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MIT student blogger Afeefah K. '21

8,726,400 SOS: Massachusetts to Michigan by Afeefah K. '21

guest post by Liz O.'21

*written by Liz O. ’21 as a part of the 8,726,400 Seconds of Summer guest post series*

Home Sweet Home

I was not imagining coming home for the summer, back during Fall Career Fair in late September. I was feeling confident and professional in a button down shirt and grey blazer, handing out my resume to half the booths I walked past because I may have gone a little overboard and printed more than I needed. There were so many big name companies, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Dropbox, etc. I was enthralled.

Then, as I was about to head back to my dorm and call it a day, I made the biggest rookie mistake ever. I made eye contact with someone. And because I have no will-power, when they smiled at me, I smiled back and started walking towards them. I took a flier to be polite, then looked at the address…

A Michigan Address.

After a quick conversation with the woman running the booth, I realized that this company might not have the big name brand like the companies I had been drooling over all morning, but it’s approach towards business solutions through technology was right up my alley.

Several emails, a few rounds of interviews, and one case study later, I was locked and loaded to return to Michigan for my summer.

For real, though, taking my first internships in Michigan had some major upsides
No Rent – I get to live at my parents’ house for exactly zero dollars and zero cents
Fooooooood – what can I say, I’ve missed my mom’s cooking
Boat Folks – I’m on the varsity sailing team at MIT, and you can bet I’m keeping sharp over the summer by racing sailboats with the friends I haven’t seen since last summer
Sometimes there really is no place like home – I’ve missed Michigan!


The Daily Grind

So I got the internship, awesome! Now, I just have to like… actually work or something…

Here’s what an average day at work looks like for me:

8:30 AM– I roll into the parking lot fashionably on-time. Most of the other people who work in my area aren’t here yet. In fact none of them are, except my mentor. Because he works harder and longer than just about anyone. I figure I should at least try to follow suit

8:35 AM– I start booting up the company’s computer that I work on. Pull up Oracle SQL Developer. Pull up my company email. Pull up the spec that I need to work on.

8:40 AM– I get lost in tweaking SQL queries and manipulating Excel spreadsheets and figuring out how exactly to word the spec I’m writing. It’s easy to get in the groove of working through a task now that I’m in the second week of the internship and know the structure of the tables in my project

9:45 AM– I email the spec to my mentor and start digging through a Frankenstein beast of an Excel file that I’ve pulled together to analyze the effectiveness of a proposed additional analytical metric for our current project. The file is organized, I promise, it just isn’t pretty.

10:30 AM– I have a meeting with my mentor to talk about the spec and talk about the analytics I’ve been working on. We’re going to talk to his boss about the proposed analytical metric… which means presenting my analysis for that metric… which means cleaning up that Excel file.

11:00 AM– I look over an example of a good looking spreadsheet that my mentor sent to a client earlier in the week. I never would have called an Excel file beautiful before, but it was not only one million times neater than my spreadsheet, my eye was drawn immediately to the important pieces of information. I do my best to produce something half as pretty

NOON– I eat yogurt and a granola bar for lunch and shoot some hoops with the other intern in my area. It’s definitely good to unwind a little from focusing for so long.

1:00 PM– I continue to beautify my spreadsheets and figure out what data is important.

1:30 PM– Our offshore team has implemented some features on our development version of the client’s interface. I check over the user interface to make sure everything looks right. Then I use SQL queries to make sure the data is rolled-up correctly. I don’t directly interface with the offshore team, so I send my feedback to my mentor.

2:50 PM– I put the finishing touches on my clean spreadsheets for presenting

3:00 PM– I talk to my mentor’s boss about my spreadsheets and get a whole lot of feed back to go back to the drawing board with.

3:30 PM– I start to play around with a few new data tables and investigate the new direction this analytical metric could go. It’s backwards looking in the scope of its measurement, but we’re hoping it could be predictive of performance in the future.

5:30 PM– I clock out for the day. At the end of work, I always feel super drained, but I definitely prefer being busy to being bored. One of the best parts of working at a smaller company is that I’m always busy because they’re definitely not going to waste an employee on busywork, even if I’m just an intern.

After work, I usually go sailing, take a run, or play some pick-up hockey at my local rink. Just something physical to do after a lot of mental focus all day really helps me unwind.


To Ask or Not to Ask… That is the Question

Well, not really – it’s more of a when to ask for help from my mentor

I try to live by the motto my brother told me before I even started working “An annoying intern is a productive intern… but also an annoying intern”. So I try to strike a balance.

When I’m stuck on something, whether I can’t get values that should be matching to match or I’m in uncharted waters and the data just looks fishy, I don’t want to immediately run to my mentor at the first sign of a setback.

I try to generally identify the problem as much as I can. Am I consistently over-estimating or under-estimating what a data point should be? Are my values off by 1% or 10% or over 100%? Are there intermediate steps I can check along the way before I arrive at my final rolled up values?

I make sure I brainstorm at least three feasible ways a problem could be occurring and test if I can sort it out on my own. Is there a column on whose values I should be filtering out erroneous data? Am I getting redundant entries because of how I joined my SQL tables?

Finally, I’ll talk to my mentor, and instead of just saying “something’s wrong” I can start a conversation with him already having critically looked at the issue. As such, I’m better able to work with him towards a solution instead of expecting him to solve the issue for me.

I’m loving the hands-on experience in a business analyst role and I’m loving staying in Michigan for another summer. I’ve missed MIT and all my friends who are my home away from home, but I’ll be back in the Fall, and until then I’ll be soaking up my summer sleeping, working, and playing in the state I call home.