Experiential Learning at its Best: Augustana Student Working to ‘solve great challenges’ as Intern at Raven Industries

Augustana student Taha Afzal ‘22 is from Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, and is double majoring in computer science/software engineering and data science. His career goal is to be a part of the technological revolution to create products and services that enrich lives, help bloom communities and move the human race forward — all while respecting user privacy and ensuring sustainable practices in the business. Afzal spent the summer as a software engineer intern with Raven Industries, Inc. in the Applied Technology Division (ATD) at its headquarters in downtown Sioux Falls.

Q: What extracurricular activities are you involved in?

A: I have been the campus director for the Hult Prize at Augustana University, a diversity peer mentor for the Journey Scholars Program, computer science tutor and a Viking advisor. I also have been involved in starting the eSports Club at Augustana and actively engaged with the International Programs Office (IPO).

Q: Where or how did you hear about Augustana?

A: While applying for different colleges in the U.S. through the Common Application, I found out about Augustana through a random Google search.

Q: What is/are the reason(s) you chose to come to Augustana?

A: The admission counselor was very generous with his time and answered all my questions. Augustana also offered a good scholarship package based on my performance in high school. I chose Augustana because it is a small private college in the growing city of Sioux Falls with increasing opportunities.

Q: What do/did your job duties include?

A: I have done and continue to do a variety of things as part of my internship. From maintaining and improving code, trying to resolve inconsistencies and other housekeeping tasks. This has been on different projects within the same team so I could be exposed to all the things that my team does and get a better understanding of all the products and services.

Currently, my team and I are building on the foundations of Raven’s approach to Driverless Ag Technology: OMNiDRIVE™ and OMNiPOWER™, which is very exciting and impactful work.

Q: How did you get the internship? Did anyone help you? What did that journey look like?

A: I have been following the developments in precision agriculture for some time now. It is quite fascinating to learn about precision agriculture and how it helps farmers grow more from less while also reducing the environmental impact of farming. Headquartered right in Sioux Falls, Raven is the leader when it comes to fast-paced innovation in precision agriculture. While Raven also has an Engineered Films Division (EFD) and Aerostar, I was more interested in ATD so I had to apply and be part of a company where the goal is to solve great challenges.

I had an initial phone screen with the human resource coordinator and then another interview with the engineering manager and two engineering team leads. One thing that does stand out from the interview process is that it was very much conversational rather than a typical interview. Raven extended an offer relatively soon while I continued to learn more about the company and the technology stack in which I would be working. I am really grateful for the opportunity that Raven has given me and so glad that I joined the team.

Q: What do you like most about your internship?

A:  One of the things I really like about my role at Raven is that interns are integrated into the team as full-time employees from the very first day. This means exposure to all the different services and products in which the team works. It is great to work with my team. Everyone is helpful, collaborative and it is a very casual environment. It does get overwhelming at times, but my mentor and the team is always there to offer help, clear up confusions, answer all my questions and guide me through my work.

Q: What do you hope to learn/gain from the internship?

A: School, personal projects and books can only teach you so much. It is when you actually work that extends your learning from the classroom and teaches you so much more. Raven is very agile when it comes to developing and maintaining products using advanced technologies so it was definitely a challenge to get used to the shift from classroom to real-life work. In my internship so far, I have learned how to quickly adapt to the culture and swiftly get familiar with technologies and tools I had not used before while continuing to collaborate in-person and remotely. Learning the skill of reading and understanding someone else’s code, navigating the documentation and following best practices have been learning curves that have taught me a lot of valuable lessons. 

Technical learning is just one side of the experience. I have learned how to communicate effectively and concisely, ask the right questions, research on my own and be a team player. Recently, I have also been involved in accelerating Raven in the DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) space since that is another area where my interests and passions are and I want to do more than a software engineer’s work. 

Q: How important is building relationships/connections?

A: One of the most important things for me is building relationships. It is mostly through my connections that I get to identify and work on my weaknesses and utilize my strengths where they could be the most impactful. Whether it be getting a referral for a job, personal development or learning about new opportunities, my connections have helped me so much along the way. Being an international student would be much harder if I had not made all the relationships I have in the community throughout the past three years.


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