Samsung Korea – Raghav Gupta

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Raghav Gupta

Samsung was recruiting interns from IIT Bombay for the very first time. And the only thing that was known about them at that point was that they offered really high salaries in placement last year (which, unsurprisingly, remains the most important reason for anyone to work at Samsung). A look at the “Quotes” section of Samsung president Lee Kun-hee’s Wikipedia page leaves in no doubt Samsung’s expansionist policy. Also, with the resources they have, this is unlikely to be a bubble (Samsung contributes 17% to South Korea’s GDP). Does this overflow of talent liken Samsung to Google, then?

Not really. Liberty is what differentiates the two places. The one word aptly describing the work culture here is ‘hierarchical’. Quoting a Samsung veteran hailing from India, “Everything has to go through a system. Work with the system and you’ll be rewarded”. As much as that sounds like a shady secret organization, it really is true. The higher-ups ideate while the juniors simply follow orders (changing teams is not easy, consequently there’s limited freedom to choose projects).

Feeling like Bill Murray in “Lost In Translation” all the time while at work, it’s hard for me to ascertain if money is the only motivation behind all the hard work employees put in (I feel odd when leaving office after the compulsory 9 hours while everyone else is still working away). While the junior engineers typically get mundane work (everyone is making presentations all the time), slightly senior engineers work on stuff that would interest most people. But they don’t always control what they get (it’s a corporation after all), so there’s bound to be some resentment.

A similar dichotomy exists for us interns too – some are supposed to develop apps for Samsung’s proprietary mobile ecosystem (the least preferred of all projects on offer), while some are assigned projects that closely resemble university research (but for a patent; ‘patent’ is one overused word here). And mind you, the environment is pretty competitive; no one I am introduced to who is an ancestor of mine in the company hierarchy fails to mention the hope of an ‘outcome’ from me (this is another word I keep hearing all the time).

How’s Office Life?

I’m handed a research-ish project to suggest improvements in an in-place standard for delivering MPEG video content over HTTP (which seems redundant since the standard is already ratified internationally; this internship is likely little more than a 2-month selection procedure for placement offers anyway). Having said that, if you’re looking for an opportunity to get involved in a large real-world project in a corporation, don’t expect too much. Do I like my project? It’s somewhat early to say that, and as mentioned, the kind of project that you get and consequently your experience is a lottery, so I’d avoid stating any one intern’s case as a generalization.

That apart, it’s like most workplaces, I guess – ample sporting facilities, team building activities, friendly and helpful team members. The coffee machine is a venerable place. However, I can’t help but comment that it’s slightly controlled – 9 compulsory hours of office, no Facebook on the office LAN, a disapproving stare from your mentor upon being spotted YouTubing – you don’t have your way here. But then, given the hierarchical system, what else would you expect as an intern?

Samsung Korea
Acco, Food?

Accommodation and food should not be a problem at all – there’s a 20-storey building meant only to house and feed Indian employees. Vegetarians might have a spot of bother, though, for lunch. Also, there’s only microwaves for cooking- no stoves.

What’s Korea like?

Take your image of an oriental nation, add American influence (Christianity, baseball, the accent in the few who actually speak English), incorporate technology in daily lives to a mind-boggling extent, and you get an idea of South Korea. The stereotypical image of brightly lit up streets tread over by good-looking people (South Koreans are famously big users of cosmetics and botox injections) is pretty accurate. Suwon is somewhere between a satellite city and a suburb of Seoul, and has a vibrant nightlife (Soju, the local liquor is a godsend). To think of this nation having gained independence from the Japanese as late as the 1950s and having been struck by a devastating war shortly afterwards, their progress has being intriguing. Needless to say, the commitment of Koreans is laudable. Seoul is a short bus ride away, and there are enough getaways for the ardent travelers, not as spectacular as they’d be in Europe, but fun nonetheless. So, there should be no worries about having a good time here as far as weekends go. The ISIC (International Students Identity Card) is potentially useful, by the way, in case you happen to travel by train.

But doesn’t everyone speak Korean?

Euphemisms aside, language really is a barrier. Surprisingly, the situation is not any better inside the campus than it is outside (my inbox is full of Korean emails with futile English headers; team meetings are either completely in Korean or attended by people who aren’t fluent in English), the place as a result feels slightly exclusive.

How did you get Samsung in the first place?

PT Cell. A technical interview and an HR interview, both onsite, 15 minutes each (I leave it to you to wonder what they’d have been able to test in 30 min; basically, the most chill interview you might ever appear for). From what it looks like, the most important criteria were CPI and, surprise, JEE AIR! They repeated this trend during the placement season when they hired 14 people from IIT Bombay alone (oh yeah, forgot to mention – there are 12 interns here from IIT Bombay, 9 CS, 3 Elec). Visa, tickets and other formalities were all managed by Samsung’s HR department Bangalore.

Raghav Gupta

There’s a team meeting I’m not even required to attend, but my mentor invites me anyway, to watch as long as I please and “see how complicated life in a company can be”. Indeed, it’s complicated and hard to describe, and you may want to work here for just that. The large corporation angle and the proverbial oriental setting make for a work experience you may not find elsewhere. Maybe Japan isn’t too different. But then, Samsung will pay you more. Personally I reckon it’s an experience you won’t regret having, whatever be your reasons.

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