In late June, I got a notification saying I'd been accepted to intern at Fortune 1 company, Walmart Global Tech, as a software engineer during my freshman summer. I definitely had to pinch myself a couple of times to believe this one.
Interning at Walmart Global Tech was one of the most-mindblowing experiences of my life, and one with lessons and takeaways I'll treasure for the rest of my journey ahead. I am grateful to have learned these lessons and experienced all this at the young age of 15, and I would love to share them with all students who might be starting this process in a few months, or even next year!
Intro to the Corporate World and the Team
Some context: the Walmart innovation team for this particular internship comprises a local team in Toronto and a larger one in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart originally started. So, before we could start on a project or begin our work, we needed an onboarding meeting and an introduction to the corporate world.
The starting date for my internship was July 4th, a well-known holiday for all who reside in the United States. Yet even with the first day being a holiday, I remember the onboarding meeting being one of the most welcoming and uplifting introductions I have ever had in my entire life. And even though it was a day off, a large portion of the Bentonville team was present, and they managed to make the meeting one of the most special days of the internship, as well.
The Macbooks took what had felt like forever to arrive, but when they did, they were beautiful! Shoutout to Cuy for hustling and getting the things we needed for our project through all the time constraints. Truly the best!
An Intense First Month
After a busy week of onboarding and trying to figure out where we were headed in terms of a project, our team was given a problem to tackle in the realm of accessibility at Walmart. Our specific project was one that we were completely unfamiliar with and were also hesitant in terms of succeeding in the end. However, within no time, we started to find a growing passion for improving the shopping experience of our amazing future users. This drive was what motivated us through all the hurdles to keep going and remain persistent.
Although initially, we struggled with perspective-building and understanding when conducting our first customer interviews, we eventually found ourselves building long-lasting connections. On top of that, throughout our journey of constant customer interviews and data compilation, we began learning a new aspect of user experience and design we never knew about: persona-building to identify and tackle a common ground issue.
The whole process of persona-building by extracting the necessary data from our interviews was one that the team (including myself) had never experienced. Even the simple idea of listing different types of customers who come to the store daily was something we never thought of as relevant. However, with the help of our team unicorn (Ethan), we were able to define clear personas and immerse ourselves in the process of finding the key issue that we aimed to solve. It was truly one of the most exciting times, and I found myself having fun while getting a small glimpse of how brilliant and significant the work of a UI/UX designer is in the big picture.
After days of understanding our users to the point of outlining a clear, common-ground issue we can solve, we found a sense of direction for the project. Soon, we were able to design and build a simple, yet effective MVP. We were also lucky enough to receive the opportunity to test our MVP with sample user testers at the Etobicoke Walmart (my favourite Walmart). Although I was not present during the testing process, it was quite an experience to see how it all worked from behind the scenes.
Now we were reaching our biggest milestone for the month of July, and it was officially time for the midterm pitch presentation. And yes, I know that sounds quite intimidating, but the actual event wasn't as intense as I thought it would be. The team guided us through the structure of our pitch and our delivery expectations, while continuously editing our work as we progressed through the weeks. So, before the time came, we were in tip-top shape, ready for a professionally casual conversation about our progress and future steps. I'd like to say that it went marvellously and we were onto our journey of development as software engineering interns.
The Most Stressful but Worthwhile August
August was a tough month, but it was also one of the most fast-paced learning times I've been through and I don't regret a single bit of it.
Now, as my team was transitioning into development near the start of August after our midterm presentation, we had to come up with our modules and complete the work. My area of development involved Artificial Intelligence and I was working closely with my teammate (Ryan) for this, as it was one of the larger modules to piece together. Although not everything worked went perfectly, we were able to achieve a decent level of success as an individual operating module, and I have to got to say, Ryan played the larger part in making this happen (shoutout and thank you so much for making this happen).
Additionally, there was a lot of learning to be done on the side of app development. I had no experience with this whatsoever, so much of the time, I was learning a lot about the ways of integration and making an application come to life. I am so grateful to my other two teammates, Aryan and William, for carrying out the integration of their operating modules and making a fine creation come to life. It truly could not have been done without this magnificent team's hard work and effort for this project to succeed.
Finally, as we approached the end of August, we had a much larger presentation to display the result of our work for the past two months. It felt quite nerve-racking and felt much scarier than the mid-term presentation. However, with a crazy amount of support from our two team mentors, Frank and Vinay, we had everything under control. All our user research as well as our testing and development process was well-balanced and ready for the team to see. It was truly a blessing to have been on that final call with the whole team, and a special shoutout to Victoria (another one of the interns) for her awesome presentation as well!
