Wow, now that I finished that hellish perl project, I have a little bit of free time. Who even likes Perl anyways? I am still having a hard time believing it myself, but Wednesday night I received an internship offer from Asahi Kasei. The internship is within the voice solutions department, and comes with benefits such as round trip airfare to Japan, paid for housing, and a monthly salary of 150,000 yen a month. Yeah, wow, I know, seems too good to be true. This seems like the type of thing that is only offered to rich ivy league kids at MIT or Harvard that already have ridiculous amounts of money to spend, not an engineering student that goes to school in West Texas. I already informally accepted the offer via email, and fully intend to accept the offer once they Fedex it to me. I guess it would be nice if I explained all the steps that led to this point…
Last summer I was working for my school’s new student orientation staff.. Besides the forced enthusiasm and angry parents I had to deal with on a daily basis, I made tons of connections. I was fortunate enough to be the liaison from the Office of Admissions to the College of Engineering. This basically meant that I led all the dazed and confused entering freshmen from the general orientation session to the College of Engineering orientation session. I also helped the incoming engineering students register, find their way around campus, answered questions about crazy college life, etc. Anyways, there was always a one hour or so information session at the engineering orientation sessions in which various people in the department spoke. One of these people happened to be the person in charge of co-ops and international opportunities within the College of Engineering. She always told all the new students that their were tons of international opportunities within engineering and it looks really good on a resume if a student has international experience. She then went on to give several examples of current students studying abroad. One of the examples she gave was a student that was currently working in Japan for a internship.
Now, given that there were about twelve orientation sessions, I had the pleasure of sitting through this information session twelve times. After about the sixth time I thought to myself, “Hey, I like Japan.” I was minoring in Japanese, a minor I picked for the following reasons:
1. I needed an easy minor to distract me from my suicidal engineering curriculum
2. I always had a strong interest in how Japanese engineering environments operate and are so successful in the foreign market
3. I knew a couple of people taking the intro class, so it sounded fun
4. I had always played jRPGs (Xenogears/SNES Final Fantasies/Chrono Series) growing up, and figured it would be nice to know a little of the language
While I’ll admit, #4 sounds a little bit geeky, it was mainly 1-3 that gave me the interest in minoring in Japanese.
So I decided I would at least schedule a meeting with Shelli (the co-op person) and just ask for some information. So during some of my all so sacred free time in orientation, I scheduled a meeting. This is where I first heard of Asahi Kasei. I’m not going to lie, before that I had never heard of Asahi Kasei before. Shelli basically told me that they had a student currently in Japan working for Asahi Kasei, and said she would email him about specifics of how the internship was set up and forward the reply to me. In about a week or so, I got an email from the intern that was currently working for Asahi Kasei. The internship looked like a pretty good opportunity both from a technical and cultural standpoint. Now that I was interested, I decided to do what every computer science major does and google it.
With a quick google search, I was referred to this page. At the time, they were only accepting internship applications for UK English and Swedish. In the email the current intern sent, he said that the earliest internship opportunity would probably be when he left in Summer 2008. I figured I was going to free that summer, so I would check back periodically at that page and wait for them to start accepting internship applications for US English.
Months went by, and finally in March 2008 I saw that they were accepting internship applications. There were a few different materials I had to submit: my resume, an application form, a letter of recommendation, and even a sample of me reading a complicated technical paragraph. The resume was easy. I had pretty good resume already, so I just had my resume critiqued one final time by the people at the Career Center. The letter of recommendation I got my boss in the Pulsed Power laboratory to write. Looking back at it, it must have been pretty impressive from Asahi Kasei’s viewpoint to have a Ph.D in Electrical Engineering write my recommendation. After fiddling with the application form (it was really weird and the only way I could edit the fields was in Wordpad, not Word *shrugs*) I finally filled it out to my standards.
The voice sample proved to be a little harder. The entry I had to read was the following paragraph:
Voice recognition program:
Voice recognition may be performed from microphone input or PCM voice files, using the Vocabulary Network prepared with the Visual Network tool. The amount of working memory used during recognition may be monitored, enabling an estimate of the amount of memory required in an embedded product. The program also enables performance optimization by the fine tuning of various parameters to meet the specific requirements of an embedded application.
Not easy right? I must of gone through it 5 or 6 times before I decided to take a break. The funny thing is, at this point I drank a couple of Rolling Rocks. After I had some beer in me, I read the paragraph with ease O_o. After importing into audacity, encoding to MP3, and adding an ID3 tag, I had this final voice file. Pretty impressive, don’t you think?
*Update 11/19/2017* (note I stored this on the TTU server which has since gone away, sorry future Tim).
