As a college junior, I was very confused about my career path. Computer Science is a field rich with opportunities and choosing which company or job to explore seemed like an enormous feat. The only thing clear was my interest in exploring something exciting and new. After scouring Handshake and LinkedIn, I attended multiple video conference interviews at large tech corporations where I stumbled around with terms like “iteration” and “object-oriented programming”. I was beginning to wonder if I’d chosen the wrong career path, when I discovered an internship posting from Ivy.ai, a higher education chatbot company.
My interview was held at Ivy.ai’s office in Durham, North Carolina. As I anxiously opened the door, I was greeted with a handful of smiling faces. I instantly noticed the presence of female employees. After interviewing at multiple tech firms, I was conditioned to expect a predominantly male staff. That Ivy.ai has a well-balanced and diverse team with multiple women in leadership positions was refreshing. As the interview began, I immediately felt a sense of relief by the friendly encouragement from the company. I was offered a position as an AI Implementation Intern, and I had no doubt this was the opportunity for which I’d been looking.
I was one of eight interns that were hired over the summer. On our first day, we were promptly greeted and introduced to the entire company. The CEO, Mark McNasby, took the time to clear his schedule so he could personally welcome us and share company’s history and vision. We immediately became part of the team and were treated as if we were full-time employees.
Coming into this training experience, I had no idea how to build a chatbot. I was expecting a handful of programming whizzes and lots of code. This was not the case, as my fellow interns had varied backgrounds, including Political Science and Marketing. By the end of the first week, the AI technology had been fully explained, and we were beginning to build our first chatbots with confidence. The interns learned to curate large amounts of data on university websites; to maintain databases; and to train the chatbots to accurately predict users questions and to deliver answers to those questions. By the end of the internship, we helped build over 40 chatbots within three months! Seeing our tangible creations on reputable university websites, such as Stanford and Texas A&M, was highly rewarding.
In addition to learning about AI in higher education, the interns were invited to join on the company’s unique culture and team building events. We attended weekly company meetings, worked collaboratively to break out of escape rooms, joined a white-water rafting adventure, and participated in weekly lunch presentations ranging from Miley Cyrus to subsurface microbes.
The interns had become part of a collaborative community within Ivy.ai. There was always an open-door policy for anyone in the company. I felt comfortable asking all the employees any questions I may have had, whether it was the CEO, a Data Curator, or the Director of Operations. The interns’ ideas, inquiries, and creativity were not only accepted, they were encouraged.
As the internship came to an end, our own “Ivy Awards” was hosted by Director of Operations, Katharine Coomer, where each intern received recognition for their unique contribution to the company. CEO Mark McNasby met with each of us personally to address questions and offer advice and praise, along with an opportunity to continue our journey at Ivy.ai.
My internship experience allowed me to grow personally, but it also helped me to gain new skills in both the tech and business industries. I developed a better understanding of artificial intelligence and the amount of hard work and collaboration it takes to implement this technology. I also learned how all the different aspects of a business work together as a well-oiled machine. I greatly value the opportunity Ivy.ai gave me to step foot into the intimidating world of AI, as they facilitated a seamless transition for my career exploration. I would suggest every student to take the opportunity to complete an internship, even if it is not within the industry you had planned on working in. Exploring prospects within different workspaces will allow for a clearer view of what it means to be in the professional world.