It was 9:30 AM and the calendar read May 21. I had just stepped into Flipkart’s office at Mantri Commercial, Bangalore.
I was familiar with the pleasant weather and insane traffic of Bangalore as I had interned in the city in the past. Confused about which building to enter among the two, I decided to call the HR person who was assigned to me. She guided me to the right place – 3rd floor, Tower B – and asked me to wait over there. After half an hour, I saw other students entering. I enjoy having conversations with new people and so I went ahead to speak with them. I got to know that they were my co-interns from various top colleges of the country.
Soon, the HR contact arrived and after completing some formalities, we entered the office. The first thing I noticed was the meeting rooms and how they were named based on various TV series like “House of Cards”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, etc. Around 10, another HR person came over to brief us about the internship. To make the co-interns familiar with each other and know about the office, a short interactive session was conducted. We were supposed to do some fun activities to complete the task.
It was a really fun and great opportunity to gel and interact with fellow interns, including those of the opposite sex. We were then assigned separate groups and locations, where we were supposed to report the next day. I was officially assigned to the catalog management group, but I also worked closely with the data science team. We were then asked to collect our laptops from the IT department – and I was elated to receive a MacBook Pro!
I got this opportunity through my professor’s recommendation. Amod Malliya, the Flipkart CTO, had visited IIT Kanpur for an entrepreneurship task. My professor was hosting him during his visit, and that’s when he referred me. Following that, I was asked to fill an application with the details of my research experience and an updated CV. My resume was shortlisted, and then I had to give three telephonic interviews – the first one was an interview on coding involving data structure and algorithms, the second revolved around puzzles and discussions on past projects, and the last one was a discussion on the possible problems I could solve during the internship at Flipkart.
Some of the questions asked in the interview were:
– Write a pseudo code of Random Forest Algorithm of machine learning without using any library.
– Write evaluation metrics for the K-means clustering algorithm.
– Explain the differences in the objective of density-based clustering and other clustering algorithms.
– Code an efficient algorithm to detect duplicate entries in an array.
– Some more questions on binary trees and linked lists.
I performed well in the interviews, and two weeks later, I received an offer letter with the possible joining-date options. And here I was with a MacBook Pro, looking forward to my second day of the internship!
I met my mentor, Pradhuman Jhala – and interacting with him turned out to be one of the highlights of my internship. He frequently used to take me out for tea or coffee, and I learned quite a lot of things from him. I set up my system and email address and started working. He then asked me to send a project proposal. It was surprising that I was given an opportunity to choose my own project! I consulted Prof. Harish Karnick, IIT Kanpur, and settled over a potential project after taking references from around 4-5 papers. I decided to work on the problem of product classification in the e-commerce setup. I drafted the proposal, and it was appreciated.
I started the project with data collection. Multiple tasks in e-commerce (e.g. search) require the tagging of the textual description of a product with the path labels from a static hierarchical taxonomy. Such categorisation is challenging because most categories have a sparse and non-uniform number of products. It also requires a good representation of product descriptions and an efficient algorithm for classification.
To handle these challenges, I developed:
1. A novel document representation technique.
2. An ensemble of multiple classifiers predicting path labels, node-wise labels and depth-wise labels.
I got immense support from colleagues at Flipkart and made some life-long friends. My progress was decent, and I made sure that I could finish the work before the deadline.
Another great aspect of my internship was the open work culture and the freedom that was given to interns. It wasn’t all work and no play – the team head took all the members for football games every Friday. Not only did it help us in staying fit, it was a great team-bonding activity too! Flipkart also organized a day-long hackathon during my internship, and I invited few of my batchmates for participating in it.
We implemented two hacks and received appreciation from other teams too! Owing to my suggestion, an outing for the whole team was also organized – ‘Ab har wish hogi puri’ is not just a slogan after all! I also went to Karunya University with a Flipkart employee to host a workshop. This was my first workshop for an audience of over a 100! It was a great learning experience.
Soon, the internship came to an end and the ‘demo-day’ approached. My final presentation in front of top leaders of the company was successful, and my work was appreciated. I was given a chance to continue my work off-campus, and I also won the poster competition for my work! My work was later published in the 26th International Conference on Computational Linguistics (COLING). Our framework was finally integrated into production at Flipkart and was even covered by the media.
The time for departure had come, and I was sad that I had to leave some brilliant people behind. The most satisfying thing about this Flipkart summer internship was the fact that I was fully involved in the company’s operations and wasn’t treated differently for being an intern. Though this meant longer working hours at times, the learning experience I earned owing to this was invaluable.
I picked up a lot of things in a relatively short time and gained valuable insights into not only my own sector but various other sectors too. I did this internship in the fourth year of college and the exposure that I got motivated me to do research in machine learning and natural language processing. It was a stepping stone in my research career – and currently, I’m working as a research fellow at Microsoft Research Lab, India. Thank you, Flipkart, for all the wonderful memories and opportunities!
About the Author: Vivek Gupta graduated from IIT Kanpur and did his summer internship at Flipkart. He shares insightful details about the selection procedure and how the enriching experience helped him in his career.
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