Sony, Japan: Ankur Mallick
In this edition of Insight’s summer blog, Ankur Mallick talks about his internship in the Japan offices of Sony – a company that needs no introduction.
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There was a little less than a week to go for the start of the even semester when the Sony IAF was opened. This was probably the best company internship left for electrical engineering students, especially dual degree students who wanted a core intern. With a purely tech profile (in the Image Sensor division), one of the highest stipends on offer, and a chance to spend 9 weeks in Japan, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a reason to not apply for this intern.
The Selection Procedure
The selection procedure was fairly straightforward. Apart from signing the IAF with our 2 page tech resume, each candidate had to fill up a questionnaire, describing relevant projects, how we felt could contribute to the internship profile, and what we hoped to gain from the internship. The questionnaire is given a lot of importance as was evident from the fact that only 10 candidates (5 B. Tech and 5 Dual Degree) were shortlisted for the final interview and one candidate from each category was ultimately selected.
There was a single interview for each candidate. It was roughly half an hour long and consisted of both technical and HR questions. The technical questions mainly dealt with our projects and how we would use our expertise to contribute to the work being done at Sony. We were also asked about our knowledge in the field of image sensors and the work done at Sony in this field. The HR questions were typical – we discussed my family, my reason for wanting to work for Sony, my food habits, the qualities that I felt set me apart from the other candidates, etc. Most Japanese companies are more concerned with your ability to adapt to Japanese culture rather than your technical expertise and thus the HR part of the interview is very important and deserves a considerable amount of preparation. The interview is not rushed in anyway and one gets enough time to frame the answer to each question properly. So with good preparation cracking the interview should not be a problem.
Working at Sony
My aim before the start of the internship season was to get a core company intern as I wanted to find out more about the research that goes into developing new products in the industry, as opposed to the academic research at universities. In that regard, Sony has been a dream come true. Other than the work I’ve done, I’ve obtained an insight into some of the latest technology that they’re working on like HMDs and 4K cameras and for a tech enthusiast there can be no better experience.
My work itself is in the field of image processing, more specifically multispectral image processing. My internship project was to design the image processing framework for Sony’s multispectral image sensor (which is still in development) and demonstrate a viable commercial application for it. Beyond this broad guideline I was given complete freedom to determine the scope and approach to the work. I chose face recognition as the application to be demonstrated.
The work itself consisted of 3 stages:
1. Literature survey: Reading research papers in this field (face recognition and multispectral image processing) and selecting the ones most suited to my needs
2. Testing and simulation: Simulating the algorithms proposed in these papers which involved a fair amount of coding in C++ and required me to understand several concepts of image processing
3. Demonstration: Implementing the system I’d designed on a facial database. I captured facial images of some of my colleagues to create the database
Thus over the course of my project I was able to get a clear picture of image processing (pun intended) right from capturing images, to performing operations on them and using the processed images for a particular application. Overall it was a really enjoyable and interesting project and despite my lack of any prior knowledge of image processing I was able to perform fairly well. My mentor seems really pleased with the results I’ve obtained and they intend to take this work further so hopefully you’ll get to see the results of my work here soon.
Most of the credit for my work goes to my colleagues at Sony. When you find out that the guy sitting two seats away from you at work is responsible for designing the entire image processing framework for images captured with flash in Sony cameras, and your mentor has written a portion of the code used in the PlayStation 2, you know that there is some serious talent afoot here. Despite the fact that their English isn’t exactly the best in the world, they have a good working knowledge of technical terms and communicating with anyone has not been a problem and the amount I’ve learnt from them is much more than I would have ever thought possible over two months.
The work culture here is extremely informal. There is no sense of hierarchy at all. Everyone from the general manager to the intern occupies a similar cubicle with access to the same facilities. No formal wear is required and listening to music while working appears to be the norm. The Japanese are extremely organized in their work and a detailed schedule of my internship had been prepared before I set foot in the country. Review meetings were held once a fortnight and everyone was really eager to know about and contribute to my work in these meetings. My work was very open-ended so there weren’t any strict deadlines as such. As long as I made regular progress there was no pressure on me to work long hours. In fact I only had to stay after 5:30 pm on two or three days before my final presentation.
This is the first time I’ve travelled outside India and it has left me thirsting for more. Japan is a beautiful country with loads of places to visit. We visited at least one new place every weekend and yet we’ve hardly seen anything. If you’re a non-vegetarian and love to eat meat (like I do) then you’re sorted as far as food is concerned.
This is the first time I’ve travelled outside India and it has left me thirsting for more.
The language is definitely a barrier but not as big as I’d anticipated. The Japanese are really organized about everything and if you’re a stranger they’ll go out of their way to help you. So I’ve never faced any major problem due to my lack of understanding of Japanese.
A word of advice to juniors reading this article – Sony has been a great experience and the dream internship for me, but don’t let that prevent you from applying to other companies. The benefits of getting an early intern cannot be stressed enough. That said, don’t let a few rejections get to you or make you start signing IAFs you have no interest in. Six months ago I was afraid I’d be spending my summer in the insti, and I was almost on the verge of applying to non-core companies, something I’d been strongly against from the outset, and now I can say with certainty that this has been the best summer of my life.
The things that I’ve learnt, the people I’ve met, the food I’ve eaten, the trains in Tokyo, the bullet train, and the sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji are going to stay with me forever. Today is my last day at Sony and I’m genuinely sad to say goodbye. I might just ramble into senti mode now so I’ll end this article here. I hope you find it useful.
With that, this is me, signing off.