What’s it like to intern at VMware? Attri Farahzadi spent her summer working on the cloud software company’s employee experience revamp as a graduate intern in human resources. In this interview, Farahzadi discusses her experience working at VMware, from the project she carried out to the company’s culture and social events for interns. She also offers advice for any other MBAs or prospective students who might be looking to make the most out of their internship.
Which business school do you attend and what have you been specializing in while there?
I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona in Tucson and then I entered my Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at San Jose State University's Lucas Graduate School of Business. So, I'm right in Silicon Valley, at the heart of it all. I joined a two-year MBA program and my focus is in organizational behavior. I'll be graduating in May, 2017.
Which department did you intern in and what kind of projects did you work on?
I was working under the global business enablement team (GBE) under HR operations. The specific project that I worked on this summer is the company’s new employee experience revamp. My primary focus was on the onboarding phase of that revamp - the experience before a new hire gets to VMware, as well as that initial phase right before they start their orientation. What does that experience look like for them? How do we improve that experience?
Part of what my project looked at was manager enablement; what managers are doing to improve employee experience. I developed an onboarding toolkit for managers so that they knew what to do to prepare for their new hires – for example, what they're doing to get their new employees excited about coming to VMware.
Why did you decide to intern at VMware?
There are a few reasons. Initially, my interest was based on the reputation VMware has. When I started talking to people who worked at the company and went through the interview process, I realized it was the core of what I wanted.
The core of what I really enjoyed was the people there and the culture. It said a lot about the type of environment that I would be working in. I was meeting people who were really intelligent yet, at the same time, down to earth, open, warm and welcoming. They wanted me to succeed.
Then, as I was hearing more about the internship, I started to get this feeling that it wasn't your typical internship. I've been to places where you could do a project and it just kind of felt like busy work. With VMware, however, they didn't tell me my project until later on because they were saying, "there are a few different things we're working on, we're going to figure out which ones are a priority and get back to you." So the project I'm worked on was really valuable for them, because it wasn't just something for me to do and went public on our Intranet. That was another piece of it, knowing that my work would actually be implemented if I did a good job. That was a huge thing.
How did the application process work?
I applied through the career website they have at my school. I will say that the interviewing process was very quick. They do a great job and have a very fast turnaround. I was really impressed by the team there and that's what made me more comfortable about accepting the role.
I got an email back the week after I applied. I did a screener phone call and spoke with my recruiter a few times. She made arrangements for me to do video interviews with the team that I would be working with, to make sure it was a good fit for both of us and to get to know them a little bit.
Then, they brought me on campus to do an in-person interview with the vice president of the team I would have been working with (I actually ended up switching teams at the last minute). While I was there, I got a company tour and met with the manager I was going to be working under. I happened to be there for an HR conference, all-hands event. The senior VP & chief people officer, Betsy Sutter, was there as well as all the VPs, all the managers – everyone from top-down was there. So, if you could imagine going in for a final interview and actually coming back a few days later to meet with all these different people – that was an amazing experience for me. Being able to meet Betsy Sutter before I had even started was a huge highlight for me. How many people can say they met the chief people officer of the company they were interning with before they started? That was a big highlight for me.
I got offers from a lot of other big companies. They were very, very reputable companies and I was going back and forth, but I think that initial experience I had at VMware, going through the hiring process, how quick the turnaround time was and the very high-touch process steered me toward VMware.
What were your impressions of VMware's corporate culture?
It was very warm and welcoming. I'd say those were the two big things. Like I said before, you have really intelligent people. Naturally, that can be intimidating at times, but I think what's interesting about VMware is that there is a culture of, “leave your egos at the door," and you can see that that's something that really happens. At the end of the day, we all have the same goal and we work together to achieve that.
What did you enjoy most about your internship?
First, the special events...I would be an idiot not to say that. It's great to have a work-life balance. You do your work during the day and, in the afternoon, you're invited to these different Friday bashes that VMware has every other week. It's cool because there's always a theme associated with it. While I was at VMware, there was a Star Wars-themed event and a dog-themed event. It's also very kid-friendly in the summer. People bring their families. These were really cool events to go to. You're networking with your colleagues, but it's on a more social level.
There’s also a group called Women Connecting Women (WCW), which connects all female interns with a woman in a different field. (Working in human resources) it was really cool how they connected me with a marketing employee, as my background and undergraduate degree is in marketing. She was a hotshot who was super high up and very knowledgeable. I would meet with her on a bi-weekly basis.
At the same time, the intern program would host different events for us. We did a lot of intern events like going to Angel Island (an island in San Francisco Bay), a barbeque, paint night (pictured above), and brunch. The company also held specific events for the female interns, such as a pilates class and a cooking class. So, there were lots of really cool stuff going on and always things for us to do. There was never a point in time where you felt, "oh, there are too many events," or, "oh, there are not enough events." It was a perfect balance.
What were some of the challenges you faced during your internship?
Keeping the project moving given the amount of time I had was my only difficulty considering how many people were involved. Internships are typically three months long, so when you get a project that you're really passionate about, you really want to make sure that you complete it and that you're able to have enough time to show up, show off and brag about it. The hard part was making sure I kept the project moving. There were a lot of different people and different teams that my project touched. For example, I needed to coordinate the time to speak with people and do in-person interviews and get feedback on projects from our global geo leads, for which time differences were also a challenge. I needed to be strategic about how I spent my time to ensure the project was running smoothly.
What advice do you have for MBAs who are interested in interning at VMware?
This is a little generic, but make sure you're open and honest about what you want during your internships. You're there for one specific reason, but I think part of the culture at VMware is to explore. The company wants to make sure you get a firm understanding of what VMware is about and spend about three months absorbing as much information as you can.
With that said, if there's something else that interests you, speak up. If there's something that you're working on that you're not a huge fan of, make sure that your manager is aware of that and find opportunities for yourself. Explore the company and its different parts. It's a huge company, so there are more than enough people that will be willing to set up a coffee chat or a WebEx (online conference call) to talk to you about their role and what they do. Establishing those relationships really early is going to help you later on in your project, in your internship and hopefully your career.
Celebrating your accomplishments is also important. You're only there for a limited amount of time. Because VMware is such a large company, you really want to make sure that people know who you are, what you’re capable of and what you’ve accomplished, whether that’s through social platforms or sharing what you've done with managers. That helped me. It was really good for me to get great feedback from managers and let them see what I was doing.
You will make mistakes along the way, just like in any internship. I made a few mistakes, but at the same time, I fell forward. In those situations you need to make sure you learn quickly and don't make those mistakes again. If you make a mistake, own it and learn from it, then move on. You don't have enough time to dwell on it. I'd say those are the three big ones: Being open and honest; celebrating accomplishments; and falling forward.