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When Suraya Shivji started as an intern on Apple’s Worldwide Developer Relations team, she didn’t expect it would lead her on a path that would end with developing a crucial feature of Apple’s AirPods.
Suraya is a recent graduate of the USC Iovine and Young Academy and has spent the last few years developing mobile apps, finding ways to use programming skills in creative and impactful ways, and most recently building a scent diffuser that uses machine learning to adjust mood. She’s made the most out of her time in college, especially through her summer internships. The lessons learned from those internships have helped her succeed in her professional and personal projects and she encourages students to make the most out of their own internships by always looking for new ways to connect with people, projects, and ideas because you never know what doors they might open.
In high school, Suraya was driven by curiosity. Computer games and how they were made fascinated her, and by her sophomore year, she started making iOS apps. Every roadblock was a puzzle she was eager to solve and each new app was a chance to push her knowledge further.
Eventually, her explorations in app development paid off. The summer after her freshman year she landed a prestigious internship on Apple’s Worldwide Developer Relations team. There she worked cross-functionally with engineers, designers, and product managers to make an application for partnership managers. During her time, she took every opportunity to schedule coffee meetings with other engineers and product managers where she dug deep into why they worked at Apple and how they used their interests and expertise to thrive in their job.
Because of the impact and connections she made, Suraya was asked to return. This time, she was on Apple’s Wireless Core Bluetooth team working on Apple’s AirPods. One of the potential ideas tossed around was a Live Listen feature that would allow AirPods to be used as hearing aids. By using iPhone’s microphone, sound could be amplified for the user which would create a simple to implement yet extremely valuable accessibility feature.
Suraya’s initiative to move around internally and convince others of the value of her project played a critical role in the development of the Live Listen feature. When Suraya ran into a challenge that needed a specific type of engineering knowledge, she knew who to ask and where to find them. It was her job to translate her passion and vision for the feature to get them as engaged with the project as well. Through collaboration and vision, the Live Listen feature was developed internally and shipped with iOS 12.
After reflecting on her experiences, Suraya has chosen three lessons to share with students looking to make the most out of their internships.
1. Talk to as many people as possible. Apple employees’ willingness to help and the ability to move around internally allowed Suraya to build relationships that helped her in her projects. She says that having as many conversations as possible is one of the best ways someone can learn about the culture and projects of the place they’re working at. Even if you don’t know exactly what to talk about, asking what someone is working on is never a bad idea. People are eager to talk about the things they are passionate about, and by putting the conversation in their area of expertise, you can learn a lot by listening to their favorite parts of the job as well as their struggles.
2. Be persistent. While you may be excited to get hands-on and start building, many internships have a heavy emphasis on research. Being able to take a task like researching and make the most of it will allow you to excel when it comes to the building phase. Thankfully, the Academy prepares students with a variety of tools to conduct research, especially when it comes to deeply understanding user needs and unmet opportunities in your problem space.
3. Make the internship into something you’re passionate about. Even if you’re not completely thrilled with the tasks you’ve been asked to complete, find an angle where you can explore your passions. If you’re a marketing intern interested in development, propose a web app to interact with users. If you’re a development intern interested in design, make the best-designed program that the company has ever seen.
Suraya started as an engineering intern on Apple’s Worldwide Developer Relations marketing team and by following the rabbit hole of her passions and curiosity she made valuable connections that opened the door for her to return and develop features for the AirPods. Now, she’s working on her own startup, Mello, and making an intelligent diffuser that creates blends in real-time for your changing moods and schedule.
Suraya will be graduating this spring with years of experience, a startup, a network of friends and connections, and a B.S. in Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation.