How I ended up with the internship
My internship supervisor initially contacted me on LinkedIn in early spring 2015. He was interested because I mentioned about being a member of TOKI (Tim Olimpiade Komputer Indonesia) Alumni in my profile. After going through a typical intern recruitment process, I finally received the offer to work as a research intern at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington.
For students studying full-time outside the US, it is much easier to do internship in the States after going for an exchange program in the country. Some universities allow exchange students to extend their J-1 visa in order to do an internship or a research so that they would not need to apply for working visa. For instance, as an exchange student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), I was able to extend my J-1 visa by applying for a program called academic training. However, the internship must be full-time and I had to show the job offer letter to apply.
The Microsoft Research Experience
During the three-month internship, I was assigned to the machine learning team. The team writes its own Artificial Neural Network (ANN) framework and mainly works on enhancing its performance in terms of both classification accuracy and efficiency. What astounded me was the fact that the team exposed all the codes to me. I even had the opportunity to modify some parts of the framework as one of my main tasks.
The beginning of my internship was tough. I felt extremely inadequate compared to the full-time employees and other interns; all of them seemed to be highly proficient in what they do, while it took several weeks for me to grasps the functionalities in the NN framework. Fortunately, my colleagues and direct supervisor were very helpful and they actually allowed me some room to catch up with the rest, on top of having the freedom to explore what I am interested in. Most interns seem to echo my sentiment.
Apart from writing codes and playing with the Neural Network, there were many events organized specially for interns. We had a hiking event, an ice cream event, and a bowling event prepared for us; we also had the annual Puzzle Day where interns had to compete in teams to solve puzzles created by full-time employees and even a soccer match between interns and full-time employees. The one that left the most impression was the Microsoft Intern Signature Event. There were loads of food, and beer (unfortunately I was under 21 years old when I did my internship) on top of a concert organized for interns. They didn’t leave the event empty handed as well as the company always prep special gifts for the interns.. This year, we had private Maroon 5 concert and each took home a Surface 3. Until now, I still think that it was an unbelievable experience.
Microsoft Research has always reminded me of a huge playground. There were so many interesting projects going on during my internship, I had the chances to witness some prototypes and at some point event got directly involved in the development stage. For example I remembered seeing a dress displayed in the corner of the room, with a shelf full of clothing materials beside it. My fellow intern’s office actually looked like a comfortable living room at home, complete with a sofa and a carpet to easily test and measure whether his prototype is convenient or comfortable enough to be used in living rooms. One of the prototypes that I had the chance to get involved in was when a fellow intern got me involved in an experiment where I got to test her self-made heart rate tracker wristband.
What I took away from the internship
Interning at Microsoft Research was an incredible journey for me. Since most of the interns were PhD students, I got to understand what it would be like pursuing PhD degree. For example, a lot of interns took some weeks off to attend conferences. Some actually did the internship for the sake of writing a paper. Hence, it actually gave me insights into whether I should go to a graduate school. Moreover, Microsoft Research is not restricted to only Computer Science or Electrical Engineering majors. One fellow intern, who experimented her heart-rate measuring device on me, is currently studying Mechanical Engineering. In conclusion, it is a unique experience where I had the opportunity to meet amazing and highly skilled people I can learn from and work with and to be pushed out of my comfort zone to go explore the field I was working in.
During the internship at Microsoft Research I had the chance to interact with a few PhD students from different majors, not only from Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, and thus had a glance of what it is like to pursue a graduate study. Being enrolled in PhD programme means that there would be a lot of conferences to attend and even write papers alongside the internship, it actually gave me insights into what it is like to pursue a graduate degree. On top of that, I also had the chance to interact with people who came from different backgrounds as people who work in Microsoft come from different walks of life. I was pushed out of my comfort zone through having opportunities to interact and work with them, on top of having the amazing opportunity to explore the field I am really interested in.
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Photos credit: Author’s own collection