During my freshman year in college, I joined and eventually chaired our school’s ACM Windows programming student group. One day, one of my friends, who is now at Microsoft Research, mentioned that Microsoft was looking for a new Student Consultant for next year His friend was the current SC and his only job seemed to be giving away xboxes and software, so I thought, hey I want to do that. We set up a dinner for the three of us where Microsoft picked up the tab, and the SC said “Hey, I’ll refer you to my boss. You’ll do some interviews, okay?”For more articles from Tasty Research please visit his blog at http://tastyresearch.wordpress.com/work-stories/
That segued into me being Microsoft representative at our campus the following year. The job gave me unlimited freedom to do whatever I wanted to promote Microsoft on campus, and great money to top it off. This included giving away xboxes, pocket pcs, software, and other toys to students and professors for their projects. It was like having Microsoft groupies. I frequently fielded emails like this:
Hi, this is [student], i was in your cs173 last year and we meet again on the day that you were bring the x-box to the bang give away. I am the vice-president of the new RO called Student Enjoying X-box. Our aim is to unify students through the use of X-box. … We are in desperate need of more X-boxes. We would like to know if Microsoft could be kind enough to donate X-boxes, games, and/or controllers.
I organized xbox tournaments, install fests (bring your computer and get Windows or Visual Studio installed for free), and programming competitions. We could expense meals and took student leaders out to nice italian restaurants. Lastly, we had retreats to Seattle and Brazil. A week in Brazil was the perfect climax, where we partied and enjoyed caipirinhas. We crashed in nice hotels and ordered room service at four in the morning. The cherry on top was taking a private jet to see the Foz do Iguaçu waterfalls. Unfortunately, good things never last forever and they replaced the Student Consultant program (did we spend too much money?) with the fairly limited Student Ambassador program. I will always think back to this as the best job a 17 year old could get.
I’m a Microsoft Intern (Twice)
Being the SC connected me to our campus Microsoft recruiter, and I was flown to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond for a day of interviews. I met with the Web Platform team and people working on the next next next version of Visual Studio. I had been booked for a full day of interviews, walking from office to office. Most of the day, I had thought I did well, but the last interviewer stumped me with a question about malloc() and free(). How do you store the information about which memory locations were available and which were not? I gave what I thought was an acceptable solution but it seems like the interviewer always has a better answer in mind. Luckily, I still ended up with an offer to be a software engineer intern for Microsoft Project which I accepted. Let me backtrack for a moment and mention that this is not the first time I interviewed for a Microsoft internship. I did one screening interview as a freshman on campus where I was rejected without mercy. Apparently the answer to “Can you tell me what was the most difficult bug you faced while programming and what you did to resolve it?” isn’t “My programs don’t have bugs.”
Back to the summer of 2004, where I accepted a Microsoft internship instead of doing another Motorola internship. I arrived at the beautiful Redmond Microsoft campus full of excitement. It was the first time I had been so far from home and I lived in some very nice subsidized corporate apartments. Everyone I met was really friendly and my mentor was a developer with a PhD. I worked on a core feature of the product that was on a slide during a large conference. There were parties going on every day and I was in Building 16, right next to the field where giant tents hosted other teams’ celebrations. With so many products, it felt like there was something launching every day at Microsoft. Along with some other interns and intern-wannabe-fulltimers, we would often crash the parties on the field to take a break from work.
Being an intern here was a blast and I was among good company with around 500 interns in Redmond. One memorable intern event was a barbeque at Bill Gate’s mansion by the bay. It was quite a palace and I couldn’t even see the entire house because it was 90% covered in trees. We munched on h’orderves and chatted with VPs while waiting for the BillG to come out. He finally made an entrance near the end of the evening and was immediately surrounded by interns shaking his hand and asking press questions like “How does Microsoft plan to position itself in the future?” During his informal talk, I was about 2 feet behind him and I wasn’t paying much attention to the speech but only noticed his shoes — they were actually slightly worn out normal looking shoes. I had always wondered what the richest man in the world wore and did not expect that.
