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MIT blogger Rona W. '21

life lessons from my internship by Rona W. '23

career choices moving forward

This summer, I worked for fourteen weeks as a software engineering intern at a start-up that focuses on artificial intelligence and data science. My team was focused on AI-powered audio-to-text transcription.

Now that my internship is wrapping up tomorrow, I’m reflecting on what I learned this summer and what it means for me going forward:

  1. I shouldn’t care that much about compensation. Of course, most people are not in a position where they can’t care about compensation. And to be honest, a large part of why I chose my company this summer was because it paid the highest out of all my offers, plus it was in the Cambridge, MA area so I could live at my current place for a very low cost. I had my upcoming school year’s tuition looming over my head, so I had to make financially sound decisions. But it’s also not something I want to center my career choices around, because money seems to obfuscate what’s actually interesting or valuable for my own learning and growth. Less abstractly, what I mean is, if I weigh compensation as a heavy factor in choosing what to do next, I may end up missing out on less lucrative opportunities that would’ve been more meaningful in perhaps intangible ways. I’ve been applying to internships for next summer, and to be honest, I would love to do something cool somewhere that is fast-paced and making important strides in a high-impact field.
  2. Artificial intelligence may help build the world I want to live in. Before this summer, I thought a lot of AI-based start-ups were overhyped; this belief was fueled partially by my ex-boyfriend’s bad experience at a company that claimed to use AI for drug discovery, but seemed to actually do nothing. I still believe a lot of AI-based start-ups are overhyped, but I also think this industry is very promising and can eliminate a lot of tasks that are currently tedious and unpleasant for humans to complete (such as audio transcription, which is what I worked on). Of course, I don’t want people to lose their jobs in a society that requires everyone to be employed in order to survive, and I’m no expert in economics or political science so I have no idea how complicated it would be for our country to adjust if many current jobs were eliminated by automation. But on a fundamental, gut-instinct level, I like that fewer human hours would be wasted on menial labor.
  3. If I’m not careful, life will pass me by. Suddenly, it was August, and even that slipped away in a moment in time just like Taylor Swift said. I’ve known this before, but this summer reminded me again that working a full-time job can make the days seem like weeks but the weeks seem like days. I’m scared of complacency, and I’m aware of my own tendency to become complacent: often, when I’m working a full-time job, I feel happy enough just doing the 9 – 5 and then letting the rest of my time fall into the ether. (And when I say ether, I mean the void where everything disappears, not the cryptocurrency. This is not a crypto shill account.) But now it’s September 1st and I haven’t finished drafting a new novel or learned differential equations or painted my bedroom walls. If I’m not intentional and proactive, how I spend my days will become how I spend my life.
  4. But I also don’t really enjoy work-life balance. I like being obsessed, and the ultimate problem with most jobs I’ve had is that . . . they are just jobs to me. I put in the requisite hours and then I have money in my bank account. But I never reach any particularly fulfilling zeniths and my work doesn’t seem to ultimately matter; it seems difficult to become invested when I’m only an intern and don’t have any true ownership over a project. My dream job is one where I get to do interesting, intellectually stimulating things with people I like and then I work for ten hours straight every day. But I suspect that such a job isn’t the kind that I’d be able to apply for on Linkedin.
  5. Free stuff does not matter. My company had lots of nice perks, like free lunch on Tuesdays and a gym in the office. They took us on fun outings, such as canoe racing down the Charles river. Obviously, I like getting free stuff, but also I could never forget that what I truly want is freedom: the freedom to enjoy this one life to the fullest, to be surrounded by people I love dearly, to learn as much as I can and take pride in my achievements. Material perks distract me from what’s important. Years ago, one friend who interned at Dropbox once described this moment where he was biking with his coworkers and suddenly had a vision of him at age thirty, still at Dropbox, being injected by dopamine every few hours by his manager. If I were trying to optimize for happiness, I don’t know if I can argue that it is so bad to be injected by dopamine every few hours (since what is happiness anyway besides some chemicals in our brain), but I think I’ve often tried to optimize for interestingness instead, and such a future is certainly not that interesting to me.
  6. There’s nowhere like MIT. I thought the culture at my company was cute and nerdy, and people were nice. Still, it didn’t quite stir up the spark of wonder that MIT offers.

Much thanks to my company for taking a chance on me; here’s to the upcoming school year and the next recruiting cycle.