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15. November 2018 Jakub Příbaň

Internships: the reason Cambridge CompSci has no practical content

Whenever I meet someone and happen to mention that I study Computer Science, some of the most common responses include “Oh so can you like hack my Facebook account?” or “Wait so are you gonna be the next Bill Gates?” Though not meant seriously, these reactions reveal the vast difference between what people think Computer Science is versus what we actually study. This is to be expected after all, as conversation about induction over abstract syntax trees and proving determinacy of languages would make for very poor small talk.

This is not to say that we aren’t taught anything practical, but most of the programming exercises follow quite a formulaic set of instructions and can be completed in an afternoon - unlike any real life system design. To get real applicable experience, the expectation is that students undertake relevant internships during the vacation, which the department actually supports quite well by hosting careers fairs and offering careers services.
Though securing an internship is not strictly required, the highly competitive environment means everyone will naturally try to get one, or else be seen by some as inferior or incompetent. Not that this is necessarily a healthy attitude, but one can’t deny that it does push students to be more productive - and boy am I grateful that I was pushed, because the internship experience I had this summer was unforgettable.
I was lucky enough to land a software development internship in central London at a startup called UtterBerry, which deals with using smart sensor networks for many weird and wacky applications. As a first experience in industry and a 9-6 office job, it was a steep learning curve, though everyone there was extremely helpful and approachable. To begin with, it felt like I had been thrown into the deep end of the pool, as I had to learn JavaScript on the fly and the code I was writing would actually be used in the company’s systems. I think this entire experience is a demonstration of the fact that boundaries of your comfort zone have to be pushed in order to achieve anything of significance.
Finally, for anyone reading this looking for general tips on how to approach tech internship applications, here are some I found useful:
• Make sure to check application deadlines, because some come as early as October.
• Take old school careers advice with a grain of salt - companies don’t care that you’re proficient in Microsoft Excel!
• Apply everywhere! There’s no limit to the number of applications you send, and usually all it takes is a few clicks to send a CV (if they don’t require a cover letter)
• Don’t be picky during the application stage. Your first impressions of a company may not always be correct, and any interview experience is good, regardless of if you really want to work there.
• Don’t consider the interview a test, but rather a chance for you to befriend your interviewer.

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