Interning at SAP: my experience with the SAP Screen Personas Product Team
My name is Giulia Savino and I am 20 years old. I am currently an intern in the SAP Screen Personas Product Team. I am Italian and proud of my roots in beautiful Rome and Florence, but now I consider myself a world citizen. Indeed, I have been travelling quite a lot in the last year, ranging from the USA, where I went to university, to Argentina on a business trip, ending up in Germany to work as a summer intern at SAP. And I am not stopping: in less than a month I will be flying to Hong Kong for my second year of university. This is the type of life that I have chosen for my studying years – never stop, never settle down, always on the move. And I must say, I love it!
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ME: A GLOBAL BUSINESS STUDENT
I am currently part of a brand new, innovative program, the World Bachelor in Business, started in 2013. It is a four-year undergraduate course (Bachelor of Science in Business Administration) consisting of a partnership involving three universities around the globe: University of Southern California Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan. The students spend each of the first three years in one of the three top institutions (first in LA, then in Hong Kong and finally in Milan) and for their final year they can choose where to go back to complete the studies, according to their preferences in terms of country, field of work, culture, food… ok this last one was a joke, but the uniqueness of the program stays in the fact that all students will be getting a separate degree from each university, plus a cumulative certificate of graduation signed by the three together. It is an undergraduate triple degree in business administration, attempting to shape young global leaders who can really bring about real change through business. I think this program represents a great and revolutionary opportunity for young minds looking for challenging and eye-opening experiences. Each cohort is composed of ca. 45-50 students, and I am part of the second, the class of 2018. I already spent my first year in Los Angeles and I am getting ready for my year in Asia, where I haven’t been yet. For more info about the program, check out the websites:
http://wbb.usc.edu/ – http://www.wbb.ust.hk/
THE VALUE OF AN INTERNSHIP = THE VALUE OF EXPERIENCE
My program has taught me the huge value and importance of experience. More than mere knowledge. Because in real life, once this amazing phase of my life will be over, what is really going to matter are the skills to practically apply all the information, all the theoretical knowledge I have received. I understood that experience helps me go beyond notions to visualize the big picture – how life really is – and to be better prepared to face what’s next. I went through the perfect transition from theoretical knowledge, home, and school to practical skills, globalized world, and work.
And I decided I had to get an internship for the summer. I felt that, to really enrich myself and add more value to my studies, I had to have some work experience. To test myself, to go beyond my boundaries, to step out of my comfort zone, which, by the way, is one of my favorite hobbies.
THREE QUESTIONS ABOUT MY INTERNSHIP
Here I try to give some reasons for my internship here at SAP SE Headquarters in Walldorf, Germany. It has been a short, amazing journey, and I will try to explain what it has meant to me and how it has been able to change who I am and to make me grow as a person.
One: Why did I choose to work in Germany?
Despite the weather, which is not comparable to California or Italy, in the European framework Germany is the place to be. It is an advanced and developed country, both economically and socially, full of opportunities. German companies are known all over the world for their professionalism, their high standards, and the possibilities that they offer to students. Firms have soon understood how important it is to invest in a future which is quickly becoming present. Indeed, it was not hard to find an internship here. Besides, I wanted to improve my German, which is a real challenge, and be able, once again, to live a in a culture I had not experienced before.
Two: Why did I choose to work for SAP?
There are many reasons for that, and I will summarize them in bullet points:
- If you work for a tech company, you are always up-to-date with all of what is going on in the world. You can see how people and their lifestyles change across space and time, you have to keep up with their needs, understand them, translate them into designed projects and products, deliver and market them in appropriate ways. From a business perspective, this gives you flexibility, adaptability and a deep focus into interesting and fast-changing trends across all industries.
- As a huge global business software producer, SAP is in direct contact with other businesses, their needs, their plans for the future and so on. Our hundreds of thousands of clients are other firms, each with its own business challenges. The lenses on the business world are multiplied exponentially: you see and understand other businesses by being within your own company, in a firm that serves other firms.
- SAP is a complex company, living a complex and complicated moment of its history. It is going through a so-called transition phase. It started in the 1970s as a smaller local company where the language was German. Now SAP has more than 70,000 employees and hundreds of thousands of customers around the world and it is among the top and biggest business software producers. Of course, this has implied opportunities and challenges, like the language shift to English and the need for such a big and established company to cope with innovation and the exponentially fast-changing world of technology, with its enormous constant flow of data across the planet. It is a moment of drastic changes and rapid evolution, a lot is going on, and it is really interesting and stimulating to be part of this change even as an intern.
Three: What is it like to have an internship at SAP as a business student with no previous experience?
It depends. There is a lot to learn, for sure. Every day is different, everything is new, and there is tons of new information to integrate into your system, especially in another language. I like it here. I like it very much. Of course, some days could be a bit emptier. As a marketing and product management intern in a tech company, when all my work is done, there is little more that I can do. I don’t have the necessary skills to help the others with computers, programming, scripting and so on. So I get bored, and I wish my boss were here, or I wish I had come to the office later.