Anyways, I submitted all of the required information right before Spring Break. Let me be clear, I really wasn’t expecting anything. I mean, no one really gets opportunities like this, right? I got a response back the day I got back from Spring Break. The response was from the internship director at Asahi Kasei, and said that they wanted to schedule a meeting for me in Houston. At this point, I was pretty excited. I always thought that interviewing was my forte, and replied enthusiastically saying that the time they gave me worked, and to send me any details regarding transportation from Lubbock to Houston (about a 12 hour drive). Turns out they didn’t realize how big Texas was, and told me that they rescheduled the interview to Lubbock. I was both excited and a little afraid at the same time. Lubbock is probably not the most impressive city in the US. In fact, if not for Texas Tech it would really be the last place in the world I would want to live. It is pretty much the epitome of the town every foreigner thinks of when they hear “Texas”.
Not to be discouraged, I went ahead accepted the interview and offered to reserve a room at Texas Tech. I reserved a room in the Electrical Engineering building (thanks Dr. Nutter), and everything was set up.
So, along comes the day of the interview. I wake up early, dress in my suit, and go up to the electrical engineering building an hour and a half early to make sure everything is set up and unlocked. Coincidentally, the interview day was the exact same day I was supposed to be helping my Project Lab with GEAR (a robotics competition).
For the interview, I had to prepare a short presentation about myself, what I expected out of the internship, and my technical background. Since I have been doing presentations in project lab on a weekly basis, I think it is safe to say I made a very quality presentation. I practiced it a couple of times in the empty room and was even able to show it to Dr. Nutter. So now I go outside in front of the electrical engineering building and start waiting. I went down about thirty minutes early, and started to play the waiting game. What a nerveracking game the waiting game is. When it gets close to the scheduled interview time, I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. It is a +81 area code, and my heart skipped a beat. I picked up, accepting pretty much any charge AT&T wanted to extort out of me, and greeted my interviewer. He said his plane was about 30 minutes late out of Dallas, and that he would be about 30 minutes late. No problem, just more time to play the waiting game.
Eventually, my interviewer showed up in a cab. Nothing really out of the ordinary, he showed up with a non-japanese man who I can only guess was shuttling him around. The guy he showed up with was a previous intern that had now worked in San Diego. After a short greeting, I offered to carry my interview and we went into the electrical engineering building and into the interview room. This was one of the points where I spoke the only Japanese of the interview. I said はじめまして、どぞよろしくおねがいします (hajimemashite, dozo yoroshiku onegaishumasu) (How do you do? It is nice to meet you.) and bowed. He did the same and then it was on to my presentation. I must say, thanks to project lab I really nailed it. I spoke confidently, had good slides, and just overall did well. After I was done, he asked me a few questions. Surprisingly, most of them weren’t technical. I was asked my favorite Japanese dish (Udon), and if I could cook my own food. He even asked if I had talked to my parents about the internship, to which I replied, “Yes, I have, my mom said she would miss me, but encourages me as it would be a great opportunity.” He laughed and the interview continued.
He explained briefly what type of projects they were working on. More or less it seems they are working on a complete speech recognition solution that would have a variety of different applications. He even said that Nissan uses their products in the Skyline (my favorite car). I don’t want to delve too deep into it, but it sounded very interesting. After the interview was done, I took Isashiki–sensei’s (my Japanese instructor) advice and offered to show him around the pulsed power laboratory. He enthusiastically accepted my offer and I showed him around. Both him and his partner seemed pretty impressed (which is to be expected given the size of the lab). After I showed him around the lab, I went out back to the front of the electrical engineering building to wait with him for the cab. We talked about a bunch of different things, such as Japanese and American baseball, and how tasty Japanese ramen is. Overall, I’d say that we got along pretty well. Eventually the cab came and we said our goodbyes.
The next three weeks were the longest three weeks ever. I can honestly say I checked my email more times that I probably had all semester. I wasn’t expecting anything to be honest, but there was that small feeling deep down inside that kept asking “what if?”. After about the third week, I figured that I hadn’t received the job and there was someone else more qualified then me. I was wrong.
I came back to my apartment a late Wednesday night after picking up some ice cream from Sam’s Place (the on campus food store). I started eating my ice cream and opened my email. My heart almost stopped. I saw one email, titled “Internship Offer”. I opened the email and almost died excitement. I had received the job. I don’t know if there is an adjective stronger than ecstatic, but that’s what I was. I was so excited that I pretty much called and IMed everyone that I know.
So that brings me to where I am now. I am busy getting everything prepared for my trip to Japan. I have to run around and get all the documentation together for a student visa and passport. Right now I am sitting at in the Dallas Fort Worth airport on a layover to Arizona so that I can pick up a car that my parents bought for me. I can honestly say I am going to make the most out of the opportunity and live it out to its fullest. I’d like to thank everyone that made this possible: Jon-Mark, Shelli, all my professors, and anyone else that I missed. Looking at my terminal, it looks like my flight is now back to being on time. I hope to use this blog to record my journey, so keep checking back for updates!