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Swapnil Tagwale – PPO at Walmart Labs

Swapnil Tagwale is a 2016 batch’s M.Sc. Mathematics and B.E. Computer Science student in his fifth year currently. He got a Summer Internship at Walmart Labs along with 14 others from our campus. The internship was ten weeks long and the stipend being Rs. 58,000. Walmart is supposed to be on a hiring spree leading to a pre-placement offer to 14 interns from our campus. 

  1. What was your position at Walmart while you had your SI there? What work did that involve you doing? Tell us about the selection process, the testing process, and the interview you had for getting your SI? 

A: My position in the company was a software development intern. I was working with the smart-comm team of Walmart. It was an e-commerce retail, IT team. I had to build a bot for Slack. Slack is a channel used to inter-communicate between groups; it is similar to Microsoft Teams. So I had to create a Slack bot that required certain functionalities, and the chatbot would answer the team members’ basic queries to keep track of different orders. Getting further into a selection process- we had an online test. So that was an hour-long test, and it was about 25 MCQ’s and a coding question. The MCQ’s were all about the computer science basics like DBMS, OOPS, and DSA basics fundamentals. So if you had your basics, right, I think that 25 MCQ’s were pretty straightforward. And coming to the coding question part- at a first look, it was quite an easy question. It was out of 50 marks of the total 100 marks test. When I implemented a simple solution, I got about 20 marks out of the 50. When I looked into the answer after the test, I realized it was quite a tricky question because it had to be optimized further. It required knowledge about bit manipulation rather than simple implementation. So I guess it was quite a good question. Speaking of the interview, I would say that it was relatively easy. My interview was about 15 to 20 minutes long, where they asked me the basics of DSA and how I would further optimize the coding question that they asked in the coding round. So it was beneficial that I studied the full implementation of that question before the interview because they had asked me about the tricks of bit manipulation needed to score maximum in that question. They asked me about my projects and the OOPS and DBMS project that I did in the classwork. They asked me the detailed implementation of the same, and then a few basic HR questions. So I would say the interview was pretty easy. 

  1. When did you start preparing for your SI? How much time and effort would you ideally advise for the same?

A: Our batch was the first batch that got into the rigorous process of summer internships. The 2015 batch had only a couple of companies that had come for SI, whereas from my batch onwards companies employed in huge numbers. Being a dual degree student, I learned the importance of SI in my third year. I decided that I would prepare adequately for the summer internship held in my fourth year. I could not fully prepare in my third year due to the hectic schedule. After the third year, in the summer vacations, which were about three months long, I spent about seven to eight hours everyday coding or doing InterviewBit. Leetcode, etc. It is always helpful to start from the beginning because doing everything in those three months will be tough. Three months is not enough time to start coding. Frequently practicing it will help increase your speed and efficiency.

  1. What are the resources you used to prepare for your interview process?

A: My main aim was to improve my competitive coding skill. Being exposed to DSA in 3-2, I had a basic idea of how to train in each topic of data structure. In the three months of my vacation, I did improve it. I solved almost 150 to 180 problems. And then, after covering every topic in InterviewBit, to explore in-depth, I would use Leetcode because it has an excellent interface. But I would advise you to solve InterviewBit before Leetcode because it covers all of your topics. If you want to improve those topics in detail, I would advise you to go to Leetcode. For specific topics like graphs and all, I did some questions on the GeeksForGeeks must do questions. I think it was a pretty good thing for the preparation strategy for graphs and algorithms. For DBMS and OOPS, I think the coursework pretty much covers everything. So I didn’t need any extra effort to brush up those. I just had to revise my coursework.

  1. What were the courses (and other college-related resources, including your PS-1) which helped you with the same? Were there any courses that companies look at extensively while selecting people?

A: During the interviews, which I faced, they were pretty much looking for good DSA skills, and to test the candidate’s knowledge of OOPS and DBMS, they will ask you about your projects. They asked various questions about the projects’ implementations and asked OOPS and DBMS related problems and what it’s application was in those projects.

  1. Could you tell us a bit about your profile (including your projects and research experiences) and what, in your opinion, was the spike that helped you in the selection process? How important did you think those aspects of your profile were?

A: My PS-1 was pretty much useless because it didn’t add anything to my profile. I thought that the main aim of getting an intern is that your DSA should be good because companies are looking for that skill. So you should build up means to clear the coding round; you should first improve your CC to a level that they are satisfied with your answers. I had just done a couple of coursework projects and SOP in my CS related to image augmentation; a couple of AI projects were also part of the coursework. So I don’t think that I delved into those projects. I just focused on competitive coding. In the intern test, companies wanted to test your DSA and OOPS knowledge; they looked at course projects for DBMS. For the non-CS people, you can ask your CS mates and get an idea about how these projects are implemented and do it on your own. You can do it in 10-15 days. If Phoenix students can do those projects and gain enough knowledge, you can assure the interviewer that you know the concepts and their application. 

  1. Did you participate in any non-academic activities (like Hackathons or coding challenges), and how did it help you?

A: In my third year, I used to do CodeChef- the long challenge. I was not active on Codeforces because I was not into coding in my second and third years. Still, after getting to know that only competitive coding is required to get the right internship, I spent my time on InterviewBit rather than CodeChef and Codeforces because it is a useful site to develop your skills in a short period. It pretty much covers every topic and is quite an interview oriented website. It contains those questions which stand a higher chance of being asked in coding rounds or interviews. For example, in Adobe’s test, I distinctly remember that I had solved the same problem in Leetcode. So I was able to solve those problems in about 2-3 minutes. 

