By Masha Tseveen.
Welcome to the first installment of IBM University Programs Interview Series!
In this series, you will meet program managers and participants of some of our flagship internship & entry-level programs.
In the first of many upcoming interviews, we sat down with Sanjay Lavakare, Global Program Manager, Extreme Blue and two interns from the current year’s projects, to share their insights on the program.
Here is what we learnt. Enjoy !
Tell us about the Extreme Blue internship program?
The Extreme Blue program, currently in its 15th year, is IBM’s premier internship program for technical & business students, with 11 participating countries across North America (USA & Canada) , Europe ( UK, Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands) and Asia (India, China). It comprises of project based assignments for university students, challenging them to the extremes of their knowledge, passion and ingenuity to deliver the expected results in a span of 10-12 weeks.
Projects- apart, we want the interns to experience IBM’s culture & values, inspiring them to join IBM after they graduate from college.
How are the projects selected for Extreme Blue?
Given the fact that we would want the results of Extreme Blue projects to dovetail into IBM’s key business offerings – directly or indirectly, the project-selection process is a meticulous and intense one. The best brains from IBM come together to ideate on potential project opportunities and finalizing only the absolutely niche and innovative ones
The projects deal with the contemporary & cutting-edge technologies viz. Cloud, Analytics, Mobile Social , Security etc.
Who can apply? What are the criteria?
Depending on the country, we look for undergraduates/Masters and even PhDs in certain niche skill areas. An advanced computer science would be ideal though we do recruit interns with degrees in Information Science/Electronics & Communications.
MBAs and students pursuing other business-studies courses are also recruited for projects that are client focused/ necessitate market research/business analyses. Applications for most of the countries are accepted online, though India and China recruit through direct campus interviews.
What happens during the two months? How does the program conclude?
The program, in each location, starts with a kick-off event, with the interns presenting a summary of their projects and objectives, aided by their project mentors, to the local IBM team. Thereafter, the team is virtually immersed in devising the technical roadmap & business plan for their respective projects, closely mentored by our technical mentors
Needless to say, once the interns are in IBM, it is a flat playground for them and they could reach out to anyone in the organization to seek help/information/inspiration.
During these 10-12 weeks of intensive action, the interns also get to attend tech-talks with IBM luminaries, check-out the latest in IBM’s technical advances and experience various other facets of IBM.
Last but not the least, amidst all the breathless action, we do ensure that the interns squeeze in some fun time as well through outings/picnics/treks, etc.
The BIG moment of truth comes at the end of the 12 weeks when each region hosts an expo – a much looked forward to and well-attended event, at key locations across the regions. Here, the interns present their project results as a team, to the attendees.
Extreme Blue’s value & prominence can be gauged by the fact that these expos are attended by some of the who’s who of IBM. A case in point – the CEO of IBM making it a point to visit the expo in Armonk every year and spending some quality time meeting the interns there!
What advice would you give to applicants?
Getting a seat in Extreme Blue can be tough – very tough, as we want the very best for this program. While good academic scores are important, these would just be initial qualifiers. Hence it is important that aspiring applicants hone their core skills – technical or business – and adopt lateral thinking skills.
I would also advise them to learn more about IBM, its business, products and services through available avenues. It would help them acclimatize to the new setup – once they are in IBM – faster and improve their productivity.
Applicants should also reach out to Extreme Blue alumni from their colleges – wherever possible – to gain from their experience.
Here we caught up with Ankita Pandey from the United States and Humza Ahmed from the United Kingdom, to hear about their overall experience with IBM.
Name: Ankita Pandey Name: Humza Ahmed
School: Carnegie Mellon University, School: University College London (UCL)
Tepper School of Business.
Why did you apply to IBM?
Ankita: I had heard about the Extreme Blue Program at IBM as its Premium Internship Program from my university recruiting and senior year students, who interned at IBM. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it is such a well-known program which combines great talent technology and innovation. Given my technical background and a keen interest in technology and its applications, this internship was definitely a top choice for me.
Humza: I wanted my summer to be challenging, develop me as an individual and to contribute to a project that would really make a difference. Upon researching, I came across IBM’s Extreme Blue programme and was intrigued by the success and scope of past projects. I then applied immediately, knowing that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and nothing like what I have undertaken before. I was not mistaken; it is a unique internship and I have never looked back on my decision to accept the offer.
Tell us about the projects you are involved in?
Ankita: I am working on a project named ‘React.to’ that is sponsored by the Emerging Technologies group in the Austin Lab. ‘React.to’ provides an easy to use interface to business users, for creating customized cloud based business solutions without having to code or rely on developers. This will allow business users to leverage the power of the cloud and aid their creativity and agility. This product runs on the IBM’s Bluemix cloud platform.
Humza: I am currently working in a team of 4, with the aim of improving the display screens around the site by centralizing the system and making them interactive. It is an internal project and therefore requires a great deal of collaboration with various IBM employees. I have to develop my skill set fast in order to achieve my targets, which makes it a very exciting and rewarding project. We aim to develop a system that can be developed upon after Extreme Blue to benefit IBM employees across the country.
What are you studying in school? How have you applied your studies to your internship?
Ankita: I am a full-time MBA student at the Tepper School of Business specializing in Marketing and Product Management. During my internship at IBM, I have applied several aspects of the skills and knowledge that I gained at my school, namely market research, new product development, technology strategy and pricing strategy while working on the project’s business plan.
Humza: I am currently studying Chemical Engineering (MEng) at UCL. My degree is therefore highly analytical and requires great attention to detail; it is all about being given a problem and proactively work to find an optimized solution for it. Being in a Technical Role in the Extreme Blue program, I have had to apply these skills in order to bring our proposed solution to life. It is the first time that my skills from my studies have been applied in a real case study.
What is the best lesson you learned at IBM?
Ankita: Being my first exposure to the corporate world one of the most important lessons I learnt was the value of the soft skills, like communication and presentation, which are as important as the core technical skills. If you have a great product but you fail to communicate its value to the stakeholders, it’s a lost opportunity. I am glad that at Extreme Blue, there was a significant focus on developing leadership skills.
Humza: The best lesson I have learned is that the human mind is the greatest asset we possess. Being in an environment of ideas, deep thinking is required to bring out answers to questions, based on a detailed assessment of reality. The collaboration of bright minds at IBM brings out the most innovative, yet efficient solutions. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ idea since it will always be able to contribute to the end solution in some way, shape or form! Never underestimate the power of ideas!