A New Type of Internship

As a student the world can be incredibly overwhelming, demanding that you decide on a specific job and career path when you haven’t experienced much besides school. I personally have worked a number of jobs, however they had no relevance to my chosen career of programming and computers. Because of the lack of experience in the actual career path I have chosen, I don’t know exactly where I want to be. Do I want to be part of the IT department at a large corporation? Join a small software development company? Create my own business? Work for a large consumer software corporation such as Microsoft, Google or Apple? There are so many options with so little experience on which to decide.

This is why in September 2010, I attended a career fair hosted by my university. It was there that I found out Microsoft offers a new type of internship. A 12 week summer internship, designed specifically for students coming out of their 1st and 2nd years of university: Explore Microsoft.

What is “Explore Microsoft” compared to a regular internship? Variety. During a regular internship, you choose and work in a discipline for a specific amount of time. Although this gives you great experience with that specific discipline, it does not allow one to experience any other roles in the company with which you are interning. If you don’t like the job, there is no immediate chance to try anything else. The effects are magnified when, at least at the University of Calgary, our internships for engineering are supposed to last 12-16 months and be completed all at once between our third and fourth years of university. This results in our only chance for work experience in our chosen field most likely being restricted to one job before finishing our education.

Alternatively, the Explore Microsoft internship offers 4 weeks in the three main disciplines found in Microsoft software development: Program Manager (PM), Software Development Engineer (SDE) and Software Development Engineer in Test (SDET). Each role fully immerses you, requiring you to perform all of the duties a full time employee would; albeit in a shorter period of time. This gives you the chance to make a more informed decision as to which role fits you the best, either in Microsoft itself or somewhere else. In addition to offering the variety, the 3 month duration of the entire internship is ideal, allowing students to complete it without cutting into the school year.

Let me walk you through a typical Explorer Internship.

First of all, you are put in a team with 2 other explorer interns. As a group, your team is assigned a project that directly relates to the product you are a part of. After dividing the project into 3 parts, each of you plans out the part you are responsible for and creates what is called a “spec” or specification sheet. This document is a plan for the developer to work off of. After the PM phase is done, everyone transitions to the SDE position where you develop and implement a team-member’s spec. This is realistic to the actual development life-cycle, since as a developer you would never write the spec you are implementing. Lastly, you would transition to test and find bugs in the implementation that you didn’t code or write the spec for. Once again this closely follows the actual development life-cycle for a feature.

This close following of the real feature life-cycle is paramount to knowledge gained as an intern since you feel as though you are truly an employee of the company. I find this greatly increases my drive to learn and do my best work.

Although I am only two weeks into my Explorer Internship with Microsoft and have only experienced the PM role thus far, I am immediately witnessing the benefit of partaking in this form of internship. By the end of the summer I can see having a far greater understanding of the choices before me which will allow me to confidently decide where I would like my career to start when I finish university.