Internship advice from women@compsci

Many Stage 3 students will be starting their internships very soon. Students are often unsure about what to do and how to behave on an internship. Following a successful alumni roundtable event in November, we asked Shauna Dowling for some advice. Shauna graduated from UCD Computer Science in 2016; was previously a Senior Analyst, and is now a Program Manager at Microsoft in Vancouver; and is a member of the W@CS committee (https://ca.linkedin.com/in/shaunadowling). Here are the questions we asked, and Shauna’s answers. We hope this helps everyone have an enjoyable and productive internship! If you’ve any other questions you’d like to ask Shauna, please don’t hesitate to get in touch; we’ll gather Shauna’s answers for a second advice blog in a week or two.

Should I have my camera on or off?

a. When on large group calls it is easier to keep it off but maybe follow others’ lead in your company. If you are presenting, definitely have your camera on.
b. When on calls with <15, I always have my camera on because of the different gallery views offered in Teams/Zoom. It is the closest thing we have to a team gathering and I definitely want to engage and make the most of it! This is easier said than done however when everyone else has their camera off. If you notice how much you benefit from reading others’ body language when their cameras are on, think of the benefit you can give them by doing the same! Leading by example is a very strong example of leadership too so try not to be shy – this is tough though so maybe create a consensus with the team.
c. For 1:1’s I think it is pretty critical to have your camera on – we’re all in a virtual environment, we’re all at home and we don’t necessarily have full control of our new working environment. Come as you are and focus on the conversation. I often find the items shown in people’s background are a good conversation starter, you may see a bike, a family photo or a pile of laundry! We’re all in this virtual and remote workforce together – recognising that is just normal.

Should I be dressed in “business formal”, even though I’m in my bedroom?

a. As you are still at work it is always best to be presentable, professional and adhere to the required business dress of your workplace for example, hair brushed and work appropriate clothing. Your workplace will define the level of formality required so you can always follow other people’s lead or you may even find it in your contract. When I am starting a new role, either in person or virtual, I find it is best to err on the side of caution when dressing for work. Particularly when working from home, getting dressed as if you had to leave the house helps your mindset when starting your day. It is really tempting to stay in comfy clothes all day though!

7 different managers have all asked me to do small jobs which they say will take “only an hour or two” however they are all taking longer. How do I juggle them?

a. This happens all the time in the workplace! Create the list of tasks you have to do and apply a prioritisation method to them. Your prioritisation method may be based on the time sensitivity of when the work needs to be done, when you were asked to do the work, or how senior the person giving the work is. It may help to go through the list with someone on your team or your manager to test your prioritisation as your team/company may have a method that the team is expected to adhere to.
b. If anyone else adds to your list of tasks, set their expectations and let them know it may be a few days before you get to it. When you have a prioritised list this will become easier to do when slotting in additional work items. It will also impress the requestor as you’re demonstrating how organised you are as well as being a good stakeholder manager!

What happens if I don’t know what to do?

a. You are new to the workforce and still in college or recently graduated – if you knew how to do EVERYTHING that would be the real problem! You are supposed to be learning, you are supposed to be engaged with your team and asking a lot of questions. I still ask myself and my team a large number of questions each day – the trick is knowing who to ask or where to go for the information.
b. I know it can be difficult even knowing where to start when you are new. You can:
i. Ask where the resources and documentation are stored so you can start some personal learning and onboarding.
ii. Set up time with each of your direct team members, if they don’t do this already, so when you need help they know you are new too.
iii. Talk to your manager about their expectations of you and what you want out of your internship – by having this conversation you’ll understand the scope of your role and that you’re not supposed to solve everything! Your manager will also see how you’re a motivated new team member and how best to give you the learning opportunities you need/want.
iv. Have continuous check-ins with your team and keep asking questions. You’d be surprised how many times that when someone new asks a question about an acronym or process how many others on the call are glad of the explanation/reminder!

The HR manager arranged a Zoom call for us all to get to know each other. Nobody speaks at it. Should I?

a. This is a difficult one as although the call is supposed to be informal there is still a formal facilitator – organised fun is not always so fun!
b. If you speak up, great! It may not turn into a group conversation though if people are not overly motivated to engage. You could suggest to the group how you could make the call more dynamic. For example you could suggest that for each session someone has to come with a question that everyone on the call has to answer. If all attendees are in tech these questions could be “what discontinued technology do you miss most” or “what was your first interaction with the internet”. Another idea that is simple and fun, is suggesting that everyone needs to turn their Teams/Zoom background to a certain theme like their favourite food or (one of) their favourite animals. This simple change is surprisingly good for getting people talking on my team!

I have nothing to do today. There are other times when I have been busy and I have had to work late to keep up. Should I just enjoy the quiet time?

a. There is nothing worse than having nothing to do or feeling you need to “look busy” when interning. It can feel like you are bothering someone when looking for work as well. If there is only one quiet day every two weeks or so that is not too bad, but if its every second day definitely try and use your time more constructively.
b. Think about what impact you want to make during your internship and what you can point to when you leave that you made better. This may be onboarding documentation for future new joiners, you may ask to be scrum lead for the team as you want the experience, or you could try and organise some morale events for the team. Simple work item additions take up a surprising amount of time but can be fun, look great on the CV and get you noticed in the workplace!

One of my fellow interns is working with me on a project for a senior executive. She has completely misunderstood the brief and presented factually incorrect and irrelevant information for her part. What should I do?

1. Schedule time with your team member and go through the brief together again to ensure you’re both on the same page. It may be beneficial to involve the person who gave you both the brief to ensure everyone has the same understanding of the required output of the work. It may be the case that the brief is missing some necessary scoping definitions which is leading to miscommunications for everyone involved. When having such conversations remember not to get too frustrated and that you’re all on the same team wanting to do a good job. Going forward, operate in tandem when sending out communications on your work so you’re both in agreement on the work being given visibility by management. You could also schedule check ins with your counterpart or the person who gave the brief to ensure this situation does not arise again!

Shauna

After graduating from UCD Computer Science in 2016, Shauna completed a Masters in Supply Chain Management at UCD Smurfit in 2017. She has been working in Microsoft since then in a number of different roles both in Finance and Engineering. While working as a Tax and Trade Technology analyst she was the global reporting and analytics lead for Microsoft Trade. She has recently completed a postgraduate in Data Analytics from the National College of Ireland. Having moved to Vancouver in Feb 2020 she moved into a Program Management role in the Microsoft Office organisation on the Engineering Knowledge team.

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