The 5 Questions to Ask Before You Accept an Engineering Internship

For a grad student in engineering, landing the right summer internship is incredibly important. It provides an opportunity to apply your education, exposes you to real world applications of technology, and builds your professional network. 

The process of landing a good summer internship, on the other hand, is a very tricky one. Not only are these internships competitive, but there are so many additional factors in play. First, there is an irrational amount of luck involved. You apply to hundreds of companies and receive an interview opportunity from just a handful of them. Second, you don’t want to jump in and accept an offer too soon - there might be a better one just around the corner! Third, you might end up with a choice, and not a very straightforward one too.

I went through all of this when determining where I would spend my summer internship. Now that I’m back at ThoughtSpot in a full-time role, after about 6 months as an intern, I realize these factors had indeed worked in my favor.

I did my undergrad in Electronics and Communication Engineering from The Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee. At that time, I was fortunate enough to be able to get a job in the software industry and thus permanently switch my domain. I worked as a software engineer at Goldman Sachs for 2 years and then at Cisco for 1 year.

It turned out to be a motivation for me to pursue higher education in computer science, and thus, I enrolled in Texas A&M University, College Station as a masters student. Whereas many of my peers were interested in carrying out research with their degree in computer science, I was more interested in getting an academic understanding of the CS fundamentals. With that decision in mind, I knew a proper summer internship after the two semesters was pivotal, both in terms of putting my knowledge to practical use and choosing the next step in my career. As I realize now, the internship experience at ThoughtSpot was the perfect stepping stone.

I joined as an engineering intern at ThoughtSpot in the summer of 2018. Before I got my masters, and having worked for two different multinational corporations in less than three years, I had a good idea of what I wanted and what I didn’t from my internship. It boiled down to five questions I think every student should ask before they accept an internship.

Are You Excited by the Work You’ll Do?

Interns need to ask themselves if they’re excited by the actual nature of the work they’re tasked with. I spent the first two semesters during masters experimenting with multiple domains - systems, theory, and machine learning. I developed a specific interest in building scalable and high performance systems.

ThoughtSpot made my decision to join incredibly easy by not only telling me about my team, but the specific project I’d be working on before I even accepted. This established trust between me and the company and made it very comfortable to make the decision.

After accepting the offer, I had an extensive discussion with my mentor about the specific part of the project I would be working on. I had barely accepted the offer and already, I was learning specifics about the product and exchanging ideas! I joined the backend database team, where we are building the fastest cloud native database in the world. I loved how focused everyone was on achieving the goal, yet still open minded and interested in making the best possible choice for every minute detail.

Given my project, I had the chance to interact with not only my manager and team but across teams as well. With my project being across product, I was constantly in touch with almost every other team in the engineering division. People I talked to were always open to discussions. Working with such a passionate bunch, even for such a short time, simply reinforced my interests in the systems domain. I knew what I wanted to do for the next few years.

Are You Creating Real Value?

To me, it is very important to work on something that generates value. It motivates me and extracts the best out of me. For anyone considering an internship, consider what value you’re creating for the world around you.

I wanted to create lasting impact during my internship at ThoughtSpot, and that’s exactly what I was able to do. I worked on a standalone project with the goal of making compute and storage of the database completely independent so that they can scale separately. Storage was being moved to the cloud. It was the first step for the product to move towards a cloud native model and I was given the responsibility to come up with an end-to-end design. After many brainstorming sessions, I followed up the design with the implementation, and later put it into production.

This project was so critical to the company’s future direction, and was a huge opportunity for me to learn, grow and understand the importance of responsibility at a crucial stage in my career. This sort of an opportunity is very rarely available in giant tech companies. This is such a key difference - the company shows trust in you and gives you have the chance to demonstrate your worth.

Are You Learning from the Best?

For any internship, the people you’re surrounded by will shape what you learn and how you grow, so you need to ask yourself if you’re really learning from the best. At ThoughtSpot, I got to work very closely with some of the smartest minds in the Valley. What amazed me is how everyone not only seemed to be completely in control of the projects they owned, but also have answers to seemingly random questions about the product.

The determination of everyone in the company to solve highly challenging problems in a fast, efficient way is infectious. Given the space ThoughtSpot operates in, we not only have to move quickly, but do it without sacrificing quality. I noticed that there is a lot of patience and support from the managers and the decision makers to balance these two needs.

Above all, the humility and down to earth nature of everyone at the company was phenomenal. It made my experience not only one of technical learning but also one of personality management at a very high level. Nothing demonstrated that more succinctly than when one of the founders of the company himself called me before my internship to answer any questions I had.

Am I Inspired by the Company’s Vision?

At the end of the day, an internship is an opportunity to showcase your skills and prove yourself for a full-time role at the company. And, for me to decide something as futuristic as that, I wanted to be sure the company is headed in the right direction, both from a business standpoint and whether the problem it is trying to solve impacts the world in a positive way. After I began my internship, all my questions were answered.

From day one, everything was transparent - the goals of the company, the roles and responsibilities of individuals and teams, the many high-profile customers of the product and above all, a very, very high hiring bar. In the analytics domain, ThoughtSpot competes with some very established players and to get to the pinnacle, ThoughtSpot is solving the hardest problem in analytics: adoption. In that sense, with the goal in mind, the energy and enthusiasm in the office every day is contagious and makes it very easy to love the job and the mission.

Is There More to the Internship Than Work?

While an internship is a great opportunity to sharpen your work skills, it’s also where you’re going to be spending most of your waking hours. It’s why it’s so important to ask yourself what the company does to immerse you in its culture.

At ThoughtSpot, I got more than I even asked for when it came to inclusion in exciting engineering and product events. For example, the annual engineering Hackathon is held during the summer so that interns can participate. The entire product team, including the interns, also went off site for 2 full days to work on new ideas.

Apart from all of this, ThoughtSpot has an amazing HR team who worked hard on making the internship experience fun. Events were organized to take periodic breaks from work.

We went bowling, whale watching, played paintball, watched a soccer game, visited a theme park, and even had a 2-day product release party in the beautiful Monterey. Everything from appreciation posts on our internal Slack channel to playing soccer in the lawns to watching the World Cup together made my internship a beautiful experience - something I feel is unique to ThoughtSpot and the culture.

I completed my Masters in December 2018 and after a brief (kidding, 2 months!) vacation, I joined ThoughtSpot in a full-time position. It is an exciting time to join the company - we just moved to an office four times bigger, invested in our team in India, and launched some exciting new products. Everybody is just as motivated as before, the goals and ambitions as transparent as before; the only difference is there are lots of new faces! During my internship, I worked with extremely smart people, strengthened my expertise in my domain of interest and established a career path, I delivered a project of high value, made new friends and developed great admiration for a company, its values and its mission. I look forward to something similar and I know we’ll achieve a lot more, together.

If you are reading this as a potential intern who wants to know more, or just anyone who wants to hear any specific things about my experience, feel free to drop me an email at [email protected].