Ahead of the summer of 2017, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur student Paridhi Maheshwari found herself faced with internship-related dilemmas. “To be honest, I was not completely sure about what I wanted to do. I was aware that to pursue further studies, the best step would be to opt for a research internship. But having interned at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, the previous summer, I was eager to learn about how the corporate world works," recalls Maheshwari, a 20-year-old Bhopal resident.

Given the number of companies visiting the IIT campus to hire interns, she was also unsure about which organizations to apply to. Should she focus on the top companies for electrical engineers, which had been her focus thus far, or try a different field? “I had a lot of questions that at the time remained unanswered," she admits.

The only thing Maheshwari was sure about was that she wanted to work in a large corporation. “Being in the initial stages of my career, I wanted to expand my horizon by working on diverse things while gaining technical expertise. In my opinion, an established firm was more suited for this purpose (than a startup), given the number of opportunities available in various departments," she says. 

Impervious to the attractions of entrepreneurial life, students like Maheshwari today prefer to learn the ropes at a slow and steady pace by interning with corporations. “Since large companies have an established process of offering internships and also, as college seniors share their experience, these internships are considered safer. The possibility of pre-placement offers (PPOs) also influences students’ decisions," Sapna Agarwal, head of career development services at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, explains. Although she doesn’t have specific numbers, she says a majority of IIT Bangalore students will be opting for large established companies for internships, with less than 10% going for startups. “It is also an instant resume boost and will impress any potential employer," says Abhijeet Mukherjee, CEO, Monster.com, APAC and Gulf.

Once she had made up her mind about the size of the organization, Maheshwari consulted senior students on campus on her other doubts. “It is important to talk to people working in different fields about the work being done in various firms," she says. Along with your personal interests (do I want to code or consult? in Maheshwari’s case), this research should inform your company selection. Then, shortlist a few firms, familiarize yourself with their hiring process (do they administer coding tests, what are the common group discussion topics and interview questions, etc.?) and prepare accordingly.

“Keeping this in mind, I applied to a couple of companies, but Adobe stood out in terms of the vast array of opportunities and overall company culture," says Maheshwari, who was selected for a research internship at the Big Data Experience Lab (BEL) of Adobe Research, Bengaluru. “It was a best-of-both-worlds opportunity—the chance to pursue research work in a multinational brand of repute. I accepted without any second thoughts," she says.

One of the biggest advantages of interning at Adobe was that the research internship, ranked among the best in the world, allowed her to exercise her creative muscles. “Unlike other internships where you’re supposed to work on specific problems identified by the company, all intern teams at Adobe are allotted a broad research area, varying from sports to virtual reality," says Maheshwari, whose topic was “Capturing Cultural Heritage". Interns are expected to explore the topic, identify a problem and build a solution. “We were not told what to do, but we chose what to do! This made the work a lot more fun, encouraged me to think of out-of-the-box ideas and connected me to my work on a much deeper level," she says.

Abdul Jaleel, vice-president, employee experience, at Adobe Systems India says, “Adapting this type of ‘blue ocean strategy’, challenging unpolluted, unencumbered minds to find practical solutions and ideas, has resulted in several eureka moments over the last seven years since our internship programme was established." 

Mentorship, crucial for students but often difficult to find in big organizations, was carried out intensively, Maheshwari says. “Being an electrical engineer, I was new to some of the coding practices but my mentors constantly encouraged and helped me learn the required stuff within no time. My senior mentor even set up sample questions for me to practise," she says. “On the whole, this internship not only improved my technical skills but also helped me develop a general approach to tackle any research problem." Of course, perks like two-week accommodation at the city’s top hotel, transportation, complimentary meals, intern outings and team treats sweetened the deal. 

Maheshwari, who graduated recently and is set to work full time at Adobe Research, knows that whether it’s big companies or startups, all have something to offer. “In a startup, with strict deadlines and abundant responsibility, your learning needs to be quicker. While this might be an advantage for some people, I prefer to take things slow, work with experienced researchers and learn about topics in depth," she explains.

Larger corporations offer stability and recognition, whereas startups can be a risky business. “Maybe a few years down the line, I will be more willing to work in a startup. But I will always believe that an internship with an established brand is more useful," she concludes.

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