A chance encounter, a dream pursued, and the internship of a lifetime
Monday Sep 26,2022
By Felix Li, Year 2, School of Computing and Information Systems, Software Engineering Intern at Workstream, GII USA 2022
Being part of the Global Innovation Immersion (GII) programme is the best decision I’ve made since joining SMU. Before diving into how I stumbled upon GII and how I have reaped great rewards, I thought it’ll be interesting to share the backstory.
What sparked my interest to intern at an overseas start-up
Like most aspiring software engineers, I had my eyes firmly set on big tech firms such as Google, Apple, TikTok, or even our very own Grab and Shopee. However, after taking Interactive Design Prototype (IDP), a compulsory Year 2 module for all SCIS students, my interest soon pivoted towards start-ups. We were tasked with creating our own prototype and my team decided to create an application targeting start-ups.
For any application to be useful, it needs to solve a certain pain point for its users. In order to find these pain points, we went through an empathy stage where we had to observe and understand the daily operation of a start-up. Luckily enough, we found many prominent candidates such as the CEO of Haulio, VP of Operations of Ninja Van, the initial founding team of CardUp, and many more. Through meaningful exchanges with these start-up founders, I got to know about behind the scenes - the less ‘flowery’ and authentic adversities that they had to ride out on a daily basis. This has in turn sparked a new interest in me. Previously, I had set my sights on working in a start-up, but now, I desire to launch my own start-up. This is how I then stumbled upon GII.
How GII supported me throughout my internship journey
GII is an overseas internship programme that matches students with high-growth companies abroad, particularly start-ups, innovation centres, and VC firms. I was delighted to find out that the programme facilitates more than just matching. Securing an offer for an overseas internship is really significant, but it is merely the first step with many more to come. SMU IIE and GII provided support and guidance for things like visas, health insurance, accommodations, cultural training, and the list goes on and on. Handling all of these by myself while schooling would have been far too much to handle, especially for the first time! Therefore, GII served as a key intermediary to reduce a significant portion of moving parts, so I only had to focus on a small scope.
I have listed five considerations that I personally encountered in embarking on an overseas internship, and how GII supported me throughout.
- Securing of Internship
In a way, the onus still lies on the individual. GII helped me post my profile and resume to their hiring industry partners, and ultimately it was up to me to score an offer with the company after interviewing with them. However, helping me to secure interviews with desirable companies and opportunities was already a huge step forward, and made possible by GII!
- Visa Processing
GII had the right visa sponsoring partner lined up and helped to settle the majority of the paperwork. GII even covered 100% of the cost, valued at more than USD 1,000. All I needed to do was simply turn up for the visa interview.
- Health and Travel Insurance
SMU provides travel and health insurance for approved programmes like GII. However, if you wish to get additional insurance on top of what the school provides, by all means, go for it.
- Cultural Training
GII wisely anticipates that students will encounter cultural differences and challenges, as such proactively organised many masterclasses and workshops so that my fellow GII student interns and I could be better prepared to integrate into my new and foreign environment.
- Accommodations and Flight
It was 100% on me to source and book! However, GII guarantees financial support which comes in the way of various schemes. I was very fortunate enough to apply and be one of 10 students awarded the Tolaram Global Innovation Immersion (TGII) Award valued at SGD 10,000.
My experience as a software engineer in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of start-ups and tech innovation
With that, I’ve embarked on my journey to the world’s preeminent hub of technology, Silicon Valley. Fast forward three months, my experience with recruitment start-up Workstream as a Software Engineer in the Onboarding team has been enriching, but not the easiest. As I was joining Workstream without prior experience with their given tech stack, a great deal of time was spent familiarising myself with the technologies. Thankfully, my engineering squad made the steep learning curve easier by scheduling 1:1 sessions where they mentored me through the large codebases. With their patient guidance, I could catch onto the squad’s velocity and finally be able to contribute to the main product line. I vividly recall the rollercoaster of emotions that I’d undergone when I released my first feature to production, and to heave a sigh of relief only upon seeing the positive feedback from the customers through the customer support team. This adrenaline is exclusive to being part of a start-up.
Aside from working closely with the engineering team, I was able to interact with many passionate individuals from different departments and the founding team. Through these meaningful conversations and interactions, I was able to sense their undying passion and the common vision they all shared with the company, which all added to a highly unique experience overall.
During my brief period with Workstream, I have grown tremendously not just in my technical know-how, but also as an individual. Being put into a new environment of the unknown on your own, you will learn to be adaptable and also be comfortable with yourself. Last but not least, I’ve also found many individuals who truly embody the quote “do what you love, you will never work a day in your life”.
Thank you GII, for providing me with such a life-changing experience.
The GII programme is currently accepting applications until October 16, 2022. Learn more at iie.smu.edu.sg/GII.