“As a kid, I had this idea of being a hacker. That’s what first got me interested in coding,” said Napas Udomsak, a computer science sophomore who landed a Microsoft internship during his first semester at Rice. Udomsak is from a family of PhDs in Thailand, so he explored his interest in coding by taking an online Java course, then worked summer jobs in various technology fields.
“Since I had zero CS work experience, my first job was helping retail customers in a computer hardware store,” he said. “The next summer, I worked behind the scenes in an IT group, supporting a shopping mall’s IT infrastructure.” Next, he researched ways to identify motorcycles on traffic cameras.
Most traffic camera technology is developed in western countries with a focus on cars, but motorcycles prevail in Thailand. Udomsak said, “I was working in a lab and building a model to apply existing technology in a new way in order to pick up the motorcycles. That turned me to data science and machine learning, which is really popular now.” He began seriously considering a career in CS research, and the high availability of Rice faculty members was one of the reasons he turned down offers from larger universities.
Based on his previous jobs, Udomsak decided he wanted an internship experience where he could make a high impact within a startup culture. “I sacrificed some attendance points in my classes, and went to the fall Career and Internship Expo,” he said. He targeted specific employers, and talked with recruiters about his experience and goals.
He said, “I met Microsoft at the career fair. They never even asked for my resume or my GPA, it is all about what value you can deliver.” Although he could demonstrate value, he wasn’t enthusiastic about working on well-known Office products, so he used his interviews to convey his desire to work in precise areas.
“The interview process is a conversation,” he said. “You have to ask questions. Use the time to learn more about the potential teams you might be joining.” Udomsak said clarity is important. “A lot gets lost in translation between what a team says they need and what the applicant says they want to do. You might say you want to work in data science, but you get matched with a team that does databases because the recruiter just hears ‘data’ so you have to specify what it is you want to accomplish and how you want to be utilized.”
Udomsak told recruiters he wanted an area where he could have a lot of impact and employ entrepreneurial thinking to his projects. At the end of an intense recruiting season, he had several competitive offers and chose Microsoft.
“Microsoft brings in 2000-3000 interns each summer,” he said, “but I was the only intern for Azure Search, a startup incubator within Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group.” In a company where a team of 50 is considered at startup, the Azure Search team felt tiny, with only 16 engineers and two product managers.
The idea for Udomsak’s intern project came from their user board, so he had to talk with customers before he could begin programming. “I had one and a half weeks to learn the code base and get ‘onboarded’ with the team. Then I spent two weeks in customer interviews and discussed my findings with team. After I got the approval to implement a solution, I spent the last seven and a half weeks doing that.”
Udomsak said he had a lot of quality one-on-one time with his manager and found very little bureaucracy. “We had only three meetings a week, including a scrum,” he said. “Everyone sat in the same room – called a ‘Neighborhood’ –so the conversations were always relevant.”
With his second career expo just around the corner, Udomsak is already narrowing his search. “I really enjoyed Microsoft and the Seattle area,” he said, “but now I want to try a mid-size startup –about 700 employees– and a different city.”