If you have watched the movie "The Internship" by Shawn Levy, the title of this post may bring back fond memories of the awesome life interns enjoy at Google in the United States.
But this post is not about the movie or the internships at Google. Today’s post talks about internships in Sri Lanka. But why?? I completed my internship very recently in the IT Systems Development Department of a leading blue chip company in Sri Lanka. Every year hundreds of undergraduates from government universities and students of private educational institutes join the industry as interns to head start their careers. But for some, it is just another compulsory requirement of their degree, diploma or the course they are following. In any case, I will cover certain information about selecting a company, getting started as an intern, life of an intern and post internship era in this blog post. Since this is written largely based on my experience as a trainee IT business analyst, content would be slightly skewed towards IT and Management domain.
Selecting a Company
Trust me folks this is the trickiest part. You will be asked to write a CV and a cover letter and apply for a placement few months in advance. This may happen through your university or institute or you may simply do this on your own. In Sri Lanka, as in every other case, you will suffer from lack of information. Unless your university or institute has very close partnerships with companies in the industry, you will have very little or basically no information to make an informed decision.
Typically the main thing you would want to know would be the types of projects or tasks you will be carrying out once you join the company. It is obvious that companies will not be willing to unveil sensitive information. But the problem is, you will be left with very little or no information. You are most likely to receive information about the technologies they use which you can anyway find in their web site. So the question is how are you going to select a company?
This is what I would suggest. Visit the web sites of companies you would like to join or the companies your university or institute has suggested. Casually run through the details about the nature of work they do, types of products and services they provide, commonly used technologies, etc. This should help you short list 6 or 7 companies. Then you can find people who did internships at these places (seniors) or even current employees and again have a casual chit-chat to get an idea about the work they perform on a daily basis. Ideally, you should narrow your options down to 3 or 4 companies. Send the CVs, and hopefully when you get the interview call up, be ready to shoot answers to the questions they fire at you. They will anyway ask typical questions such as introduce yourself, university projects you have done, why you would like to join our company, why we should hire you as an intern, etc. In addition, you are more than likely to receive questions that will test your theory knowledge since this is an internship interview. So, brush up your theory before you head for an interview.
If I were to describe the first couple of weeks of my internship in one word, I would use the word “challenging”. You are suddenly thrown into a completely new environment with people you have never seen or met before (in most cases). As human beings, we all take some time to get used to a new environment. Unlike in the university, you will not be able to enjoy utmost freedom. Travelling can be hectic. Especially with the terrible traffic situation in Colombo. You might have to change your attire from the casual denim and t-shirt to a more formal dress code. You definitely will have to give your rubber slippers a brake. You might not be able to fiddle with your phone or the iPad like you did when you were at lectures. You have to inform your supervisor if you are leaving office early or taking a day off. You will be forced into cut down on your Facebook time. Likewise, there will be several other changes that you will go through. Though it may sound tough initially, things more or less settle down within a couple of weeks.
Tips: Do not expect a truck load of work as soon as you join the company. You will be gradually eased into their projects and be prepared to spend few hours or even days doing your own stuff.
Life of an Intern
Once you get through the initial period, the real life of an intern begins. Whether you feel heavenly or dreadfully depends entirely on the workplace and your own attitude.
Work wise, generally there are two main scenarios. Certain organizations assign interns to carry out significant and important tasks. This can be challenging yet quite satisfying. When a challenge is coupled with proper guidance and supervision from the supervisors and other team members of the project group, you are definitely on the right track to better yourself. The flip side of the coin is quite awful. Certain companies recruit interns to carry out their so called “dirty tasks” and see interns as a source of cheap labor. The types of work interns get themselves involved in hardly add any real value to them and the sweat shop conditions can make the internship a real nightmare. As long as you get to contribute through value adding activities, you should be content and satisfied even if you are required to spend long hours at office.
Other than work, people around you play a massive role in defining whether your internship was a pleasant experience or a forgetful experience. One thing you should keep in mind is that, there is no such thing called good people and bad people. It is all about whether you fit into the group of people working around you or not. If you do, they will be part of your clique and you will become a part of their gang and you are definitely on your merry way. On the flip side, if you do get to work with a bunch of people who are drastically different to the types of people who you feel comfortable with, you are in for a hard time. However it all depends on your own personality. If you are flexible and willing to grind it out with anybody, you will not face any issues.
In my case, I was quite fortunate to rub shoulders with a great bunch of people. They welcomed me warmly and treated me as one of their own family members. Even work wise, I was assigned to projects with significant importance and my role was as important as any other role. Though there were not many scheduled training sessions as such, I was able to widen my horizons through hands on experience.
Training allowance or the salary you get during your internship can vary drastically depending on the organization you work for. It can be as high as 40,000 LKR per month or as low as zero. The general perception is that, more you work, more you should get in return. However in my opinion, this does not apply to internships. The correlation between the salary and the work load can in fact be completely negative.
The reason is quite clear. This is an internship or a training period. If one gets the opportunity to expand his/her knowledge, skill set and experience through value adding activities, the salary can be immaterial. Having said that, you would not be foolish to complain if they give you a hefty pay check at the end of the month. On the other hand, if you are not getting enough work or if you are not being given value adding tasks, you deserve to get a relatively higher salary or an allowance since you are wasting your valuable time. Or rather you are forced into wasting your valuable time. In any case, the monetary return should not be a decisive factor in your life as an intern.
Tips: There will be birthday treats and various other celebrations and functions quite regularly. Be prepared to put on a few kilos or spend some extra hours at the gym. I of course preferred the former.
Generally the internship period can be either 6 months or 1 year. At the end of it, you will most probably have to go through the dreaded task of preparing training reports and facing the viva-voce. But beyond that, there are certain important things worth mentioning.
Firstly, if you are planning to join the company’s permanent carder after completing your degree or the qualification, you should let them know that you are interested. Certain companies do offer part time employment on contractual basis at the end of the internship. If you are planning to join them in future, do not turn a blind eye to such a wonderful opportunity even if you are packed with undergraduate studies. Even if you have alternative career aspirations in mind, taking up such an opportunity will not be a waste of time provided the company has value adding activities in the pipeline. Unlike in the earlier scenario, now you will be in a much better position to decide whether you want to have a shot at the opportunity or simply let it go by.
Tips: Do not forget to maintain a good rapport with your office buddies even after you leave the workplace.