IAP 2011: Cue the Music, this Externship Just Got Dramatic

by Amy Marcott on February 6, 2011 · 1 comment

in IAP, Student Life

This is part of a series of posts from MIT students currently involved in the Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connects current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved.

Guest blogger: Zach Tribbett ’12, electrical engineering and computer science majorRead Zach’s post from his first week of the externship
Alumnus host: Steven Tamm ’97

It’s been a long road since my first post. I believe I left off last time talking about all the red tape I had to cut through to actually start work. Well, luckily, I got hold of a good pair of scissors!

Zach with his alumnus host, Steven Tamm '97.

Zach with his host, Steven Tamm ’97.

The second week started off with a bang. I’m working for the localization and globalization team at Salesforce.com, and one aspect of this team is translation rendering. For example, if you spoke only Spanish and were located in Spain, you’d expect that when you visit Salesforce.com, you’d see the website and all the services in Spanish. Of course, that’s expected, but what’s amazing is how they render all of these translations. Many are written in a document in a format defined by Salesforce. So to change it, you’d have to open the exact document and find the parameter you would like to edit. This can be quite a pain. To improve workflow, my first project was to parse their unique translation documents and store each entry in a database. It was straightforward and fun, and I had a great time with it.

Week three, I was asked to create a user-interface that improved the translation workflow. My job was to allow the viewing of multiple languages, neatly organized, to ensure a correct translation and a correct rendering of the translation. It was pretty fun because I got to use some techniques and programming languages I was previously unfamiliar with. But, this is not the end of the project. There was some bad news…

If this externship were a movie, this would be the rising action when you, the audience, watches wide-eyed as my computer, where all of my code was stored, gets hosed. It kicked the bucket; it croaked; it just plain old died. And I know what you’re thinking: Zach, why didn’t you back up your code? to which I would reply, “Well, gracious reader, I was not allowed to back up my code because it was automatically backed up by the company, and I am not allowed to back up the code on my personal devices.” But alas, the drives where my information was backed up by the company were also wiped. After many an hour trying to recover the data, and perhaps a number of less-than-mature thoughts, I came to terms that the data was lost. It was a shame and freak accident, but it happens and I learned a valuable lesson: ALWAYS back up your code on your own—no matter what!

Remember that database I mentioned earlier? Well, that’s what I’m doing this week. I’m extending it and creating some functionality so that this project can reach its potential. I’m creating another user-interface to be able to query the database and search for certain things. I’m also including the ability to update and export files (both xml and csv for those programmer-junkies curious to know) and, the best part, I’m still including the ability to view multiple languages at once—just as I was trying to do before the data was lost. So, in the words of Chumbawamba, “I get knocked down, but I get up again because you’re never gonna keep me down.” Just because a computer eats my data doesn’t mean I can’t rewrite it. This, then, is the happy ending of the code-loss debacle.

Alright, enough about work. This is my last post so I should shed some light on my reflections of the externship.

Zach with his bosses (from left): Shawna Wolverton, Lucia de Lascurain, and Steven Tamm.

Zach with his bosses (from left): Shawna Wolverton, Lucia de Lascurain, and Steven Tamm.

I learned a lot, both good and bad. I learned just how valuable experience really is in the programming world as well as being sure to back up your data. I also learned that San Francisco is one heck of a city and just being here really does lead to work being more fun. I got to work with a number of amazing people who are fun, smart, nice, and good-hearted. I got work with Steven Tamm, my alumnus host, who is brilliant and a great guy. He and some of the others I was working with took me out quite often for lunch and some really good beer. I can’t complain about that! Despite all the tech problems and frustration, this has been a great experience. I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat. As I said in my first post, the people here are amazing in every way and it’s very refreshing. That alone is reason enough for me to be grateful I was out here. I learned so much and I hope that Salesforce.com got as much from me as I did from them.

I guess this would be the time for the credits of the movie, so if you don’t mind pretending to listen to that Chumbawamba song while I list them, this may remain interesting.

I want to thank the MIT Alumni Association for providing this externship program, specifically Katie Maloney and Beth Nakamura for helping me get out here. I want to thank Amy Marcott, the editor of these blogs, because without her, you would not be able to understand my poor writing skills! I’d also like to thank the Salesforce team that got me out here: Steven Tamm (my host), Lucia de Lascurain, Shawna Wolverton, and Teresa Marshall (my bosses), Alicia Schetter (my recruiter), and Leo Tran (who got me through every difficulty!). What a long but great month. I guess there’s one thing left to keep with this movie theme:

The End.

—Zach

(And yes, I had a whole bunch of In-N-Out Burgers. I have to get my fill before I head back to Boston!)

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