How Techlab + ELP Prepared Me for a Summer in the Bay Area
Blog Post by ELP Student Neil Gurnani (Computer Science | Class of 2022)
During the summer months of 2021, I had the humbling opportunity to work at Amazon Lab126 on Alexa Communication device software in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Not only did the experience teach me a lot technically, but it made me realize the true value and exposure my ELP coursework as well as TechLab at MCity fellowship had in the broader context of my career as a software engineer and budding entrepreneur. I think finding the right balance between engineering and technical hands-on learning through TechLab + Entrepreneurial Leadership through ELP allowed me to broaden my skill set and achieve success in the software engineering role in the Bay Area.
In the following portion of this article, I will outline three ways in which both CFE Immersive Experiences both prepared me for my summer experience.
Whether it be the workplace of any other setting, I am sure we can all agree that the people we meet and the relationships we create are invaluable. In fact, my very participation in the TechLab at MCity program goes back to a friend I met within a student organization I was a part known as MProduct, who then connected me to a past fellow who had worked on a project team two years prior to me.
Moreover, in the tight knit community and circles I formed through joining these two fellowships offered through the Center for Entrepreneurship, I was able to not only expand my network of similar entrepreneurial-minded peers, but also learn and grow through the experiences of my peers.
I was able to go into my internship and travel to the Bay Area with this same mindset I picked up from the CFE fellowships. During the course of my four weeks in the Bay Area (as a result of doing the first eight weeks remotely), I was able to meet engineers and product leaders across Silicon Valley, from Google, Facebook, NVidia and several other startups (Nuna, Plaid, UpStart to name a few). This networking and relationship building mindset that I learned from my experiences here at U-M, and further refined through the CFE Fellowship Programs allowed me to broaden my horizons and expand my network.
Whether it comes to a high-impact entrepreneurial project or working in a large company, teamwork and collaboration are vital to furthering a project and effectively delivering to your end customer.
Through TechLab at MCity, I was able to, in a team of four, work on a computer-vision team project in collaboration with Humanising Autonomy, a startup based in London. This not only required running team meetings effectively and team communication via Slack / video calls but also allocating tasks to ensure productive team progress. Beyond that, in the ELP program, numerous of our projects involved team-based pitch presentations and written proposals that allowed us to refine our skills brainstorming, ideating and creating as one collective unit rather than in individuals.
These team-based skills I picked up transferred directly into my internship in the Bay Area, where I was working most closely with my direct mentor and two senior engineers on a high impact project of bringing Alexa Communications functionality to third-party partners such as Samsung, Vizio, and LG in integrating alexa on their devices through the Alexa Smart Screen SDK. I think that having the experience of working with teams in two of my past entrepreneurial courses (TechLab + ELP) allowed me to contribute effectively to a team-based setting during my summer internship.
“Intrapreneurship & Entrepreneurship: Innovation Department within Amazon Lab126”
Amazon Lab126 itself is an innovative R&D center focused on delivering the most cutting-edge, futuristic consumer electronics and experiences to its users.
This mindset of being innovative and forward thinking when designing consumer products and software experiences is something that was constantly emphasized in both TechLab + ELP, as we were encouraged to validate our ideas with customers and do user research on the ideas and problems we believed we were solving. To believe is one thing, but to actually validate the innovative nature of an idea is a whole different story. I think that my experiences in class were directly transferable to my role this summer and the fundamental knowledge I had allowed me to analyze and look at software problems from an entrepreneurial and innovative perspective.
All in all, I think both TechLab at MCity and the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program were not only immersive and practical experiences that changed my perspective on product-engineering, innovation and entrepreneurship, but also prepared me and equipped me with the skills needed for my summer internship in the Bay Area.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for hearing my story.
If you have any questions or would just like to get in touch with me and chat, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.