Life as an Apple Intern

Doug Peterson
9/1/2016 1:44:11 PM

With his lunch tray in hand, Likhith Madamanchi hunted for an open table in the large, overflowing cafeteria at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. Madamanchi, an Apple intern and University of Illinois ISE graduate student, spied an oval table occupied by only one person, so he and some co-workers laid claim to the opposite end.

Madamanchi says he was so busy talking with his co-workers that he never even looked across the table at the person eating there. Not until one of his friends nudged him did he realize that the person sharing their table happened to be Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple—the man who now fills the shoes of Steve Jobs. Cook proceeded to strike up a friendly conversation.

This informality, where top executives such as Cook mingle freely with interns and other employees, is all part of the unique Apple culture, says Madamanchi, who will complete his master’s degree in ISE this December. He began his internship at Apple during the summer of 2015, but when he arrived on the sprawling company campus, his supervisor warned him that “two months wouldn’t be nearly enough time to do what you want to do.”

The supervisor was right. When the last day of Madamanchi’s internship came around, he found himself in the middle of a project that he couldn’t drop. What’s more, he was in China on a business trip for Apple, so he wound up extending his internship several more months to December of 2015.

Madamanchi worked in hardware, and he says, “Three quarters of the people I worked with at Apple didn’t even know I was an intern”—another quirk of the culture there. All Apple employees wear a badge, but it only displays your first name, your photo, and the Apple logo. That’s it. An employee’s last name is found on the flip side of badge.

Even if someone did know he was an intern, Madamanchi says his opinions mattered. “I always had a voice,” he says.  

Madamanchi would bike from nearby Sunnyvale to the Apple headquarters—a string of buildings found on an oval road appropriately named Infinite Loop. In keeping with the informality of the company, dress is casual, with employees showing up in shorts or even gym clothes. Madamanchi says a company gym was located only 10 steps from his office, but with the long working hours, he had difficulty finding time to use it.

A light day would end at 5 p.m., but it was common to keep working until 8 p.m.—or 1 a.m. on heavy days. The Apple culture is clearly youth-oriented, he says, so workers in their forties and fifties stand out.

Madamanchi was born in Hyderabad, India—the southern part of the country—but he lived most of his summers in Dallas, staying with an aunt. He did his undergraduate work in India, majoring in mechanical engineering, and then he chose Illinois for his masters, arriving on campus in 2014.

He says he was particularly struck by the flexibility of the ISE program, which allowed him to take several courses from the College of Business. He sees ISE as an ideal bridge to a possible MBA in the future.

Since coming to Illinois, Madamanchi has served as a teaching assistant in General Engineering 101, an engineering graphics and design class in which freshmen do reverse engineering work. One section of the class, for example, has students take apart quadcopters and try to see how well they can create 3D models of the parts.

Madamanchi envisions himself working as a design engineer and would love to work for the innovative electric car company Tesla eventually. But wherever his degree takes him, he says Illinois has been an ideal training ground, helping him land the invaluable internship at Apple.

As an intern with Apple, he even had the opportunity to travel to China five times. The language barrier was challenging, and at times so was the food selection. He found the food in southern China particularly exotic, with such meals as duck blood, pig’s feet, and snake soup.

“Sometimes, people wouldn’t even tell me what I was eating until after I had eaten it,” he says. But whenever he ordered room service in the hotel, his choices were much more basic American.

“I always ordered ice cream sundaes,” he says.

Likith Madamanchi, having returned from sunny Cupertino to the comfort of his colleagues in the College of Engineering at Illinois.
Likith Madamanchi, having returned from sunny Cupertino to the comfort of his colleagues in the College of Engineering at Illinois.

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