  1. How heavily do you weigh the role of soft-skills, CGPA, technical skills in your SI process, and the SI to PPO conversion? 

A: I’m talking only from the perspective of IT interviews. I think your technical skills matter the most. And then your CGPA and then your soft skills. As long as you’re able to communicate your ideas to the interviewer, that’s enough for them to check your soft skills. CGPA is just a qualifying criterion for giving an online test. It also plays a significant role if the company finds that two candidates are on the same level of technical knowledge; then, they use CGPA as a criterion to decide the candidate. A good CGPA is useful for being eligible for the company. So obviously, it means maintaining a good CGPA should be your top priority. Once you are working for the company, I think that technical skills matter the most. Because once you’re interning in a company, they don’t even bother asking you about your CGPA. They assign you some work and judge you based on your technical skills and how efficiently you can implement it. If one considers POR as non-academic activities, it does not help with the IT interviews. In my case, being the cricket team captain never came up in my interviews. 

  1. How did the WFH aspect of your SI affect the general nature of the job?

A: The work from home aspect was a little frustrating for me; they couldn’t courier the laptop because there was a lockdown everywhere during May. We had to arrange a virtual setup on our laptop, and the work was heavy on the RAM. The lag was high, so it was frustrating to work as it would take too long to do simple tasks. The amount of time was about double that of standard time spent in front of the screen. It took me some time to get adapted to after which it was not a big problem. 

  1. How did you find working with your team at Walmart Labs and how big of a role did the senior colleagues there play in guiding you?

A: They assigned a mentor to me, who was in regular contact. Every couple of hours, he would talk with me and message me, asking about the project’s updates. My task was independent and didn’t require much interaction with the team. Only the interaction with my mentor was enough. It was not a project that the whole team was working on. So I was given the freedom to implement my ideas. I guess I was fortunate that it was an independent project. There was no such pressure on deadlines. My mentor was good at guiding me, and he gave me a lot of freedom to express my ideas. So I was delighted with my project.

  1. Could you tell us more about the SI-PPO conversion process? What made you stand out apart from all your colleagues that led to your PPO conversion? 

A: In my team, there were about five interns. I don’t know much about the people from other colleges, but the three people I was familiar with from my college team got the PPO. I would say that be regular with your work. Good communication with your mentor is essential. Getting your doubt clarified and being able to implement your mentor’s advice efficiently should be enough. My experience was relatively smooth regarding this. We would update that we released a code whenever we had to do so in Walmart’s codebase, so the team members would be cheerful about it by encouraging us and being supportive. 

  1. How important do you think doing an SI is for a single-degree student? How much do you believe single-degree students should focus on getting an SI?

A: I think that SI is just another chance to get a placement. It is crucial for those who want to chill after getting placed after getting a PPO in SI. Other than that, I think it just gives you exposure to corporate life. Even if you don’t get an SI, you get another more time to prepare for placements. So even if you don’t get an SI, it’s not that big a deal; you always get a better chance to qualify for placements, which is what matters. 

  1. Were you confused about taking up a summer intern at some point, given the fact that you might not get a chance to do a dual-PS (like most of the dualites do)? 

A: I was also confused about whether to do a summer internship or dual PS. Later on, I planned on doing a summer internship and sitting for the first sem placements. So if the whole pandemic situation had not been here, I would have spent my summer doing the SI and then directly come to the campus for placements. I supposed that was worth the risk because if you get a PPO in the summer internship, you can have an early assurance about being placed.

  1. What are your plans for the upcoming placement cycle, as well as the PS-2/TS process? Do you have any off-campus placement/internship plans?

A: For now, I am only focusing on my dual PS-2. I think the placement criteria got a bit more rigid this year. So I don’t believe that I would get a chance to appear for a few companies. 

  1. Do you have any suggestions for your juniors appearing for the SI cycle this year or would be appearing for it in a year from now?

A: Summer Internship is just a good platform for developing your coding skills from the perspective of IT placements. Even if you don’t get an SI. It doesn’t matter. It just makes you realize the pattern of questions that are being asked by companies. I think that the interview process is fundamental for an individual to get during the summer intern. Because it helps to calm your nerves when you will be sitting for placements, those interview experiences are something that everybody should get before placements because it will help you get to know about the placement interview atmosphere. So preparing for an SI will always be helpful for your placements.

Spend as much time on InterviewBit as possible. I would usually spend it looking at the solutions to questions. Then, apply it, and then gain that knowledge to use it in the next question. This cycle would go on because I couldn’t do most of the questions on my own. But I can assure you that once you solve and get to know its solutions, I think your coding skills will indeed develop. It would be a challenging and frustrating process. I have told many of my juniors that they have asked me, and they would always get frustrated that they aren’t able to do any questions. But it’s the same process for everyone literally because mostly no one can do those questions initially. Just get to know the solutions and remember those solutions to the solution’s approach and how it is usually solved. And try to apply that in a similar type of question in the next attempt. I think it is helpful that you get to know the solutions to the problems if you’re not able to solve it.

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