The Internship

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

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It's probably a tad ironic titling this post about my summer internship after the 2013 comedy film 'The Internship', based on the apparent dog-eat-dog nature of Google internships, because my experience was anything butthough hey, when else can you call your internship the internship? Despite not having watched the film and only making this claim based on viewing the trailer, an actual internship at Google is nothing like what the movie depicts. Rather than the portrayed hyper-competitive environment where interns are pitted against one another for a permanent job at the company, I found myself surrounded by the most encouraging, supportive and nurturing people in my twelve weeks there. 

Truly, summer this year has been nothing short of being one of the best experiences of my life and I am filled with immense gratitude for the opportunity. Even now, as I look back, my heart just bursts with moments of 'did-that-really-happen-to-me', and sheer excitement for the future. In my previous post, I explored some of my motivations behind wanting to work at Google. And in this one, I shall attempt to cover how the internship really was for me in three major aspects–the programme, the culture and people, and of course, the work!

Disclaimer: All views expressed below are my own. 

The internship programme 

For what it's worth, I never felt alone throughout the course of my internship. In a couple of my previous workplaces, I had been the only intern. While that comes with its fair share of pros, it can get quite lonely at times. At Google, the programme made me feel supported and equipped to do well. For all the ambiguity that the company prides itself for (which was really evident in the work), the internship was really structured with support systems in place whenever we needed it.

Not only were we exposed to the leaders of the company through bi-weekly talks and occasional workshops, there were also opportunities for us to bond with fellow interns and take charge of planning activities for the batch. I was part of the intern offsite planning committee, which cumulated into a day of fun activities for all the interns in the Southeast Asia region (those not based in Singapore were flown over), and was one of the highlights of summer.

With the intern offsite planning committee onboard our yacht! :) Honestly loved our weekly meetings leading up to this as it made for a good break from "regular" work. 

All the activities allowed me to get to know several of my fellow interns on a personal level, and we hung out a lot–think morning breakfasts, the occasional lunches, mid-day pantry raids, after-work karaoke sessions (both outside the office and in the office's jamming studio), and trips to the Geylang Serai night bazaar to bring our non-Singaporean friends around. We got really close really fast, which was to be expected from the frequency we were all seeing each other, which wasn't a bad thing! It was comforting to know that there was a bunch of people I could always turn to at work. 

The breakfast gang–we would be in the office really early just to grab breakfast together. 

Taking advantage of the photogenic nature of our office in between meetings!

I also appreciated the regular check-ins and formal evaluations we had with the People Ops (i.e. HR) team and my intern host (i.e. my direct manager)–it made me a lot more certain about my progress for my assigned project, and also gave me a sensing of how I was performing. They always came from a non-judgmental place, which gave me the confidence to improve myself. 

The culture & people 

Imagine meeting your team for the very first time on your second day of being in the office, and then getting whisked off to a cooking competition after work and having to cook chilli crab from scratch. Or getting invited to chill out at a rooftop barbecue at my intern host's place in the second week of work.

Google's open work culture is not a myth. Yet, while I recognized my privilege of having an intern host who made sure I was never left out of anything, it was admittedly slightly–no I mean extremely–unnerving for me at the start, being a super introvert by nature. In the first two weeks of my internship, I was completely overstimulated by the number of people I was meeting and speaking to in a day.

For a while, I contemplated voicing out my concerns about feeling overwhelmed to my host but later realized it would probably be unhealthier to keep everything in. He took to my disclosure so kindly, and alongside several full-timers on the team, took the time to share with me how they felt when they first joined Google and how they understood it might be "too much" especially for an undergraduate. It was comforting to hear, but at the same time I knew I had to put in a lot more effort on my end to assimilate into the culture.

To ease myself into it, I took full advantage of a coffee chat directory prepared by the People Ops team, which is essentially a compilation of Googlers who indicated that they were open to speaking to interns about anything under the sun. It may seem odd that I tried to tackle how intimidated I felt by reaching out to meet even more people. But in hindsight, it was probably psychologically beneficial for me to take full control of who I was meeting, and to lead and steer conversations. It was also helpful getting to know Googlers personally as people–humans are a lot less scary once you associate a story to each one of them. And truth be told, I genuinely enjoyed learning about what everyone else was doing both within and outside the company.

It's pretty insane how a mere intern was welcome to reach out to anyone in the company to grab a coffee with, and be 99% sure that it was going to happen. I appreciated that immensely, because I met some of the most wonderful people through my coffee chats, who dished out brilliant life advice or a much-needed mid-day laugh. They were always so encouraging–one even pointed out how much more confident I was towards the end of my internship, in comparison to when he first met me in my second week. It was evident how sincerely they cared for us as interns, which I personally felt was indicative of how employees treated each other as well.

Of course, there were also things like Memegen, an internal meme generator which I spent lazy Wednesday afternoons scrolling through, and TGIF or 'Thank Google It's Friday', one of the hallmarks of Google's culture. Apart from the themed food and free booze from 4pm every Friday, the weekly all-hands that we could watch online or stream live from the Mountain View office allowed everyone to get up to speed with the latest developments in the company. From my perspective, this initiative was pretty successful in making employees feel involved, appreciated, and celebrated–which probably translates to an increase in motivation at work. 

A pride-themed TGIF with rainbow coloured food!

The work 

From the onset, I knew that all the glitzy employee welfare benefits that Google was known for, had the huge potential to tamper with my evaluation of the actual work I was doing there. And in the long run, that'd be dangerous. Massage sessions and amazing food, or even monetary compensation, would not be able to sugar-coat the actual work I was doing in a sustainable manner if I genuinely hated it. I needed to view the work as work in itself.

And boy, I actually do love it. Without revealing too much of what I was actually doing, I'd just like to say how lucky I feel to have been a part of the Next Billion Users' Google Pay team. These products are actually built in the Singapore office and being able to see a product through conception to execution was an eye-opener, to say the least. This was also the first time I tried my hand at product marketing, which thwarted all preconceived notions I had about marketing typically only coming in only as a publicity method after the product has already been created. Admittedly, I used to doubt the role marketing played in the larger scheme of a company's operations, but this internship exposed me to how important and fulfilling it can actually be.

No lie though, the work had an insanely steep learning curve. I didn't have day-to-day tasks assigned to me, and it was more of a prompt: to figure out what we were going to do for a particular product in a particular geography. This "product" has not even been created and I had complete freedom in deciding what was going into it. It was insanely ambiguous and I might have only properly understood my project about one month into the internship–which is hilarious when I look back on it now, but was undoubtedly a major source of anxiety for me then. When I did eventually carve out a doable scope for my project, work became a lot more enjoyable.

On a personal level, I was hit with imposter syndrome real hard throughout my twelve weeks there–or at least my host was certain I was. I still stand by the fact that I am an actual imposter because acknowledging that I have the syndrome would mean that I am convinced the doubts I have about myself are unwarranted. Yet, my host was the most patient and encouraging mentor ever, who gave me so many opportunities, played to my strengths and interests, and gave my work exposure to the larger team as well. He saw so much more in me than I ever saw in myself, and I cannot be more thankful that he chose me as his intern and continued supporting me throughout my internship and beyond.

I am incredibly humbled to have been given the opportunity to work at Google, something I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I'd be able to do. Summer was undoubtedly 1% sitting at my desk searching for the right answers, and 99% 'I'm feeling lucky!' And I can barely sit still for what's to come in the near future. 
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