While applying for the company, I had no hope of landing an intern here for I had a negligible background in Computer Sciences or Mathematics which are relevant to their work. With nothing to lose, I just said what I believed in when asked why I should be given a chance when there were more qualified students lined up. I got the internship and before I knew it, I was on my way to Charlotte, the company headquarters based in US. It was my first time out of the country, so the adrenaline rush was expected. Manish Mehta, the second intern selected, had already been to US before on a research intern at Purdue University. We were received at the airport by a colleague at the office and due to some mistakes in the booking at the hotel, we were driven straight to the office. It was something we had not expected because we had just traveled for over 2 days (including our journey back home) and there we were in the office. The office suite was modest with a conference room, cabins for the higher ups and spacious cubicles for employees and a small kitchen. The people working there were very kind and considerate but also never backed down from pulling your leg. The first comments they made on meeting us were like – So you guys are from IIT, you must be very smart and can you figure out these bugs that I have in my code? The company’s co-founder and CEO Partha Sen is from IIT Roorkee, and so they obviously were just trying to pick our brains, but we did panic.
Later we were given accommodation in a nice locality. The accommodations were way better than our expectation with an all-expense paid studio apartment for each of us. The office was within 2 miles from the hotel as was the University of North Carolina. The people around were very friendly and common courtesies like holding the door or the elevator open for the next person, expressing their gratitude, wishing someone good morning or giving a stranger a warm smile were granted which seems to be a big thing now that I am back in India. The streets were safer than those in India; people tend to follow rules even when there was no one to keep a check. Also the roads were way better than back home with clear markings for lanes for going straight or to make a turn. There were pavements in all the residence areas for pedestrians. There were trails into the woods where you could go for a jog or a hike. The food was a mixed experience. The Americans have a very developed taste or putting it simply they have a very bland taste. Coming from the country famous for its spices, it was sometime difficult for me to find something savory and tasty. There were quite a few Indian restaurants and infact the food in one of them was even better than restaurants in Kanpur.
The work started gradually. We were given some smaller projects in the beginning, most concerning sales and advertising. We then helped with the Indian election predictions made by the company. You can check that out at http://www.india-polls.com. There is also a YouTube lecture series explaining how these predictions were made; you can find them on the YouTube channel of the company. Then we were involved with a movie-recommendation engine. We had a database of ratings by different users of different movies and we were to come up with recommendations of movies. We were greatly helped by Partha who had taken it as his pet project. Then we hosted the engine at http://www.movie-reco.com. We became more and more involved in the website. The first job was to get data relevant to the movies like release year, cast, posters, backdrops, and plot etc. Then we switched to social widgets, to enable people to share the results on Facebook or Twitter. But we had a problem, we had user data only up to 2006, and we needed to update it. We devised an alternate and more ambitious plan. We switched from collaborative filtering using k-nearest neighbors to orthogonal partial least squared regression. We used different filters like the cast, year of release, writers to increase the efficiency of the recommendations. These along with a login system for the website using web credentials or social networking sites like Facebook and Google+ were done in the last two weeks of our stay and have not been published on the website yet. I would keep my fingers crossed for that.
We had a lot of fun. We went on a memorable trip to Washington, which is an 8 hour bus ride from Charlotte, full of beautiful museums, statues, landmarks and historic or important places. If you have a valid driver license there are quite a few places nearby Charlotte you could go to like Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Lake Norman, and Smoky Mountains which are at max. 2-3 hour drives. Because both of us didn’t have a license, we were stuck with public transport more often than we wanted to.
We went to the Carrowinds amusement park, a must if a you are a roller-coster fanatic. The highest ride there was of 211 feet which attained a maximum speed of 80 mph and took a total time of over three and a half minutes. Then we went to the US White Water Center based in the outskirts of Charlotte. The US Olympic team practises there and the place is a treat for both the mind as well as the body. You can do river rafting or go for kayaking or try stand up paddling on a very calm surface of water and be as mesmerized as I was in the beauty of it all. I am at a loss of words to describe the calm that I felt lying on my back on an SUP board and drifting slowly with the flow of the river.
The best thing was the office environment. Contrary to my expectation of a dull, all to themselves situation, it was quite lively with people showing concern about you and your work as well as never abstaining from taking a dig at you or cracking a joke at your cost. We were also invited to the residence of Partha thrice for lunch/dinner by his very lovely wife who also happens to be an employee at the company. Since we had no cars and the public transportation was sparse, we were chaperoned around by one or the other employee from office to hotel and vice-versa and they took it very graciously and never complained if we were late and kept them waiting. It won’t be wrong to conclude that not only did I learn something valuable in my internship there but I also made some good friends and had lots of fun.
This article was written by Ashutosh Kumar, fourth year undergraduate student in the Department of Chemical Engineering at IIT Kanpur.
This article is a part of the thread My Internship Experience, as a part of the Career Series to help and guide students in their internship and placement preparations.