Spotlight on our Students: Computer Science in Silicon Valley

Aerial shot of Apple's headquarters

In this edition of Spotlight on our Students, we talked with Lauren Siegel about her summer internship at Apple in Cupertino, Calif.

Lauren is a fourth-year University Scholar from Raleigh, N.C., double-majoring in Computer Science and Economics. Read on to learn more about her time in California working for one of the most impactful companies of the 21st century.

*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed below do not represent those of Apple.*

USP: Lauren, welcome back to campus. I know you are busy getting the semester off on the right foot, so thank you for taking the time to talk with us about your summer internship with Apple. Tell us a little more about what you were doing. 

LS: This summer I worked at Apple as a software engineering intern. While interning, I was also an active fellow with Rewriting the Code (a fellowship for collegiate women in technology), and I took online summer classes through NC State.

USP: Woah – that sounds like you had a really full plate for the summer! What led you to be interested in interning at Apple for the summer?

LS: I’m studying computer science, so through my coursework and previous internships I developed an interest in software engineering. So many incredible technologists work at Apple, and the intern program gives students the opportunity to meet amazing people and work on real and exciting projects at the company. Having the opportunity to work in Silicon Valley for the summer also meant getting to meet tons of other people in the tech industry and attend lots of tech-related events, including many that are specifically for students and interns.

USP: That sounds very inclusive and a great opportunity to network. What are some things you learned during your time working with Apple?

LS: While at Apple I learned technical skills and improved my approach to software engineering and also improved my leadership and presentation skills. I was especially excited to synthesize all of these skills by giving technical presentations and showcasing my project at the end of the summer.

USP: Those are really great goals to have accomplished during your time there. What is the most interesting thing you learned and what was the most challenging aspect of your time there?

LS: One of the most interesting parts of my project was applying some of the classification techniques I learned in a machine learning course last semester at NC State. It was really cool to have the opportunity to directly use something I learned in class on a project that will be used by the company. The most challenging part of the project was probably stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to so many new people! I had to set up meetings with total strangers in order to get more information about different topics that I needed to understand in order to work on my project. The internship definitely challenged me to work on all of the aspects of being a software engineer, not just the technical aspects.

USP: It’s so valuable to have to practice those social skills as well as the technical skills involved in your field. What would you say is the most valuable thing you learned?

LS: I learned a lot about how important it is to build relationships with other people. Even just grabbing coffee with someone for 15 minutes can help you learn more about opportunities within the company, resources for the project you’re working on, or give you a different perspective on a technical problem. Finding common interests and making friends can also be a great way to feel more comfortable in a new environment, especially if you’re a little far away from home!

USP: How would you say your time in the University Scholars Program helped prepare you for this experience?

LS: I think my time in the USP prepared me for this experience in several ways. The USP helped me stay curious and cultivate an interest in and appreciation of multiple disciplines. While living in San Francisco I was able to visit museums, go to festivals and attend lots of different events that are similar to the ones that USP has sponsored at NC State. Studying abroad in Florence with the USP helped me learn how to adapt to new environments, and overall I’ve felt like I’ve been able to really enjoy living in a new place, in part, because of my experiences in the USP.

USP: Sounds like you were able to dig into the local culture with a relative level of comfort, that’s wonderful. Do you have any advice for other students who are thinking about doing an interesting internship like this?

LS: It’s all about balance! If you’re someone who tends to say ‘no’ to invitations or opportunities, try to step out of your comfort zone and explore what your new environment has to offer. If you’re someone who loves to say ‘yes’ to everything, make sure you’re taking time to recharge and maintaining relationships with family and friends back home. Internships can be a good way to get a glimpse of post-grad life and help you figure out where you want to go and what you want to do— treat them like a test-run.

USP: That is really the most solid internship advice I’ve heard. It really is a test run for things to come. In closing, what would you say is the best advice you’ve ever received?

LS: I once had a mentor tell me that “if you’re not asking questions, then you’re not learning very much.” Even if these are questions that you ask Google before asking a person, formulating and asking questions are incredibly important to achieve a deeper understanding of the technology and systems that you’re working with. I’m very thankful for all of the professors, peers, and coworkers who have encouraged me to be curious and ask them more questions; I’ve found that getting over some of my fears about asking too many questions have helped me learn so much more!

USP: Well Lauren, thank you so much for sharing your story. We look forward to hearing about your further adventures in the future. Best of luck to you this semester.