interacting with computers (And of course, having attained good marks) made me choose Computer Science & Engineering (CSE). In my first year in university, I had chosen CSE as my specialty, and my goal had narrowed down to becoming a Software Engineer. But in the midst of my internship, I could further narrow down CSE into different fields including research. Therefore, as you progress along, you gain maturity in your field. Internship period is, therefore, a good time period to determine your future.
Whichever stream you choose as your future, make sure you carry on additional equipment in your boat, for you cannot expect what is to come. Make sure you do not get confined into perfecting one single specialty. Have supplementary faculties as well. Einstine once told Shinichi Suzuki a statement which was one of the main scriptures for Polymathy, which is stated below.
“ The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception” — Albert Einstein
Having multiple interests cause a direct positive impact on your image as well. You can contribute to the organization in various ways, which makes you an essential factor for the organization. This can certify you an opportunity for permanent employment then and there.
The key is to be different from anyone else and move further from becoming dilettantes. Industry recruiters yearn for unique personnel. Most of the people pursue one field towards perfection. Instead, try to pursue multiple fields and not to perfect every one of them. Have one main interest and support that interest with different modalities. This will help you to stand out from a monotonous crowd. For more information on Polymathy, refer to this wonderful paper by Robert Root-Bernstein.
Lesson #4— Research and Learn
Let’s dive into the worst case scenario, that you are not likely to gain what you expect from an organization. This can easily happen if you start your internship in midst of a tight sprint inside the organization. What can you do?
As I mentioned above, information is free. Harari in his book Homo Deus explains this free data paradigm as Dataism, a new religion befallen on Earth. You easily can find out stuff and learn, which is called The Research and Learn procedure. There are plenty of resources, to begin with. If you’re into learning technologies like Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, go for Coursera. If you want to learn more on software development, use Lynda, Udemy and YouTube (A good channel that I would recommend is Traversy Media). Listen to conferences like NodeConf, NgConf, Spring I/O, Google I/O, etc, to develop your technical stack.
In the organization that I did my internship, I had sophisticated work assigned for me to do. Therefore, I couldn’t afford much time watching conferences and reading books (I was too tired from the hellish public transport which took 2 hours for me to go home). I had to do a lot of research on the tasks that I was assigned for. Therefore I had to make time to watch conferences and books. Having realized this, I went 1.5 hours early to the company. The first half an hour or forty-five minutes, I would read a book (I remember reading Homo Deus, Sapiens, Emotional Intelligence, The Ancestors Tale, Tamed, Awaken the Giant Within, and Maximum Achievement). The rest, I would watch a conference such as TEDx. I can confidently say that these efforts have enhanced my knowledge, skill and the way I perceive things in real life. They were, as I call it, the “investments for the future”.
Lesson #5 — Help and work with your peers
If you’re not the only intern in the company, you have a great advantage in building your image plus helping a person in need. Do not forget the fact that you’re there because of the tremendous assistance you gained along the way. Noone achieves something by himself; they always have assistance.
Innovation is always a collaborative effort. In the introduction part (Most of the people skip the introduction; I don’t know why — It’s pretty much like the abstract of a research paper but still people skip it) of his book The Innovators, Walter Isaacson explains this fact nicely.
“The Computer and the internet are among the most important inventions of our era, but few people know who created them. They were not conjured up in a garret or garage by solo inventors suitable to be singled out to a magazine covers or put into a pantheon with Edison, Bell, and Morse. Instead, most of the innovations of the digital age were done collaboratively. There were a lot of fascinating people involved, some indigenous and a few even geniuses” — Walter Isaacson (In his book The Innovators)
In my case, I had plenty of people helping me in my endeavors. I can’t help them because they have already surpassed me but I can help my peers and juniors by assisting them in their work, which I take a little pride in doing. Being a helpful person is a direct display of a positive attitude towards collaboration. This is one crucial fact that industry people look for. This means that you get along well with others and respect others opinions. Donne once said,
“No man is an iland, intire of it selfe” — John Donne
which heightens the importance of collaboration and fellowships.
Final Lesson— Gratitude is above all
Make sure you pay proper gratitude for the people and the entities which helped you in your endeavors. Say Thank You often when you’re being offered help by any of the employees. And above all, make sure you thank the organization who nurtured you in your journey as an intern. It might not have done much, but at least it provided you a surrounding to be in.
If you did not attain the goals that you set beforehand the internship, you are partly to be blamed. Quite often the infrastructure for self-learning and gaining experience is offered by almost all the companies. You should know more than to reap the fruits of that infrastructure.
So that sums up the lessons from me for anyone who needs it. I shall remind that these are just five lessons I’ve learned out of many lessons that I cannot mention in a written text — as they are needed to be experienced in real life. However, the ones I mentioned are of crucial importance to build you a better reflection of yourself and to develop accordingly.
Hope you have a fruitful internship!