Blinded by “Free”

During my last trip home, I happened to meet a family friend’s daughter who was doing her masters in US. She was on a vacation because she had not managed to land a “paid” internship in her industry. What with this recession and everything! She was almost at the end of her trip, so nothing could have been done about it. But out of sheer curiosity I asked whether she had tried any company in India/abroad for an “unpaid” internship. She made it very clear to me that she valued her vacation more dearly than an “unpaid” internship – where she would have to slog for no money as well as not get to take her vacation. I see her point of view but the irony of it all didn’t escape me.

Sometimes, the most valuable of “internships/education” are unpaid/underpaid and we don’t see the value of it until way later. I remember as a student writing articles for newspapers and for the kind of work I put in to write one article, I was really paid peanuts. However, what I learnt while doing the stint was how to do a thorough market research and write a professional article putting it together. Those hours of research, figuring out who to speak to, how to get to them and making a questionnaire (dynamically deciding what to ask/not), not to mention the intense exercise in listening and writing down the notes as fast as I could have been one of the best forms of “training” for a marketing job that I’ve had.

I also want to mention another incident where it kind of struck me real hard how we miss things when we are offered something for “free”. I was at a school in Chennai and talking to the owner’s son. He saw what I had to show him and calmly asked me how it would fit in with all the infrastructure that he was about to get fixed up by a “large education” company that had offered to especially “network” all his classrooms for “free”. I was stumped. Not only because the school was already built and that there will have to be considerable drilling and panelling work that will have to be done but also because the kind of state the school was in, it did not seem like it could take that kind of heavy weight infrastructure installation, not to mention the fact that he himself mentioned that his teachers will need enormous amounts of hand holding to use the infrastructure/simply go digital. What the large company was doing by giving them something for “free” was overselling them and leapfrogging them into a space where the “large company” had an upper hand in systems, content, installation and operation. It was a good move by the large company but a bad choice for the school, unfortunately they were not able to see beyond the “free”.

So, next time you are offered/get something for free, don’t forget to look at the fine print, well better still if you can foresee the writing on the wall sometime in the future.

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2 Responses to “Blinded by “Free””

  1. 1 Anoop September 7, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    I share your friend’s sentiment on this for sure..Though I would not refute your argument that internships are equally important for an upcoming professional, I would say without pay something would be missing, I understand both sides of the story(your’s and your friend’s). Having stayed abroad for more than 7 years now, I for one know how much we miss our families and the social life in India, you can ask another 100 NRI’s and they would share my sentiment, visits to India to many NRI’s including me means Entertainment,food,Mom, dad, grandma etc etc.. Some get tired of careering around the world & take a decision to come back home for ever, but some stay abroad amidst all the troubles in finding opportunities outside India. Im not very sure, how many abroad would recognize the company / university we would intern with in India, also not to forget to get a domain
    specific internship for the short period of time in India is also hard, if its a general MBA its a different story but for a technical master’s Im not sure if intern is not domain specific how many companies would be interested…
    I also believe, it kills a persons motivation if there is not enough pay, my company for example provides internships to young graduates, it also pays them sufficient enough money to during the internship and many work even harder so that they may have a chance to join us in future.I notice many happy faces… You cannot also discount the fact that some companies who offer internship without pay may try to exploit by getting more work done, they make use of all the naiveity in a person.
    I remember doing internships with Bosch during my undergraduate days for 12 hrs a day without pay, we worked hard and got paid nothing, @ the end of the project we were desperate to get away because our academics started suffering and people in Bosch would not let us leave, they wanted us to stay even longer than 8 months we already had dedicated, why not? when we do the job they do for free? 🙂 :-)..
    we all ended up with grades lower than normal & in a grades biased country like India, campus placements became much harder, because the window of opportunity is very small and competition is huge.
    Bottom line is none of us learnt much about organization/technical skills, it was rather about ending up in office politics, screw the manager, screw the customer, she did this, he did that, Im not responsible blah blah..
    I for one had seen enough of un-professionalism and decided that I would study further,the other 3 ended up in software irrelevent to field of study. We all saw the “fine print” beyond free work, but we also asked ourselves if we achieved anything & the answer was a “BIG NO”. We still had loads of technical gaps when we graduated.

  2. 2 aryan's mom September 13, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Well written post.

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