When I was looking for an internship, this summer, I knew I wanted to code. As a result, I found myself an internship at 4xLabs that perfectly suited this goal – an up-and coming fintech firm, offering services to the cash exchange market in Asia. But I didn’t realise that my internship should, and would be about so much more than just coding.
To my pleasant surprise, several days before the start of my internship, the CEO reached out to me and informed me that I would be responsible for the creation of a chatbot to communicate with the customers of money changers. The aim was to automatically detect and answer queries such as, “If I change 4,000 SGD into ringgit, how much will I get?” or tackle customer complaints, for instance, “I went down to the outlet at lunch but the rate was different from what you quoted.” It was to be an automated solution to a real business problem. So naturally, why not delegate the task to technology?
Even though I was an intern, I was to be responsible for the lifecycle of the product from inception to production (not that I knew what a production cycle was at the start of my internship!) Each money changer in our database was to have one chatbot each, on their Facebook page to represent the outlet. A customer could message the bot to ask outlet-specific questions, such as, exchange rates, the availability of currencies, opening hours, location, lodging a complaint, etc. With currently 13 cities in the 4xLabs database, this amounted to over 800 money changers that could use my chatbot!
The thought of creating a usable product with cutting-edge technology excited me. I had plenty of coding experience from college, but many of the tools that I was going to use were new to me. Amazon Lex, the tool that would be used for the development of the chatbot was itself only a month old when I began my internship. Throughout this endeavour, I began to notice that the documentation available online was sparse. While I could reach out to the developers at Amazon, I mostly had to rely on my ingenuity, and ‘test and learn’ methods.
Now, at the end of my internship, I can say I may know more about Lex than some of its developers at Amazon! The finshed product is a fully functioning chatbot called Monet on Facebook. Monet can answer customer queries and even detect some Singlish! We considered the possibility of allowing Monet the bot to detect other languages, or to create a second bot that would represent Get4x, rather than a money changer – but of course, time ran out! Yes, my coding skills have definitely improved. But my ability to problem solve has skyrocketed. This was quite a revelation for me, as going into my project I had little idea of how important it was to research. I also realised the importance of having a team that would support, encourage, and mentor you.
I was amazed by how accessible the team of 4xLabs was, something that would only occur at a start-up. Almost every afternoon for the two months that I interned, I would head into one of the meeting rooms with the CEO of 4xLabs and share the progress on my chatbot. I would update him on ground I had gained and hurdles that I still faced. Often, by the end of our hourly meetings, I would walk away with newfound motivation and an epiphany, obtained by intellectually stimulating discussions.
At other times, I would chat with the product managers on the team, about everything from the architecture of the product, to the potential trajectory of my career for the next ten years! On other days, I would contact members of the 4xLabs development team in Vietnam to solve technical queries. Overall, I could engage, connect, share and learn, and felt a part of the team, sometimes, forgetting that I was just an intern.
Now, my chatbot, Monet is ready to be deployed but my internship is drawing to a close. I am sad to leave, but happy about what I have contributed, and the clarity gained on the next steps of my career. If I had to share the three most notable takeaways of my internship, here’s what I would say:
- Mentorship is key
Find yourself a good mentor. To successfully transition from college to a professional environment, you need someone who will be able to advise you on what skills you should develop for personal edification, or share insights that they have learnt on the job.
- Don’t JUST be a code monkey
It’s not just about coding. Of course you need to be able to code to be a product manager or software engineer but coding will only take you so far. The ability to research and understand the product is equally, if not more important.
- It’s okay to ask for help
Interns are always faced with the immense pressure of trying to impress, even if we may not always know the answer. That’s okay. You can ask for help or admit you don’t know something – in fact you should. It’s better to do it now during your internship and gain valuable skills, than fake it and pass over the opportunity to learn.
Make sure you select your internship wisely. The mentors I have learned from and skills I have picked up while here would only be possible in a small, accessible, and friendly environment like 4xLabs!
~ Meher Vohra, Junior Product Management Intern
See the Monet, the chatbot in action below:
Interested in being a Product Intern at 4xLabs? Send your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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