Intern Files: CognitiveScale
The Intern Files Series takes a deeper look at the internships that Women in Business members have completed; our first interview is with Shilpa Saxena, a junior majoring in Cognitive Science and minoring in Business.
What company did you work for and why did you choose it?
I worked for CognitiveScale, an ~150-person company with the mission to “remove the barriers to AI adoption and solve complex business problems at scale in financial services, healthcare, and digital commerce markets.” The company has since built impressive partnerships with Dell, JPMC, Deloitte, MD Anderson, and several other industry leaders.
At the beginning of the summer, I was excited to get hands-on experience in the cutting-edge field of AI. But when I told anyone I was working for an AI company, their immediate reaction was always fear--something along the lines of “that stuff is way too intense for me; I don’t want a robot taking over my life.” I liked this company because it focuses on educating the public about the positives of AI, and it recently established a new mission to use its products to empower one billion people with responsible AI by 2020.
What specific projects did you work on this summer?
I worked mainly on four projects:
A demand generation project that used machine learning to create a prioritized list of leads to bring in the most sales for the company.
Market research and user experience analysis on competitors’ products to prepare for a product the company was about to launch.
Researching material and helping structure a syllabus for a new college course on AI & Ethics that one of the executives was going to start teaching the next spring.
An all-intern Shark Tank competition on Responsible AI.
What was a typical day like for you in the office and what were some tasks you were in charge of?
Every day, I came in and spent the first hour catching up on emails, designating and prioritizing daily or weekly tasks, and scheduling meetings with my teams or other people in the company who were helping us.
Since I’m not an engineer, I served as the project and product manager for each of the intern teams. I was in charge of the project management software and keeping the teams on schedule, as well as defining specific tasks and delegating them to the engineers. It was really interesting to understand and manage the AI product development process, from ideation to design to production and testing. I also conducted market research for the products, created slide decks for every pitch or progress update, and worked a lot with the design team to develop user interface/user experience mockups.
What was your favorite part of the internship?
Forming relationships with the talented people at the company through its frequent social events. We celebrated at least five national holidays, such as National Cheesecake Day and National S’more Day, over the nine weeks I was there, and it was a great way for employees to take a break and spend time with each other. We also had socials every Friday afternoon where we played fun games like ping pong and Mario Kart, and I met many people I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with.
What are three lessons you learned this summer?
Any work experience, no matter how trivial it may seem, is useful later on. I worked as a student fundraiser last year to build my communication skills, and I didn’t think it would contribute much to this internship. However, the position ended up being invaluable to my demand generation project because I understood how sales teams contact and follow up with leads.
Working on a diverse team can be hard, but it results in the best possible outcomes. The other interns ranged from early high school to PhD students with varying experience in technical and non-technical fields. Because we had perspectives from engineering, business, design, and other areas, we were able to pull together creative pitches that told meaningful stories and were backed up with strongly-engineered prototypes.
As a woman, having female mentors is extremely impactful on your daily experience. I found myself keeping track of the accomplishments of the brilliant women in the company and felt more comfortable relying on them for advice and assistance on my projects. Check out this AIGrind video from the company’s LinkedIn where I was interviewed along with two other female interns to discuss our experiences as women in tech!
Was there anything that surprised you about your experience?
There was a lot less oversight than I was expecting--I pretty much did my own thing, and I had to take initiative to reach out to others to find projects if I felt I didn’t have enough to do.
I also got more face time with senior employees than I would in any other company. The CEO made a point of scheduling one-on-one meetings with the interns, despite his busy schedule. We also participated in Lunch & Learn programs hosted by executives from different areas of the company--marketing, machine learning, sales, etc.--and they introduced me to several interesting positions I hadn’t considered before.
Throughout my experience, I felt like I had a real position at the company on a smaller scale, rather than getting coffee or making copies like in many other internships. My internship at CognitiveScale was an incredible learning experience, and I can’t wait to see what next summer holds!