Taking My MSIT Knowledge to Amazon

Current Northwestern Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) student Evan Chen looks back on his time as a Software Development Engineer intern at Amazon.

This past spring, LinkedIn named Amazon the third-best company to work for in the United States. Just a few months later, Northwestern University Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) student Evan Chen was able to take in the Amazon experience firsthand.

Chen was a Software Development Engineer intern on the Amazon Devices team, which was based in the company's Seattle offices. His primary responsibilities were to design and develop a new approval workflow for an internal website. 

During the internship, Chen was able to leverage the knowledge he learned in MSIT that he is confident will serve him well as he completes his degree and seeks full-time employment.

After Chen returned to campus, he spoke about his MSIT experience and working at Amazon, including the dogs that routinely visited the office. 

What was it about this position that appealed to you?

I learned that at Amazon, you will be assigned an independent project that will lead you on your way toward becoming a Software Development Engineer (SDE) and that is what I want to do full-time after I graduate. At Amazon, I knew I would be immersed in a bunch of cutting-edge technologies like Native AWS, which really interested me.

What were two or three of the most important lessons you learned during your internship? 

Honestly speaking, I learned a lot during the internship, including technical skills, project design skills, and communication skills. The most important lesson I learned was Customer Obsession, which is the key to the success of Amazon. Customer Obsession is one of the key leadership principles at Amazon, and it means that leaders "work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers." 

In my project, in order not to let my customers wait for a long period of time, I designed a brand-new solution to boost the existing procedure. The other thing I learned was to take ownership. Amazonians never say “that’s not my job." On the team, we helped each other through the technical problems and everyone was willing to share insights.

What were a few of your favorite experiences? 

I loved the experience I had at Amazon when I showed the demo of my project to engineers and managers of the Amazon Devices team, roughly 30-40 people. I believe I summarized what I did during the 15 weeks, which was quite valuable for me. When I answered several questions from the managers and engineers, I felt I was definitely the owner of the project because I could give them detailed explanations.

How were you able to apply what you've learned in MSIT to your internship? 

I also learned a lot while in the MSIT program. I really appreciated the experience of the Capstone Course final project, especially the project presentation to a panel of CIOs and CTOs, which helped me be prepared when I gave my demo to leadership at the end of my internship. Also, I used SQL to query data and write a report in my project, and I was able to recall what I learned in the Data Management & Information Processing course to do so.

How do you think you'll be able to incorporate your internship experience back into your final quarter in MSIT and then after graduation? 

After interning at Amazon, I have a broader perspective of software engineering and IT management, and this has given me a clearer plan for what I want to learn more about in my studies and is helping me know what IT area I want to work in after graduation.

Why is this type of internship opportunity so important to the MSIT experience? 

I think IT and computer science are integrated subjects. It is crucial for full-time MSIT students to have an internship opportunity so that we can practice and apply what we learned in class and have the opportunity to work on a real industry project.

Is there anything else you'd like to add? 

At Amazon, folks brought their dogs to work, which made coming to the office really fun!