Posted November 2nd, 2016 by Arthur Kaptainis

Developing a bot for Microsoft: One ECE undergrad’s professional internship

  • Computer Engineering undergraduate student Ankita Singal worked at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, this past summer (Courtesy: Ankita Singal).

    Computer Engineering undergraduate student Ankita Singal worked at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, this past summer (Courtesy: Ankita Singal)

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to spend a summer immersed in one of the world’s largest software giants, just ask undergrad Ankita Singal (Year 2 CompE) — she spent last summer  in Redmond, Washington, as an Explore Microsoft Intern.

“I’m not an Xbox addict,” Singal said. “I actually don’t own one. But I am a Windows user. I was accustomed to using Windows, so it worked well.”

How did a first-year student land such a prestigious, paid internship? Singal started by dropping off  her resumé at the Microsoft booth at the 2015 Fall Career Fair — an annual project of the student-run You’re Next Career Network. After a phone screening, Microsoft flew Singal to Redmond for an on-site interview — which she clearly aced.

“That’s just great that she got an internship after first year,” says Professor Jonathan Rose (ECE). “That is very hard to do.”

Singal worked closely through the summer with three other interns.  “Smart students,” she said of her teammates. One was from Stanford University; the others were from the University of Washington. “I learned a lot from them.”

Their mission was to develop an email-bot, which is an automatic-reply communications system, for the Build Services Team,  the Microsoft division that makes sure software remains functional day-to-day after it is created. Her 12-week-internship covered all the basic stages of software evolution.

“We started off as program managers, where we describe the scope of the project, what the requirements are, talk to the customers, and so on,” Singal explained. “Then we transitioned into the role of software developers as we developed the bot according the finalized design. And finally, we tested it to verify its functionality and stability. We got experience in each stage.”

However formidable Microsoft may seem to most — the multinational founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen is perennially ranked among the top 10 most valuable companies in the world — Singal says it was a welcoming place to work.

“The culture in general is very friendly and supportive,” Singal said. “Everyone welcomes you.”

There was even a mentor down the hall who would help when Singal and her teammates reached an impasse.

“Our interns have an incredible opportunity to get experience and work side-by-side with a team on real Microsoft projects,” said U of T Engineering alumnus Norm Judah (ECE MASc 7T9), services chief technology officer at Microsoft. “We offer internships in all job and product areas. A Microsoft internship is a great chance for students and recent graduates to build their resumes, develop their careers, and have fun doing it.”

Technical talks and workshops were part of the program. “Attending these was great,” Singal said. “You get to know about new things that are happening at Microsoft as well as general technology around the world. But I’m pretty sure they didn’t release confidential information to interns!”

On weekends, Singal explored Seattle with her new friends, and there were Microsoft-organized social events with music and dancing. Even her lodging at a local Marriott was partly subsidized.

The 19-year-old Torontonian, who was born in Dubai to Indian parents, hasn’t decided on a specific career path yet but says software development is starting to feel like a destination.

“Hardware is interesting, definitely,” she adds. “It’s good to know how things work, but it may not be something I convert into my career.”

Having worked at a Toronto startup the summer before, Singal found it interesting to work for a multinational corporation.

“The startup culture is small in the sense that everyone in the company is right next to you. You don’t have hierarchies. In corporate culture, you have managers,” she said. “At a startup, you’re very involved in the products they create. But at a company like Microsoft, it’s easy to move around. Let’s say you’re working on Word, and you feel like a change, you want to work on games. You can just go to Xbox. You can move around within the company rather than changing companies.“

“I haven’t decided whether I would choose a startup or a big company. But I think I would prefer working at a corporate company as of now.”

Preferably one that uses Windows?

Singal laughs. “Definitely!”

The story originally appeared on U of T News.