I am Mohd Abbas Zaidi, a final year undergraduate student from Electrical Engineering. At the end of my second year, I found it very difficult to narrow down the areas where I would try to get an intern. Having done a project during summers, I decided that I would apply for IT companies during the internship season. I started coding practice at the start of my 5th semester, which was too late. I finally ended up in South Korea working in the Language Understanding Lab at Samsung Research Headquarters in Seoul.
The first round involved shortlisting on the basis of CPI (>9.5). It was followed by a software test, commonly referred to as Advanced level coding test at Samsung.
The test usually focuses on DP and Graph based problems. You will not be allowed to use standard template libraries during the test. However, we were given 3 hours for 1 problem, which seemed to be sufficient.
The final round consisted of interviews, the technical interviews again focussed on Graph and DP based problems. The HR interview seemed to be very important, it is advised to have a good idea of whatever you write in your resume. The interviewers, especially for Technical Interview were not comfortable with the Indian accent. It is important to speak slowly and loudly.
Samsung has 5 divisions namely Mobile, Visual Display, Digital Appliances, Networks and Samsung Research(SR). The company provided a list of projects and asked us to fill out our preferences. The projects covered most of the areas under ML, it also included IOT, Autonomous Vehicles, Cloud Platform and Networks. Most of us at Kanpur got the first choice that we filled up, I got an NLP based project under Samsung Research.
Orientation: The research division of Samsung is situated in Seoul. However, I stayed in Suwon for the orientation programme. The orientation was mostly formalities, the best part was the visit to the Samsung Innovation Museum. The interaction session with Indians and IIT-alumni working at Samsung was particularly interesting.
The SR interns were moved to Seoul after the orientation. We were given well-furnished apartments in Gangnam which is one of the most lively areas of Seoul. The Seoul campus was literally located at the foothills of a mountain, with trekking trails starting next to it. The view from my lab was serene and I spent a lot of time gazing at the clouds. Whenever I felt exhausted from work, there were a lot of options I could choose from. There was a lounge having a massage chair, a playstation, a coffee machine, and a darts board. We also had an awesome sleeping room, foosball table and an electronic basketball ring.
Work Experience: After visiting my lab, I was allowed to choose the final project myself. I had done two machine learning courses as OEs, namely Introduction to ML and NLP. The NLP course helped me to grasp the very basic concepts at the start of my project. However, I had to go through quite a lot of papers and course-work to understand my project. In crude terms my work was focussed on helping QA Systems mimic human-generated answers. This can be applied to personal assistants to make them more humane.
I was lucky to have a fantastic mentor. He was very patient during the initial learning phase. The best thing was that in spite of being at a very senior position, he never made me feel the hierarchy. I was in a team where almost everyone was comfortable with English. The team members were really helpful and friendly. The outings with them were always fun.
The final internship evaluation consisted of an HR Interview, mentor’s feedback, project presentation and coding tests (we had three of them). Talking about working hours, we had to spend 8 hours a day in the office. There were multiple instances when my mentor asked me to leave early when he noticed that I was putting in extra hours.
Food: The non-vegetarian guys can expect to have the most exotic food options. I would focus on vegetarian food because that is the main concern. The interns in Suwon got Indian vegetarian meals 3 times a day. The Seoul interns got vegetarian options at the breakfast, and an Indian meal for lunch. We also had fruits, nuts, milk, juices and bread available in the cafeteria. Although the Indian vegetarian food was too expensive, there were other affordable veg options easily available in Gangnam. We also had a mini-kitchen in our apartments and cooking was fun. My mentor helped me a lot in finding the vegetarian options.
I cannot end this section without mentioning that a lot happens over coffee in Korea. Most of the discussions I had with my teammates were during this time. Language is a huge barrier here because most of the discussions the team members have among themselves were in Hangul (Korean).
Travel and Fun: Seoul is an excellent place in terms of the city-life. There are beautiful parks, trekking trails, beaches, cycling tracks and amusement parks, all within the city border. The public transport system is really cheap and comfortable. This was particularly exciting for me since I have lived in a small town for most of my life. The weather too was pleasant during most of our stay. Something which I strongly disliked at first was the smell of the sea-food, which was spread across most of the markets and streets.
I found the Korean people very humble and helpful. There were a number of instances where strangers came forward to help me. I observed that the behaviour was not limited to foreigners. The greetings and bows help create a very positive environment.
Although language is an issue, translators come in really handy while travelling. Being able to read Hangul (which is very easy) helps a lot. The company arranged a trip for us to the Gyeongbokgung palace, Insadong market and the Lotte World Tower. We also went trekking to Gwanaksan with seniors from IITs. This was my first trekking experience and I enjoyed it to the fullest.
A random trip to Naksan park turned out to be really exciting since the place had stunning views to offer at the sunset. The co-interns were really cool and were almost always ready to have fun. Unplanned trips to parks, river banks, markets were never disappointing.
We also went to the DMZ (the demilitarized zone around the border). The trip was particularly interesting because I had already visited the War Memorial of Korea.
Talking about things I disliked, the fact that almost everyone was busy with their smartphones made it very difficult to initiate a conversation. I realised that getting to know someone was much more difficult as compared to making good friends with those whom you already knew. The other things were the smell of alcohol in the subway on weekends and the omnipresent smell of seafood (which I already mentioned before).
Since Samsung Korea itself is a very big firm, it becomes imperative to mention that the experience is highly subjective depending on the mentor, the team and the lab. Considering the fact that it is the quality of work which matters more than anything else, Samsung is one of the best industry intern options for CSE/EE students. I would summarise by saying that my internship experience at Samsung was much better than what I expected it to be. It has been three weeks since I returned back and I am missing Korea much more than I expected.
PS: Ping me in case of any queries.