Discovering My Path

Neel Kattumadam, Software Engineering Intern

Neel

It may sound odd coming from someone who just finished a software engineering internship, but when I graduated high school, I wanted to be a doctor. I was accepted into UT Austin, and once I started college, however, I quickly realized that becoming a doctor was a fantasy, because it wasn’t my love for medicine that made me want to pursue that career. As corny as it may sound, what drew me to medicine was helping people with their problems and finding solutions for them. And that applied to technology as well as to medicine. 

I had already been taking computer science courses, so I decided to pursue a career in that field. Once I graduated from UT Austin in May 2019, I started looking into graduate programs, and I was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Science in information systems program, which I began last fall. I went into the program most interested in data science, but the more courses in software engineering that I took, the more I liked it. 

So when it came time to start exploring internships for the coming summer, I applied to a host of computer science internships, including the Palo Alto Networks program. Its focus on software engineering was appealing to me, and over the course of this three-month program, I’ve decided that this is the career for me. 

In general, my team was working on projects that, in several ways, allow us to customize our products to suit the customers’ needs and their unique work setups. My work in particular involved creating a best practices assessment. I came in after the sale had been made and the customer was learning how to best use the product. I love interacting with customers, helping solve their problems, and optimizing their products to improve the way they work, so this was exactly the kind of thing I set out to do! 

It never felt like work to me. I never felt like it was a grind to work three or four hours on a project — instead, it was more like, “Oh cool, now I can learn more about this!” I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that with any other subject.

Going Remote

Of course, when I applied and was accepted for this internship, my expectation was that I would return home to the Bay Area from Austin, TX, and work at Palo Alto Networks’ headquarters. But the coronavirus changed everything, and in March I was told that my internship would be done remotely. I left school and moved home to Saratoga, CA, and I spent the three months of my internship working from home. 

Surprisingly, I loved working remotely. I enjoyed being able to structure my own day rather than arriving at a designated time. I’m not exactly a morning person, and if I’d had to go to the office, I would have had to wake up early and then sit in traffic for 30 to 45 minutes just to be there on time. But because I was working remotely, I was able to adjust the schedule so that I was at my best — starting my day a little later in the morning and working a little later into the evening. Not only that but I enjoyed having flexibility in my work environment. Sometimes I worked at my desk, sometimes at the kitchen counter with my mom. Sometimes I worked straight through, and sometimes I took a break and watched the news with my family. I think this flexibility allowed me to stay fresh.

Of course, it wasn’t always easy. I think going to work in an office is definitely the best way to network. I only knew three or four interns in my class, and that may have been my fault, because I immediately started flooding myself with work, and I didn’t hop on as many Zoom events as I could have. The face-to-face connections you make with peers when you’re in a workplace are really valuable, so if there’s one drawback to working remotely, I’d say that was it. 

However, even though I’ve been remote the entire time, Palo Alto Networks’ human resources and recruiting services are 100% better than any I’ve seen at any other company. I had done an internship the previous year with a large, established, very well-known company, and during that time I only spoke to the recruiter a couple of times and was invited to a couple of socials at bars, things like that. But even being entirely remote with Palo Alto Networks, this was hands-down a better experience for staying connected. 

Almost every day, there were opportunities to socialize and connect with each other, to hear speakers share their ideas and experiences, and to learn about new technologies or ways to improve the work we were doing. We even played interactive games using Kahoot or other apps, and the prizes were incredible — an Apple watch, gift cards to Amazon, and more. Gestures like this demonstrate that the company’s doing well, which is reassuring, but also that interns are worth that level of investment. There are numerous small groups that we were part of as well, and in my group, the Global Customer Support group, there was a team of about 15 interns who met every week to share common interests, compare experiences, or ask advice. 

In fact, my internship experience was so positive that my manager was able to get approval to extend my internship, giving me the ability to work for Palo Alto Networks part time while I continue school. I would highly recommend this experience, both for the tremendous learning and professional experience you’ll get as well as for the connections you’ll make along the way.