4th Year GBDA Student Shares His Experience Interning With Microsoft – And Lessons Learned Along The Way

Monday, June 22, 2020

The internship is undoubtedly an exciting and important part of the Global Business and Digital Arts degree. After their third year of studies, GBDA students have the opportunity to work for a relevant industry company and to make valuable professional connections. Greg McIntyre, Digital Media Instructor at the Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business, recently sat down with Calvin Zheng, a fourth-year GBDA student, to talk about his internship experience – which is somewhat unique from the internship experience of most GBDA students.

After his third year in GBDA, Calvin took an internship at Manulife. He had hoped to secure an internship at Facebook, Google, Microsoft, or Amazon, but hadn’t received an offer from any of them. Although he enjoyed his experience with Manulife, there was no opportunity to bring on new hires afterwards, and Calvin felt he needed more hands-on, highly applicable industry experience at that point in time. And so, he made the decision to put his degree on hold, taking two years to pursue multiple internships within the industry.

Calvin knew that in order to capture the attention of the big corporations he was interested in, he needed to do something that would set him apart from other candidates in the highly competitive internship space. And so, he challenged himself to do the “design-a-day challenge.” For 365 straight days, Calvin executed a daily design project. He thought that rather than trying to become a master of design in a short time period, he would be better served to accumulate the skills slowly over time. He also figured the design challenge would be a great thing to include in his portfolio ­– which turned out to be 100% accurate.

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Calvin’s design-a-day challenge caught the eye of recruiters at both Google and Microsoft. So much so that he was ultimately granted the role of Product Design Intern at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. The three years of GBDA that Calvin had completed up until this point had given him some great skills in UX design, business, and marketing, which proved to be a huge asset in terms of cross-departmental communication. He found it valuable that he was able to speak the language of developers when working on products. The highlight of Calvin’s internship with Microsoft? Knowing that the product he worked on was actually set to be launched and implemented in the near future.

Calvin learned some invaluable lessons during his time at Microsoft – and during the internships he took at smaller companies prior to his summer in Washington. He found that having experience working in smaller companies helped him to become a more adaptable designer when working at a large corporation like Microsoft. Originally, Calvin had thought he could only be successful if employed at one of the “big wig” companies. But his two-year period of taking on different internships taught him that “what I work on is more important than wh6ere I work.”

When asked what advice Calvin had for GBDA students approaching the internship period, he emphasized that students should know their internship won’t make or break their career or life. He urges students to keep an open mind, and not to settle for the first company or sector you experience in your internship as the trajectory of your career. Calvin also knows first-hand the importance of showing employers what you’re actually interested in – and just because it isn’t related to the position in question doesn’t mean it isn’t important. “Always have a growth mindset – never think you’re done learning, and always think about how you can improve,” says Calvin. And in the wise words of a mentor he had at Microsoft, “You can be done, but not finished. When you’ve finished, it’s time to go.”

You can see more designs from Calvin's 365 design-a-day challenge on his personal website or on Instagram.