Abdul's diary entry - Autumn 2011

Abdul talks about what he learnt during his summer internship and his latest dilemma - whether to look for a full-time position after completing his degree or move into post-graduate education and a career in research…

Abdul Jabbar Siddiqui My summer internship turned out to be an eventful and fruitful experience that is now being followed by the final semester of my undergraduate engineering studies - another unique phase in every student's life. But now I have a new dilemma: choosing between further studies or finding work, so I'm currently hunting for graduate study opportunities in good universities and for well-suited entry-level jobs.

Student life vs. working life

Having become accustomed to the casual student lifestyle, entering the more formal, authoritarian and responsibility-demanding work-lifestyle can be really challenging, yet an enjoyable experience full of practical lessons of life.

The "bubble of protection" in which we students live in at school, somehow guards off what lies out there in the world for us; ie industry and the workplace. In university, if you don't work hard and don't get high grades, nobody else is losing and hence nobody would care except maybe your near and dear ones. However, in the workplace, if you don't work hard enough you could be kicked out.

Abdul's internship

During July and August, after the painstaking effort of finding a placement for my internship, I finally got selected to work at the Information Technology Center of the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (Dhahran, Saudi Arabia) - where I am currently an engineering student. The centre is one of the best of its kind in terms of state-of-the-art IT and computing infrastructure and facilities such as modern data centre, high performance computing (HPC) clusters, advanced security, email and other IT service.

The most important lessons I learnt from my internship experience are respecting time and authority. To be on time, leave on time, not waste office-time in doing personal chores etc are issues essential for an organisation's overall efficiency and productivity. And hence many organisations (including the one I worked with) have strict attendance policies and systems.

On the contrary, in school, unless your professor is strict on attendance, nobody is going to care if you show up in the class or not. Moreover, when you're in the workplace, you'd of course be somebody's subordinate. And this implies you'd have to be accountable and answerable to them. Developing the habit of following orders, punctuality, adhering to deadlines can be challenging for students as such issues are not as strict and prevalent in schools as in the workplace.

Exposure to the latest technologies

During my internship, I was designated to the networking department, which takes care of the entire university's network and Internet infrastructure. I got to meet the professionals of the technologies I've studied at university and gain hands-on experience working with them, such as designing the network infrastructure for new buildings, industry practices to have disaster-recovery systems, back-up communication links, indoor and outdoor wireless connectivity solutions, programming for HPC, and developing Android based application.

A glimpse into research

The final year of an engineering degree can be really exciting, giving you exposure to the hottest areas in your discipline, accompanied by interesting projects to work on. It is not surprising to see that many entrepreneurial adventures have sprouted from final year projects. This is the point in time where you can really put your innovation and creativity to work, building upon what you learnt in all these years.

Being an aspiring researcher, I have been trying to make these final year projects go beyond the courses' requirements and be more research-intensive, with the hope of getting my work published. One such project with a colleague of mine based on wireless sensor networks led to a paper now accepted by an international conference. In addition, research from another project, based on database systems, was published at a national undergraduate research conference.

Although my experience in the world of research is very little, I've come to know what it is like: lots of sleepless nights, pre-occupied brains by thinking about a problem over and over again, endless stretches of focusing. At the end it's a lovely feeling when you see the fruits of your labour taking shape into something remarkable! All this makes research a very intriguing and alluring profession to me, which I intend to pursue through my Masters and PhD.