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The Power of Technical Internship for the Next Generation of Software Engineering Leadership
By Emily Giddings
January 26, 2024

Cultivating Consulting Innovation with Internship Programs

“Innovation is seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi. 

Consistent innovation doesn’t come through luck; it comes through exploring new ways of thinking about what is proven and what is new. These thinking skills and approaches can be developed through practice and experience. In addition to continuous learning and experimentation, Presence intentionally pursues a forward-thinking consulting culture by engaging contractors and occasionally interns with novel expertise and cutting-edge education. It’s one of the ways we continue to define, develop, and deliver market-leading digital products for the future of business. The following is a spotlight on Neha Pant’s internship experience with Presence. We aim to showcase the dual value of internships for fostering innovation at established tech companies while instilling digital product excellence in the next generation of technical leaders. 

Neha Pant: A Rising Star from MIT

This summer, Neha Pant joined our office for a Software Engineer internship to bridge her academic excellence to real-world applications. In addition to an impressive MIT Computer Science background, Neha brought teaching assistant (TA) experience and hands-on experience in debugging code – skills directly applicable to real-world projects, where an eye for bugs is always useful. After a quick team intro, it was obvious that her foundational and critical thinking skills would be perfect for our experimental internal LLM transcription tools and Computer Vision projects. 

Experiencing the Full Spectrum of Digital Product Development

During her time with us, Neha’s assignments gave her end-to-end development experience. These projects expanded her understanding of clients, servers, deployment, and browsers, offering a microcosm of how the Internet operates. Neha’s primary engagement involved bringing a transcription project from an empty repository into a functioning tool. “In school, you work on specific projects that teach you specific things [in a vacuum]. This was different.” At Presence, Neha got a front-row seat to a basic product development lifecycle and participated in bringing ideas into functioning, useful tools for internal use. 

While she learned many of the discrete technical abilities in school, it was the experience of using those skills to navigate complexity to achieve a working result that she found especially valuable about her internship. Bringing project ideas into reality is something Presence is known for, so we were happy to see Neha enjoy it, too. 

Her side projects involved delving into Computer Vision, working on image classification software, and engaging in prompt engineering for data sheets. During the prompt engineering project, she realized the complexity of pulling data from inconsistent data formats (forms, sheets, databases, etc.) without the benefit of human context. “AI can’t make the association a person would using previous world knowledge,” she noted. Whereas humans can pull from previous real-world contexts to draw conclusions about data type similarities, AI cannot do the same thing. It’s a challenge that many of Presence’s clients request solutions for, so we’ve begun developing and delivering custom Conversational Data Intelligence systems that make querying complex, vast data sets as simple as having a conversation.

The Internship Experience: Challenges and Mentorship

Navigating challenges is part of any internship, and Neha faced hers with curiosity and team support. From learning AWS tools she hadn’t encountered to grappling with finding solutions for open-ended research projects, she had plenty to explore. The support from her mentors, Technical Lead Martin Boliek and Head of AI Engineering Kevin Rohling, played an essential role in transforming these obstacles into learning opportunities. “I’ve always liked coding because it feels magical. Thanks to this experience, I got a renewed sense of that. It’s cool because you can start with problems that seem complex and abstract, but if you just break them down, you can tackle them step-by-step, and then suddenly things just work!” 

Data Security and Defence in Depth

One of the most eye-opening experiences for Neha was understanding the critical nature and complexity of data security, “I gained a new appreciation for how people keep data safe. It’s not as straightforward as I thought. Now what happens is that we have failsafe mechanisms that protect sensitive client data through all steps of the process.“ At Presence, we prioritize security as much as innovation, and Neha learned a lot about security at all levels of digital product development from our VP of Engineering/CISO, Eric Müller. She was especially intrigued to learn how to obscure data during cleanup procedures when code fails. From manipulating code to avoid saving files to disk to setting up robust fail-safe mechanisms, Neha gained a new appreciation for developing secure technology. 

The Mutual Benefits of Technical Internships

Neha’s experience with Presence is a great example of the value of internships, both as a student learning opportunity and as a channel for companies like us to engage new perspectives, build relationships, and contribute to the next generation of tech leadership. As Eric reflected, “When we teach someone, it forces us to learn things along the way. What we found remarkable about Neha was that she was curious, she asked smart questions, and she pushed us as much as we pushed her!” Neha’s journey highlights the value of combining academic knowledge with hands-on experience, a principle that Presence holds central in our mission to define, design, develop, and deliver high-quality digital products and technology solutions.