What was really cool was we interns (or internz, was the mailing list) organized activities like white water rafting, ultimate frisbee, halo tournaments on the conference room projectors, Texas Hold’em, and Mafia every weekend. All the fulltime employees had their own offices, which was a nice change from cubicle-land. Looking back, I have to say that Microsoft has one of the most organized, amazing internship programs. The work was challenging and sometimes I would stay late to try out my changes in the latest build. I met many smart and interesting people there, including the internet famous Windows developer Raymond Chen, who gave me his collection of spamfor a research project I was doing. If you ever become a Microsoft intern, I would recommend you participate in as many activities as you can! Your one work goal should be to get the “good checkbox” when you leave, so don’t feel like you need to work much harder than that. I saw some interns who were diligently working late at night and on weekends while I was playing ping-pong.
A Google-y Good Summer
I got a call next April from Google asking if I wanted to do some phone interviews for a summer internship. There were two 30-minute phone interviews with one engineer who would turn out to be my mentor, and one who would be a co-worker. I was pretty nervous during the phone interview, but was asked great questions rather than riddles or short programming problems. The memorable ones were:
- Describe what happens when someone clicks on an ad?
- I named all the steps from the browser request to the server connection and so forth
- How would you detect click fraud?
- I described a bunch of ways I would catch bad guys trying to cheat the system
I worked in the [confidential name] team and our job was to detect invalid clicks, namely click fraud. People were always amused when I told them what we our job was. I’m not sure how much more I can talk about this subject so I will just end it right here.
Most interns stayed at the NASA Ames Exchange Lodge, which I would describe as “sketchy but interesting”. Frequently sighted inhabitants at the NASA Ames base included armed military units, skunks, bored interns, and cockroaches. There were probably about a hundred Google interns there, and maybe two hundred NASA interns. It had a coed college dorm feel to it, except we were in the middle of nowhere with guards at each gate asking you where you were going. I tried to get to know them all in the beginning by walking around and knocking on everyone’s door to say hi-wanna-come-to-my-bbq-or-hangout? but after a few weeks there were just too many interns to know them all. Often, there were interns idling around with nothing to do; one night we even decided on a whim to drive off to Las Vegas for a weekend.
The rumors about Google were mostly true: free gourmet food (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and kitchens with cereal and snacks nearby. The chefs would chat with you while you were filling your plate and answer any questions about the ingredients or cooking methods. Googlers are picky — I remember a > 100 email thread on the Mountain View misc mailing list discussing conspiracy theories about why our biodegradable recycled take-away food containers were replaced by cardboard ones. The variety of drinks was my favorite thing: you could get fresh squeezed juices of all
kinds or whatever soft drink or tea you preferred. My chosen desk drink was Naked Juice
at first, but eventually switched to Honest Tea
for a lighter beverage. Before I worked there, photos of Googlers riding Segways in the hallways made me think that I would be doing the same. Unfortunately, there were no working Segways the whole summer I was there; we had scooters, but it was nearly impossible to take one out during the day. The 3 in the building would already have their keys taken by the time I got to work. Apparently “Don’t be evil” doesn’t apply to scooters. Other cool things included famous people/authors coming in to give talks and giving us movie tickets or books they authored. There were so many great talks every day that I could have spent my whole day listening to interesting presentations by geek (and sometimes non-geek) celebrities.
There was a t-shirt cabinet that would be stocked at random times. When it did get stocked, an intern would email the mailing list, and you could literally see swarms of interns coming in from each building to grab a couple of t-shirts (2 max). Lucky for me, I was just down the hall from the cabinet so I usually got a pair, until they wouldn’t fit in my suitcases anymore. Sometimes, I would bring my friends to just hang out at Google, eat some free food, play pool or asteroids, sit in a massage chair or lovesac, or just walk around and look at the cool toys everywhere. One night we accidentally went into Larry and Sergei’s hangout space and played with his bop-it toy, thinking the section was just a lounge.
There were blue shirted security guards everywhere at almost every door of every building. They were like an army, and it would be funny to see recruiters sometimes ordering around a dozen or so blue shirts to prevent visitors from exploring. It always made me wary, and I was quite friendly with one of the security guards and she told us they would watch us at night when there was no one else in the building. Everything at Google was confidential and there were always cameras watching.
