Name: Octavio Avila-Cardet
Hometown: Guantanamo, Cuba
What is your major? Computer science
Where did you intern? What did you do there? I interned for Microsoft as a software engineer. I worked in the core services department where internal tools and software that will be used by other Microsoft employees are developed. My team was responsible for developing a data reporting application to allow teams to perform data reporting on Excel using their data. The application is used by approximately half of the company (a little more than 50,000 users).
How did you get your internship? I got my internship by attending a career fair at FIU in fall 2017, hosted by FIU’s Career and Talent Development office. A friend of mine told me about the career fair, so I went online and applied to a few companies that were attending the career fair, including Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon. Some days later, I received an email to do an in-person interview at FIU’s Engineering Center. Then I was invited to interview at the beautiful Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, for a set of interviews. A month later, I got the offer to intern at Microsoft. I was surprised, but excited!
What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? Get any internship experience you can get even if it’s not your dream company. However, do try to get an internship close to what you want to work on after college. Having an internship on your resume really gives you an edge over those that don’t. The summer before Microsoft, I had another internship at SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation), which is a military contractor that is similar to Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
What projects did you work on? I was assigned to develop a web-based user interface to allow new teams to onboard faster because the manual process of onboarding sometimes would take months. With my interface, it would only take 20 minutes. It was a very big project and even though I finished most of it, it is still under further development by my team. I’m excited to see how it has progressed since I completed my internship.
How did your internship connect back to your coursework? Some foundational concepts I learned in my data structures class were important, especially learning how to estimate how efficient your algorithm is. This allowed me to identify areas of my code that needed optimizing. The basic programming knowledge you learn in school helps you learn new programming languages and tools faster since the core concepts are universal. What school gives you is the discipline to learn new and hard concepts fast and basic knowledge of programming to get you going. However, it’s important to do a lot of self-teaching during school to be up-to-date and do internships whenever you can.
What was the coolest thing about your internship or that happened during your internship? The Intern Signature event! All the company’s 2,000 interns gather in a big park to play games, eat and watch a live concert. The artist had been kept a secret throughout the internship, so this is where we finally get to find out who it was. Everyone had their own guesses, but no one knew for certain who it was going to be. Moments before the main artist appeared, one intern standing behind me was joking that Pitbull was going to be the singer. I laughed and didn’t take it seriously. I was like, “There is no way. Pitbull? Out of all people…”. Well, you can imagine my surprise when Mr. Worldwide himself came out singing “Don’t stop the party”.
What did you like most about your experience? The people that I met. That’s truly what made it great. I made a lot of friends and a lot of us would always go out together to explore the city, to party, and to go hiking as well. Additionally, the way I was challenged on multiple fronts. I was challenged on my ability to learn and deliver fast and on my ability to meet new people. I liked that I was pushed outside of my comfort zone every day.
What did you learn about yourself? The internship exposed many of my weaknesses and limitations as a developer. I learned that I need to spend more time in the planning and design phase before moving on with the implementation. I also learned that I’m a quick learner. I had to learn a lot of new tools and use them right away and I was able to manage that.
How did you expand your professional network? Microsoft offers a program called the Intern Networking Program that you can choose to opt-in as an intern. The way it works is that every week you receive an email introducing you to a full-time employee from Microsoft working in a different team in the company. Then, you contact said employee and you arrange to have lunch with them. There, you can get to know them, ask them about what they do, and ask them for advice. I did that program and talked to more than a dozen full-time employees from teams such as Windows, Office, and Azure and even other interns from schools such as MIT.
How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?” Speaking with professionals, demonstrating software for my team every two weeks, and challenging myself have all made me a better professional in general. I proved to myself, and to the world, that I can hold my ground even when I am completely outside my comfort zone, which I was at Microsoft. One moment where I truly felt validated was at the very end where I had to demo my final product to the higher ups which were my manager, my manager’s boss and his colleague. They liked the product and they were already discussing how much money and resources they were going to invest in it right in front of me. One of them said to me, “The fact that we are even having this discussion at all is a good sign that you did a great job.”