How a mediocre internship shaped my life.

Written on 2018-01-31

Ryan The Temp

On my first (or second) week at internship as a “Technical Apprentice”, me and my friend complained to the manager/supervisor that we aren’t getting any exposure to anything remotely related to Mechanical engineering, he kinda laughed and said something, only thing that stuck with me was: “You’ll get to learn Excel, it’s pretty useful in the Industry”. I was sitting there, thinking what the f** is there to learn about a spreadsheet program? (Spoiler: there isn’t much.)

Some background: This happened during mandatory 6 months internship which is part of sandwich type Diploma in Mechanical engineering course in India. My internship work was basically copy-pasting data from one sheet to another, sometimes analog paper, sometimes digital (phew).

So nearly 2 years have passed since that internship started, I am now proficient in Excel among other things. But this story is not about some M$ product. It’s about finding a way around sh!t that life throws at you.

My first job at this internship was to digitize shipping/transportation records. Now that might sound super technical but in reality it’s just entering some random data from receipts to Excel sheets. This mind-numbing task went on for few days. Then one day I remembered about something called OCR, that I read in some prehistoric book prescribed by our syllabus. So I went back at home and re-read the book to find o… Nope. I googled “Free open source OCR software” and found FreeOCR. Bam, immediately my “work” load was reduced dramatically.

I was interested in Computer Science way before this internship even started, I had taken CS50x (which is a nice introductory course, I recommend it to everyone who is interested in CS) What I hadn’t experienced was the joy that it brings when you can actually put your newly acquired skills to do some work for you.

My next job at internship was to copy paste relevent details for these shipping records into some other excel sheets. Ignorant of the existence of VlookUp, I re-implemented it entirely using AutoHotKey. Watching my “work” of copying and pasting things performed automatically was such a spiritual experience. Sometimes I deliberately slowed down the scripts just so I can see the magic unravel. Drudgery towards monotonic work became a fuel for interesting projects. I spent more time on writing scripts instead of doing actual “work”.

I started learning python, statistics, machine learning, web design, Linux, the Free software movement, cryptography, physics, philosophy, mathematics and anything else that I could put my hands on. I didn’t master any of these subjects. But it’s not about mastering every subject you encounter, I believe everyone should explore the horizons before diving to the depths. Learning so many random things and how they are intertwined, enriched my life on a literally daily basis.

So if you’re about to start a boring internship, think differently. The world is filled with jobs that are of no use to the society or even the businesses that create them. This boring internship might be the break from formal education that you were looking for. Explore the horizons.

I wish you way more than luck. — David Foster Wallace