From the University of Canterbury to Ericsson in Silicon Valley, one student battles her way to prime internship

Picture owned by University of Canterbury
The University of Canterbury has put out a Rhodes scholar to Oxford every year for the last five years, produced prime ministers, scientists, and prize-winning novelists. Its latest success is Julia O'Brien, who's managed to find herself in the heart of Silicon Valley.

It's not everyday you get offered to work with Ericsson, a global information and communications technology (ICT) giant, on the other side of the world at San Jose, California, the modern day tech paradise. Yet that's what happened to Julia O'Brien, a graduate of Canterbury's Masters of Engineering Management (MEM) programme.

"I submitted my resume to Ericsson and following a series of interviews and quite a process, I was offered the internship, which runs through to February,’’ O’Brien says.

R&D at Ericsson

Ericsson, a world leader in ICT, employs more than 110,000 people across the globe in places including the US, China, UK, Australia, Sweden, and more. Operating in a business-to-business space, Ericsson focuses on infrastructure and software solutions to mobile service provides such as Telstra. Its internship programme is highly coveted, especially its R&D programme where interns get to work closely with R&D leaders and managers in telecommunications development. 

Over 1 billion phone subscribers (40%) around the world rely every day on its networks. The company has an impressive intellectual property portfolio, with more than 35,000 granted patents.

In O’Brien's case, she will be helping with Ericsson’s smart service router maintenance project. “This means that our team ensures that the product meets market requirements, after the release date and generally involves fixing issues that arise once the product has been implemented.

University of Canterbury's Julia O'Brien -- grabbed by Ericsson

"One task will be to explore formal trouble-shooting protocol and documentation and develop a future proofed system so that the process is efficient and no special cases slip through the cracks. This will also help the rapidly expanding team in Silicon Valley."

She will also be conducting a system-wide level analysis on projects to determine areas of weakness and how improvements could be implemented. At the end of this project she hopes to understand the functions and operations of this international technical company and its strategy to remain the leader in the ICT industry. "I also hope to contribute to its success by providing robust processes that can be implemented to improve operations,’’ she says.

More than academics

The University of Canterbury's MEM programme director Piet Beukman says the programme is a fairly competitive process, accepting only 20 to 24 students each year, and it's not just about the academics.

"You need to have good leadership and people skills," he says. "[Be] interested in doing something more … it's the people that are really interested to go over and above that succeed."

Each graduate from the programme has to find their own organisation to work for, and the majority of them are scattered throughout New Zealand "doing work on products that are making a difference," Beukman says.

While there's always one or two each year that have managed to find themselves in an international organisation, Beukman says everything depends on initiative and how willing the students are to pursue something of worth.

"We have a student working on water supplies in Samoa. It's not very big, but it is very important to the people in Samoa," he says. "Students go everywhere from South Africa, France, US, or to Australia."

He adds that past MEM projects have been influential in the start-up of high-tech companies as well as with well-established organisations in New Zealand  and in a number of other countries.

O’Brien will present her course findings by video from Silicon Valley to industry leaders at the annual Master of Engineering in Management (MEM) event in Christchurch this week (November 28).The annual presentation event provides students with an opportunity to showcase their work and engage with the business world.