The picture above was one of the most uplifting (and enjoyable) moments of the final presentation, with Beverly motivating the whole team, and offering her unique insights into all the work that was done. HUGE shoutout to the whole Bentonville and Toronto team for making our last call so memorable, engaging, and one that I will never forget!
My Key Takeaways
Keep team spirit going no matter what. One of the biggest lessons I've learned when working in a small team for a large part project is to sustain team spirit. Although this may seem like a rather trivial point at first glance, our team spirit ended up being one of the main things that helped us persist through hard times. The small moments of laughter and positive messages we had in our meetings contributed significantly to our progress and quality of work near the end. So I'd like to say that the level of team spirit throughout, in turn, affects the team's performance and the quality of the final product.
Learn to figure things out and adapt. Through every moment of this project, I've had to learn things that I've never heard of before in my life. These searches and routes of curiosity have taken me down many crazy paths on Google. However, I've only found myself adding to my knowledge database. Additionally, there have been countless situations that have required me to adapt and improvise, and both these skills are super important to have in any given workspace or industry.
Look at an idea from more than one perspective. This lesson was not only something that became part of my general thinking habits but also something I've adapted from customer research and development on this journey. What I've noticed is the importance of perspective when trying to understand your customer. You really need to take that extra step to put yourself in their shoes and go through different decisions and scenarios they would be in. It is so impactful, and you'll find that sometimes you can relate to these customers while also enhancing your perspective-building skills.
Failure should not be viewed with a negative connotation. Before I was on this team, I would often consider failure to be one of the worst things that could happen in any case. However, I never thought to myself as to why a moment of self-improvement and progress should ever be considered a horrible thing. Yes, it's true that failure can be disappointing most of the time, but it also carries a bright side with it. Without failure, we would never constantly be trying to become the best version of ourselves and I saw that with our project at Walmart as well. Special shoutout and thanks to our team mentor, Vinay, for really enforcing this concept in our minds during those rough patches. :)
Enjoy every part of the process and be in the moment. There were a few times during this experience when I felt as though I was dragging the team, and not ready enough for what was to come. Then I realized something. What was the point of this if I wasn't enjoying it? How could I produce my best work if I didn't display a sense of love for what I was doing? That was the main point when I took the decision that anything I put my time into (during this internship and after), I would enjoy every single part of it. I also realized that it is key to be in the moment, and cherish the present before it has moved on to the past.
A Note of Gratitude
To start this message of gratitude, I'd like to give a huge shout to my Walmart team, the whole Walmart group, as well as The Knowledge Society for making this experience happen.
When I was put in my group of three other Walmart interns, I found myself surrounded by some amazingly innovative people. For some background, my team consisted of Aryan, William and Ryan, who were all quite passionate about our project and internship as well. Not only did I learn so much from each of them, but I also had such an exciting and fun time working with all of them. It was truly an honour to be a part of such a dedicated team who put in so much effort from the very start to the very end. Special shoutout to Aryan for being such a fantastic, flexible, and organized project manager!
Now it is time for the official shoutout to the Bentonville and Toronto team for all their support and mentorship throughout the internship. Thank you so much to Vinay, Frank, Allen, Ethan, Cuy, Jaison, and Keshia who played some big roles in helping us succeed directly with our project. And another BIG thank you to Fareena for introducing us to this project and hyping us up at every meeting! Special thanks to Ammon for such a fun technical interview, and to Sarah, Beverly, Jill, Zach and Ben for always being there to help us out and providing us with the resources we need to succeed.
Finally, I'd love to thank TKS and the team for bringing me this opportunity. I am sincerely grateful to have even gotten the platform to apply for this role and go through such a real-world interview process. I felt like a better version of myself every step of the way, and I'd love to thank TKS for all their support in making this happen. Special shout-outs to Mia and Donnie for guiding us at the start and setting us up for a smooth process from start to end! I loved every single part of it, and would do it again any day!
A Special Surprise at Elevate 2022
Just when I was starting to feel slightly distant and sad, realizing that it had been almost a month since my internship ended, I ran into a delightful surprise at the Elevate Festival in Toronto. And when I say I "ran into a delightful surprise", I actually ran into two of my wonderful fellow Torontonian WM colleagues (Margaret and Sarah), while coming back from Pizza Pizza after lunch.
It was honestly such a moment of bliss to reunite with my wonderful team and hear about the exciting things going on. We met on the next day of the conference for a lovely chat and it was such a pleasure to actually meet the people I've only met through virtual meetings in person!
Note: in this picture Sarah and Vinay are on the left, and Margaret and I are on the right!
In the end, this is one experience I could never forget in my life. I don't regret a single step during this adventure and am grateful to all the incredible people who made this journey and opportunity possible. For those who are starting an internship soon or have one planned for next year, be sure to keep an open mind and let the experience take you away!