But most days are incredibly busy. My boss and I keep running around, rushing to meetings, preparing presentations, making 7pm in the office, with a thousand things to do. And it is fun, it is adrenaline, it is the greatest learning experience. There is so much going on, and it directly relates to the world outside: when I am trying to follow my boss in the million tasks we have to complete, I feel I am part of this whole change.
I like my boss very much. Sylvia Barnard: she used to be an architect – and she still is, deep in her soul – which makes me feel less like an outsider here, a business student surrounded by informatics and mathematics experts. Sylvia is a strong woman, who gets what she wants. She manages. At the same time, she laughs really often, enjoys life, and makes funny jokes. I have learned a lot by just having her as a model. I am glad to have a bright, interesting, open-minded, determined and strong-willed woman as my guide in SAP. With her, I never get bored.
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED.
Again, a lot. Again, more than I thought possible, more than I had ever learned before, and more than I can describe. Again, I’ll try to summarize. First of all, I learned German, or at least now I speak it a little bit better. But there is much more.
Some business and marketing lessons
From a technical and more job-related perspective, I learned a bit about software development, and a lot about product marketing and product rollout. I understood how important customer feedback is in order to improve the product. I learned how to effectively communicate while marketing a product. I grew familiar with SAP Screen Personas, its meaning and its importance as part of a bigger “User Experience” strategy that aims to empowering the customers and enabling them to create their own screens within their organizational systems.
The new paradigm for the technology industry and for our lives
By witnessing the tremendous change SAP is going through, I realized the importance and difficulty of making hard things easy. This is what here we call “User Experience Strategy” which represents SAP’s main goal for the future and that perfectly describes what is going on in the real world. Now that technology is available to anyone, even small children, the biggest challenge for a tech company is no longer creating complicated and advanced algorithms – it is simplifying them. Hasso Plattner had foreseen this fundamental shift in the way we use technology and interact with each other through virtual means and how this is affecting the entire tech industry. It implies a huge load of opportunities as well as challenges, both from a technological and economic perspective. Innovation stays in simplification. In making hard things easy and understandable for everyone.
Maybe it was working with an architect in a tech company that has made me realize how important design is. Not only in terms of visual and experiential simplification. Design has to be a state of mind. Design thinking is a new concept, which is necessary in business and management. You first understand, then plan, in detail, but with an action-driven attitude; you get the right team and finally you act. This should be the drive of all business decisions.
Look from another side
I learned that it is fundamental to try to get someone else’s perspective in order to better comprehend the big picture. There are people, like my boss, who are perfectly aware of this, and try to bring about this change with whatever means possible – they manage the customer meetings, for example, explaining hard things in a very easy way so that everybody can understand. They work on presentations, demos, and usability tests, constantly asking for feedback and interacting with the customer. This is also why my boss likes working with me – as an outsider, I have a different and fresher look on the whole situation, and can help enrich the framework we are working in.
I quickly understood that 90% of the job, in business, are people and relationships. One of Sylvia’s main strengths, for example, is the ability to communicate and interact with people, both customers and colleagues. Strong people skills are key to success. You have to be clear, nice to others and easy-going, exactly like the products we are developing here, which are understandable, user-friendly and simple. People skills make everyone’s lives easier.
While dealing with all sorts of people, I learned a couple of key “politics” lessons – diplomacy and patience. They are necessary when working with people who have different views, fundamental to bring about change. Change isn’t easy. It costs time and effort. It is like in politics. To change the status quo ante that many want to preserve, one has to fight. With patience, intelligence, and diplomacy. And with passion. Like my boss and many others are doing every day here internally and externally.
THE FINAL TAKEAWAY
If I had to rank the things I have learned by priority or importance, it would take me ages. But I have a final takeaway that summarizes everything: this internship has shown me my future, even if only a possible one. It has been a further step towards the person I want to be.
Even on such a small scale, I am contributing to changing the world, I am constantly working for the others, in order to make their lives better. This is the ultimate goal of my life, and I am pleased to discover that I can do it in countless ways, including working as a simple intern in a hugemultinational company that produces business software for hundreds of thousands of firms in the world. I’m just a minuscule piece of the puzzle, a tiny drop in the ocean. But I have passion. And I have courage. And ideas, and determination.
I am starting to understand what I want more clearly. And I am ready for the journey, learning every day as I go on with my experience. This is why I am doing an internship this summer. I want to accelerate the process of changing the world. I want to be an active element of change. I want to contribute, I want to participate. I want to be here, in the moment, making history with my small present. I want to say, when I am old and looking at the changes that will have happened in the world: “I was there”.
Giulia, the pleasure was all on my side! I was deeply impressed by your sharp intellect, your clear, structured, and witty comments, your ability and willingness to jump into ice-cold water and swim in style! Bravo! All the best for your future studies, career, and life!