My Future is Yahoo
I chose to work at Yahoo when I finally graduated. A few months ago, Yahoo was almost the last of the 3 search engine companies I thought I would be working at. I started out on my path to working at Yahoo at the college career fair. After the quick and painless pre-screening at the booth, I was invited to an interview at our computer science building in the afternoon the next day. I arrived with my pen and extra copy of Resume and sat in the conference room for about half an hour. Unfortunately, my interviewer, Kevin didn’t show up. I got stood up for an interview! Granted, this was the first time Yahoo has come to our school to recruit, but it was still frustrating. Even more frustrating was that my numerous emails to the college recruiter went unanswered. I also had a few friends at Yahoo that I contacted but no luck. A few weeks later, I had been asked to fly out for a few days of interviews in the Bay Area / Silicon Valley with a bunch of other companies and had a free day. It just so happened that one of my friends who interned with me at Microsoft, won the Yahoo Hackday competition and met a Yahoo employee that got me in touch with a few hiring managers. I went to the Yahoo offices in Sunnyvale and did a full day and a half of interviews, and ended up where I am now — a software engineer in SDS, the data mining group in the company.
I have to admit I have only worked here for a month so far, but it’s a pretty good place to work. I use my knowledge of operating systems, algorithms, and data structures to work with the massive amounts of data Yahoo gets. My favorite perk is an espresso bar downstairs where baristas serve your choice of caffeinated drinks as well as chai and chocolate milk. I miss the less bureaucracy at Google though: at Yahoo I have a manager, his manager, THREE directors above that manager, and then THREE VPs before the CEO. That’s right — I have 9 promotions to go before I’m at the top. And I have to confess that I still use Google for my internet-based needs.
My group at Yahoo is SDS, which is basically the Data group. We take all the data from all our websites, store it in lots and lots of servers, and process the heck out of it. The other day, I wrote a tool that grabbed the list of the popular search terms on Yahoo Japan and the #1 term [an english “word”] was not something I had ever heard of before. SDS is actually a cool group (and we’re hiring!) and fits me just right since I become a bit of a data geek when I was doing my Masters. I kind of like having my own space in a cubicle as opposed to a fishbowlshared lab, where everyone can turn and look at what you are doing all the time. I just like a little privacy. My pet peeve is that everyone has weird @yahoo-inc.com email address which is not easy to tell someone over loud music. However, I think I made the right choice to join Yahoo.
To sum up some points:
A Prestigious Internship Circle
The best thing about working at such a variety of large software companies is the people you meet. 90% of the interns from these places are really smart guys and girls — the best of MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Cornell, CMU, and UIUC. One of my friends coined the term “prestigious internship circle” to define internships at software giants like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple, Yahoo, and IBM (especially Extreme Blue, which unfortunately I had to turn down for Google). The rationale for this is that once you have worked at one, it’s a lot easier to get into another. Pre-screenings and interviews basically just involve them asking what you did at the other companies since making it somewhere else probably means you’re not a complete idiot. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve asked a familiar face “Hey, didn’t you intern at Microsoft with me a few years ago?”, I would be able to buy a nice pen.
My best advice to getting a job at one of these companies is to know your algorithms. Know how to reverse a string or how to sort a linked list. Heck, you probably want to know everything about sorting. I’ve probably written string reversal code in front of an interviewer half a dozen times, and I have never gone through a set of interviews without some question involving linked lists.
I have been lucky to have the opportunity to work at these companies and I would highly encourage any college students out there to try for an internship — you won’t regret it. You will work on challenging problems, be surrounded by really smart people, work in a casual environment with flexible work hours (engineer hours are usually 10 to 6 or 7), and make good money. [Did that sound too much like recruiter talk?] You can expect to work 8-10 hours a day but time goes by fast. While it may sometimes seem these rival companies are battling over products like search, email, photos, and maps from the outside, on the inside we’re just a bunch of clever developers writing code to build cool stuff.