For students, summer is an exciting time. Younger students welcome the reprieve from assignments and class, soaking in the sun at home or on vacation. Their older peers, meanwhile, are hard at work in labs and offices, honing their professional skills through internships, and preparing to launch into a career.
Western Digital welcomes interns across several business units and disciplines every summer, educating and training them on the job as they take on vital tasks in their teams. As a leader in tech, Western Digital knows how valuable technical and business skills are for students and employers alike, particularly in such a competitive labor market. That’s why the company offers a world-class internship program to help students create possibilities in their careers.
Lesson plans and business goals
Before 2017, Western Digital’s interns were less unified and sprinkled amongst various teams and disciplines. The company turned to its own interns for ideas on how to improve its processes and support employees early in their careers.
“My project when I was an intern involved working with my fellow HR interns to create a business case about why college students would want something like the RAMP College Graduate Program to help them prepare for their careers,” said Nina DeMaria. She was part of that 2017 intern group and remains at the company as a full-time recruiter. The intern’s case was focused on balancing education and business value.
“It was two-fold,” said DeMaria. “Ultimately we would love to hire the interns back when they graduate, but we also want students to learn what career paths would make the most sense for their careers.” Today, the intern program aligns strongly with business goals while extending and enhancing the education of students.
“It starts with our interns,” said Grace Nicolas, head of the university recruiting team and a colleague of DeMaria’s, “taking the skills they learn in the classroom and transforming them into industry value. We want to help students understand their strengths, their goals, and that they have value in these industries.”
Today, the program is designed to support students and their managers to ensure the experience is fruitful. From tech talks to intern socials, the program is designed as a testing ground for their aptitude and a foundation for professional networking and growth.
Classroom skills, industry standards
The intern program encourages students from all various disciplines and backgrounds to apply, from undergrads to Ph.D. candidates, and ensures that they work on meaningful projects that have an impact on the business.
Divya Mutha, a post-graduate student at San Jose State University, is a data science intern at Western Digital for an operations analytics team. Her department acts as a sort of internal consulting team for the company, working to optimize processes from design to manufacturing. Specifically, Mutha works on the Western Digital-Kioxia joint venture.
“I’m currently working on a model built via machine learning for the Kioxia JV,” Mutha said in an interview. “I have the freedom to choose my tools and methods, and I’m in the same Scrum meetings as everyone else. I feel supported and challenged.”
At first, Mutha was a bit overwhelmed, but the support offered by her team and the internship program have been instrumental in her adaptation to the workforce.
“In the beginning, I was really confused about what was going on, particularly what data was being stored and how to use it,” she said. “I try to learn on my own first, but I know I can always reach out to my team for clarity and support. I’ve learned so much that is going to help me in the future.”
Managing internship outcomes
While the focus of the intern program is on the students, of course, the supervisors and teams that choose to take on these students are equally important. As part of the program, managers must attend meetings to ensure their projects align with the goals of interns, that they provide ample education and support, and ensure interns feel integrated into their team.
“Before we onboard the interns, we have meetings with the hiring managers to touch base on expectations and what students would be looking for,” said DeMaria. “We offer resources to help these teams understand how an intern wants to be treated, and what they are looking for. These are not just part-time workers. They’re people who are trying to grow and develop.”
Dávid Gyulai, a director of advanced analytics at Western Digital, manages Mutha and understands the responsibilities and opportunities of the internship program.
“We want our projects to be challenging, and we want to make sure that we find an intern that is a good fit for that topic,” Gyulai said. “When we have a good match between our projects and the student’s skill set is when we find the most success. We want them to have a bigger project, but one that still fits within their time frame and ability.”
Frequently, the biggest challenge they face is their own ambition.
“Our interns are very, very ambitious, which is awesome and not a problem. But we do need to keep this in mind,” he said. “They want to have a huge impact and accomplish lots of things during their time here, so I must remind them that the projects are specifically chosen for the timeframe of their internship.”
Going back, then coming back
At the end of the internship, all students are required to present their findings from their time at Western Digital.
“The end of summer presentation is the culmination of all of their experiences,” said Nicolas. “Their assignment, their challenges, their successes and failures, and what they learned from it. They’re presenting to not only their peers but to their supervisors and even senior leadership.”
This encapsulates the ethos of the intern program: educate, train, and challenge the next generation of tech leaders. While the company would love to welcome interns back as employees, the intern program’s goal is to send these students back to class with valuable experience for their final years of school and beyond.
That fundamental and quintessential focus on developing the students is what makes the program so successful. Like DeMaria, many of Western Digital’s full-time employees started as interns. Mutha hopes to join their ranks once she obtains her master’s.
“I would definitely love to come back,” she said. “The people here are great and helpful, I love the work culture, and the things we work on are important. I am learning every day and I would love to come back. This is my first step in the world of data, and it’s always going to be special to me.”
To learn more about Western Digital’s internship program, including how to apply, please visit our Careers page