Last summer, I got an opportunity for an internship at Microsoft Japan, and it turned out to be the greatest summer of my life. Like many university students in Japan, I was looking for an internship in a big company to widen my knowledge and richen my experience. My university actually offered us internship opportunities at one of 50 big companies in Japan. Unfortunately, the selection process was totally random, and I could not get my first choice. Many of my friends had the same situation, they still went for it, but I did not, because I did not merely want to have experience, I wanted to have a “great” experience. Therefore, I started looking for internship on the Internet, and Microsoft’s internship seemed most interesting to me.
The recruiting process was nothing but fun. After I submitted my CVs. I went for a technical screening round continued by interview loops. I was asked to solve programming problems and some miscellaneous questions in each interview. A week later, the good result came, and I was very excited.
My internship started with a nervous feeling, when I came to know that most of other interns were in their Masters or PhD courses. However, that feeling soon went away after the first week. Microsoft prepared numerous guidance sessions for interns, and I was convinced that the internship would be joyful experience. I was fortunately guided by two mentors, who both helped me in their ways. I first want to talk about my project and then about my life at Microsoft.
I started working on my project from the second week, which is improving the Japanese word breaker used in Bing search engine. Japanese does not contain spaces so all the words are written next to each other. The word breaker is used to break long Japanese string into smaller pieces in order to extract essential information. Here are some word breaking examples:
オリコンランキング –> オリコン ランキング
マイクロソフトインターン経験 –> マイクロソフト インターン 経験
アメーバピぐログイン –> アメーバ ピぐ ログイン
Because one of our biggest problems was that the word breaker could not work well with Katakana queries, so I was focusing on tackling the Katakana issue. In order to improve word breaker results with Katakana queries, we had to update the Japanese user dictionary. The word breaker is like a foreigner trying to learn Japanese, the more words he knows, the better he is. I was able to build a pipeline that took customers’ queries as input and gave new Katakana words. In the end, the pipeline helped to update the Japanese user dictionary by 2%, which made the word breaker work better.
In order to achieve my goal, I had discussions with my mentors several times a week. They guided me from coding in C# to making new ideas. We sometimes found our breakthrough after those discussions. I was not received help from only my mentors but also my colleagues. Microsoft has a super collaborative working environment where my colleagues were willing to help me all the time. I remember ask them to label data for me, or get their feedback for my projects many times. I had heard about that kind of working environment before that, but actually experiencing it made me feel great. Beside the project I was working on, I also watched training videos provided by Microsoft every week, which was resulted from one of my mentor’s advice. I was deeply interested in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, so I mainly took courses in those topics. To juniors like me, those courses meant a lot. They did not provide me as much information as a full university course did, but their concise content and joyful demo inspired me to learn more about what I was already into. The most amazing video I have watched was about reinforcement learning. It showed several demos of reinforcement learning’s implementation and ideas. One of them was about how an agent learned to fight through experience. Another was about how a car learned to driver by itself after being taught by human. They were amazing, and thank for them, I thought I would spend a lot of time to learn about that topic.
I felt that work at Microsoft was not so different from my school’s work than I thought. They are certainly different, but they do share many common things. Work at Microsoft requires constant learning, because it is not a repetitive task. In order t create new things, we have to absorb more knowledge, both technical and theoretical. Work could not be fun without new knowledge and actually implementing it for some projects. At school, we have deadlines for reports, revision for exams, and at work, we have deadline for projects, however, the responsibility is different. My grades probably will affect only myself, but my work will have influence on the whole team and I did feel that kind of responsibility at Microsoft. I think that may make you frustrated sometimes but ultimately, it should keep you focusing more on finishing the job. In short, I think working at Microsoft does not mean to stop learning or completely losing sight of school’s work but getting more knowledge, working harder with greater responsibility.
Even though the work I did was quite an amazing and big project, my biggest impression resulted from experiencing life at Microsoft. I was surprised and happy that English was widely used at Microsoft in both daily conversations and emails. Every team at Microsoft Development was global, and Bing team was not an exception. Half of the team members came from other countries and therefore, I had the opportunity to talk in both English and Japanese. Communication was difficult at times, but it was a really nice and helpful experience for me. Thanks to the internship, both my English and Japanese skills improved. The most important factor that made Microsoft a great working environment was its employees and my colleagues. They were open minded, respectful and hard-working. It was a privilege to work with them.
We all focused on our work, but it did not mean we did not have fun together. Many parties were held during the internship and both interns and employees got to know each other through those parties. For example, I was lucky to be invited to parties with our Chinese guests, when they came to visit us for a week. I heard many stories from my colleagues and our guests about their life and experience at Microsoft and those stories actually convinced me that getting a PhD was not the only thing that inspires me.
In conclusion, the internship was the best thing that happened to me since I came to Japan. I always wanted and thought about getting a PhD, but this internship did spark an idea to work instead of continuing my academia. I strongly recommend all of you to get an internship like the one I experienced at Microsoft at least once before completing your study. I am sure that it would be an invaluable experience.