As part of my study abroad program, I have had the opportunity to intern at a company based right here in London. For the last several weeks, I have been interning at Kingston Smith, LLP, one of the United Kingdom’s top accountancy firms. Although my major is accounting, I’m currently working towards a certificate in data analytics, so my program has placed me within the Data Analytics department at KS. Throughout my time as a Data Analyst Intern, I’ve learned how to adapt to the work-life culture of the UK and to face the challenges that surround unfamiliar assignments and projects.
Before coming to the UK, I was slightly worried about what I would find at my new internship. Prior to this experience, I had interned at both Deloitte and PwC in both audit and tax accounting, respectively. Given my title as a Data Analyst Intern, I was worried about the systems I would be assigned to work with since I had no experience working with complex computer languages, such as R or Python, in my classes. Also, even though both firms had international offices, I hadn’t had any experience working with people from vastly different cultural backgrounds. Because I was only vaguely familiar with the professional culture that characterized the UK, I was worried about how different the work environment would be compared to that of my previous internships and, most importantly, how I would fit in with my coworkers.
Fortunately, upon completing my first day at KS, I noticed that some of my concerns had subsided. For example, I noticed that the work-life culture of this office was somewhat similar to that of my previous internships. My supervisor, Stuart, is very young, which is similar to what I had experienced in my last internship. He was friendly and very helpful in answering any questions I had when he was giving the office tour; he even arranged to have one of his coworkers take me to lunch the next day! Additionally, everyone sat at cubicles, occasionally chatting with one another and asking each other questions, and overall, people seemed to be hard at work and enjoy what they were doing. Over the course of the next few days, however, I did notice some differences regarding the rigidity, or lack thereof, of working a typical eight- to nine- hour work day. Some days I would come in, and no one would arrive until half past ten, and other days, people would be working until midnight. I also noticed that people seem to take “holidays” frequently, which could last anywhere from a long weekend to two weeks. This aspect of the UK’s work-life culture, in addition to the vagueness of communicating tasks, came to be one of the challenges I faced in the beginning of my internship and perhaps my first true “culture shock.”
Although I didn’t have too much trouble in adapting to the work-life culture at KS, some of my fears turned out to be worse than I expected. Although Stuart was very helpful in answering my questions on the first day, he told me that I would be working with Python, which is a high-level programming language that helps professionals analyze and visualize data. Given that it is a language in and of itself, Stuart essentially told me that I had to learn a new language with the help of only a few online tutorials. Initially, I was overwhelmed by this task, but I decided to take it as an opportunity to learn something that would only come to benefit my career later in life. After completing a few online tutorials in the days to come, I felt better about using the basics of Python. However, on my third day, Stuart gave me my first Python-based project, which was to pull data from several .csv files and assemble a graph based on his specifications. While the project itself seemed simple, I realized I had absolutely no idea where to begin and, to make matters worse, Stuart was very vague in his instructions, so I only partially understood what he was asking from me. As a result, I was in a panicked frenzy trying to figure my first project out, and I spent most the day revisiting the online tutorials I had previously completed. Once completing research and taking a day and half to get focused, I ended up finishing my project that very same week, which impressed Stuart. Since then, Stuart has given me increasingly challenging work, and I feel as though I have learned so much about this language in such a short period of time. Now, I am implementing data visualization techniques within Python in order to analyze the Paasche Index of a basket of marketing companies in comparison to the FTSE 100. By creating a code that will allow professionals at KS to enter in any company and pull its Paasche Index without fluctuating the overall index calculations for that of other companies, I am contributing to the much larger project that my supervisor is working on, which is an internal software system called KS Cohere. This project is an incredibly complex task due to the number of steps that need to be taken before a complete code can run, and the fact that Stuart has transitioned to a part-time position and continues to give me vague instructions on an increasingly complex project doesn’t make it easier. There were times where I certainly got frustrated at the entire project and wanted to give up, but I knew that Stuart had faith in me to complete this task, so no matter how many times I need to restart my project, I know I am helping contribute to the success of KS and its internal systems. Additionally, by researching financial terminology to understand the mechanics of different financial indices, I am becoming more knowledgeable on the context of financial data analytics, which is an increasingly popular field in the job market today. While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on Python or financial data analytics by any means, I feel like being thrown into this type of work has allowed me to become more adept at handling unfamiliar situations such as these.
Throughout the tests and trials of this internship, I feel as though I’ve become a more innovative and determined worker within a span of only four weeks. The different work environment, the vagueness of communication, and general unfamiliarity with Python and other KS systems have challenged me in ways that I have never been challenged before. Not only have I had the opportunity to work abroad and learn more about the professional and social culture that comes with working in the UK, but also I have gained experience with a computer language that is highly sought after in professionals in today’s workplace, which only helps to boost my potential job prospects in the future. However, perhaps the biggest of these takeaways from this internship is the ability to think independently and come up with solutions on my own. In my prior internships, I’ve always had a supervisor who would constantly check up on me and my work, but at this internship, I’ve had more room to work at my own pace and develop a solution without the help of a more experienced colleague. Although Stuart’s vague instructions were very difficult to interpret at first, I believe that by being given more free range to figure my work out for myself, I’ve gotten better at interpreting his instructions, which helped me to develop a stronger professional relationship with him as well as a final solution to my projects that I could take pride in knowing I figured the work out for myself. This being said, I think one of the best things you can do in an internship is to try something yourself before asking for help from your supervisor. If possible, spend at least a half hour researching the problem you’re having or going to your coworkers to see if they can offer any advice. Your supervisor will appreciate the effort you made to think through the problem before interrupting his or her schedule, and, most likely, he or she will be more willing to help you. Based on my intern experience both in the US and abroad, I believe it is both effort and seeking out opportunity that will get you farther in your career, and while I know that I still have so much more to learn about KS, Python, and working in the UK in general, I am determined to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way in my final weeks abroad.