Summer Internship:- A cross over from IT to Manufacturing

Summer Internship, probably the most important phase of your MBA education. Why? Should an 8 week long internship really matter that much for most of us who have a substantial work experience? Well, it does! They say 70% of MBA students come from the IT industry. And in a top B School, in all probability, you will not really be going back to an IT industry for your summers. So? Is an IT industry that different from the other industries? I didn’t think so before starting with my internship, but today, almost half way into my summers in a manufacturing cum FMCG firm, I can definitely say it is! Very very different!

After a completely crazy day 0 of summer placements at Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management, IIT Bombay, I found myself bagging a very lucrative and sought after job. That of internship in the numero uno personal care firm in the world, L’Oréal. So here I was, from a typical IT job for 2 years to now working for a “cool” company L’Oréal from a completely different sector (now you may argue that L’Oréal does not clearly classify as a manufacturing company. But I hope you get the point I am trying to make through this post). So for the first time, I could give a convincing answer to the questions people asked me back home. “Tumhari company banaati kya hai?” And actually, not too many people even asked me that question. All I was asked was “Accha woh colour banaane waali company?” or “Woh Aishwarya Rai waali company?” That was the first change moving from an IT company to a manufacturing one. You could tell people what the company exactly did and what your job exactly was in the company, AND they could make sense of it!

This ofcourse, was before I joined my internship. The induction phase that we had about a month before joining, was the first step for most of us into the world of manufacturing, sales and distribution. As a welcome gift, we got L’Oréal goodies. Yes, company manufactured products and not a shopping voucher like in my earlier job. Another “tangible” difference between a services and a manufacturing company.

The 3 day long induction program, showed us what was in store for us in the weeks and hopefully years ahead. No random coffee breaks, no table tennis breaks, no romance breaks for that matter. Here in manufacturing, people work! And work hard! In the little over 3 weeks so far, I haven’t seen my bosses take too many “breaks” from work. The laptop, the phone and every other device they are connected to is all tuned into serious work. And they are talking money to the tune of lakhs and crores. A certain change from the IT talk of lines of code and number of defects. Not to say that they do not have fun here, but the time and the kind of fun is very different from what we did in and IT industry. Occasional team outings and parties is the only time you will have fun. Rest of the time, your work is your only fun!

Oh and another major change stepping into manufacturing. Here, you do not have a manager. You have a boss! The terminology is very different. Manager, lead, project manager quickly changes to boss, super boss and head of a function. Besides, the “first names only” policy does not apply here. You need to call your boss “Sir”, shake his hand in the morning, say good morning and be more professional than casual. You could call it formal, but then at that level, you have to maintain a degree of professionalism. And it does help you in your work, in your dealings with clients, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Then another major difference is a God like software that we call Microsoft Excel. I thought I had used a lot of Excel in my stint in the IT industry. Writing test cases, maintaining records, transactions reports etc. But I realize now, that I hadn’t even scratched the surface! Management, would not be possible without excel. And the capabilities it has built into it, is amazing! There is so much that one can do using Excel. So much to make management more of a science than art.

Would the top level management in an IT company be very similar to what I describe here? I couldn’t say for sure but I doubt that it would be. Our IT industry is heavily influenced by the American culture. Much lesser so in manufacturing. I suspect that is primarily the difference between the two. Also, the stakes are much higher in a manufacturing job. There is no easy “Ctrl+Z” for your work after all.

The difference from IT that I have seen in my early days into the manufacturing/FMCG industry are significant. I was apprehensive before entering L’Oréal just like I was before entering my first job in IT. But I had enjoyed my 2 years in IT and likewise, I have enjoyed my first few weeks in this industry and L’Oréal. I realize I do not have any particular preference of one over the other. A good friend once told me, that I have a tendency to adapt to the needs of any and every job that demands my efforts. Find that quite true today.

So how would I compare IT with manufacturing? I guess I wouldn’t. It would be like comparing apples with oranges. I believe both are unique in their own way and can interest people across the spectrum. They say manufacturing is the backbone of an economy. I would say manufacturing and IT are like the 2 eyes of a person. Without any one, you will just see plain images. For a complete 3 dimensional view, you need both working just fine!