Making Wild Ducks Fly: IBM Extreme Blue Internship

Making Wild Ducks Fly: IBM Extreme Blue Internship

By: Warunika Ranaweera
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I have been a wild duck my entire life; curious, creative and yearning for innovation. As a researcher in my second year of a Master’s degree in computer science, I was accustomed to creativity and innovation—specifically handling a project from its inception to publication. By the time I started seeking for co-op opportunities, I was uncertain whether or not I would find a co-op that would be as exciting to me as a research-oriented internship.  

That is, until I met a recruiter from IBM at a Women in Computing conference in Ottawa, head hunting for Extreme Blue interns. “There are internships, and then there’s Extreme Blue”, their tagline intrigued me. The internship program itself is designed around the idea of a team of interns working collaboratively to develop an innovative product within a four-month time period. After going through an intense interview process, I was selected to one of the teams representing Watson Analytics for Social Media, which is based in Ottawa.

Our team consisted of four interns—three Technical Interns, two of which were grad students (including me), and one Business Intern. We were given a project idea that was loosely defined, providing us enough room to innovate. The initial idea was to develop an analytics solution to derive insights from social media data that will help businesses make decisions. Together we set our own milestones, defined the problem scope, and designed a solution. We then pitched our idea to the execs at IBM Canada during an internal Dragon’s Den! As exciting as it sounds, it was challenging to deliver an excellent pitch in four minutes. Following the comments we received during the Dragon’s Den, we refined our ideas and started developing the solution.

Design thinking was the starting point for our product. We first identified the users through empathy maps and personas, according to which we created user stories. Features were designed according to the user stories and the user interface was prototyped using wireframes. I was a part of the backend development where all the magic happened. We applied machine learning and data mining techniques on social media posts to provide the users with actionable insights. One of the most exciting tasks for me was to research exciting work on mining social media data, and refining/combining current approaches to arrive at our solution.

After two more Dragon’s Den presentations, it was time to pitch to the IBM executives in New York during the IBM North American Expo. As a Technical Intern, I presented the design and development of our solution, while the Business Interns presented the cost-benefit analysis of our project. Following the positive feedback we received from the executives, our project was included in the roadmap for our parent product, Watson Analytics for Social Media, meaning that it will be incorporated into the main product in the near future; which was a real win for our team!

The four months I spent as an intern at IBM, building a ground-up solution as a team, learning state-of-the-art technologies, presenting to top IBM executives, and even partaking in outdoor activities with other interns (such as glamping—for those of you who don’t know, this refers to glamorous camping), were exciting and also challenging. Every day was a whole new adventure and a new challenge that pushed me to solve problems with innovative solutions. If you too are a wild duck (curious, creative and innovative) who is tech savvy with good communication skills and a desire to take your career to new heights, the IBM’s Extreme Blue Internship is highly recommended for you. 


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Posted on March 30, 2017