Exploring IBM’s Extreme Blue Program


Imagine spending 12 weeks developing your technical and business skills alongside your peers and industry leaders, with everyone working together to turn your big idea into IBM’s next great invention. That describes the IBM Extreme Blue program, a unique internship opportunity that is unlike any other.

In the Extreme Blue program, IBM fosters the top business and technology talent from across the globe, selecting students to join their labs for a summer. Interns build experience in consulting, business, and technology by developing an invention concept into a business opportunity. Each intern works with a team of their peers, and they are mentored by senior staff advisors. At the end of the program, students travel to IBM corporate headquarters to present their projects to company leaders.

For students in the Extreme Blue program, this internship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to glean first-hand industry experience while learning from IBM’s executive leaders. Most importantly, the program gives students the chance to contribute new or emerging technologies to this exciting field.

To give readers a personal perspective on the Extreme Blue internship program, we interviewed three IBM intern alumni to see how this unparalleled learning opportunity changed their lives and led to their current careers.

Dan Briskin
Consulting by Degrees Program, Interactive and Mobile Team
Business Intern (Product Management)
University of Western Ontario, 2016

As a student, Dan Briskin had an equal passion for business, engineering, and technology, and was unsure of which specialty he wanted to pursue once he graduated. After attending an information session on campus, he met an older student who had been accepted into the Extreme Blue program the year before. When Dan asked him how the internship had helped him choose one area of specialization, the student gave him the solution to his problem: in the Extreme Blue program, you fuse the fields of business and technology, working in both roles. Knowing he’d found exactly what he was looking for, Dan applied to IBM’s internship program.

The application process was detailed and involved, and Dan felt that IBM was truly trying to get to know the internship applicants as individuals. After submitting an online resume, application form, and longform questions detailing why he loved the technology field , he was interviewed by a fellow student who had been an Extreme Blue intern the year before. For Dan, it was beneficial to have a relaxed conversation with someone who knew exactly what the program was about; after their call, he was certain that it was the perfect place to build his career skills. After a formal interview with a behavioural component and a technical presentation he had been asked to prepare, Dan got the call that he was accepted into the Extreme Blue program.

Dan’s application and interview tip: “Make sure you do research beforehand about the company! Find out about the program and how it will fit with your interests and future goals.”

Dan is quick to point out that there is no typical workday in the Extreme Blue program, but that the beauty of the experience was being exposed to a diverse range of business and technical operations.

“I learned a ton,” he says. “I learned about the technical aspect of large data and how complex it becomes. In the Extreme Blue program, I got a glimpse of how complex it is and it made me understand how much I have to learn.”

At the beginning of the program, Dan’s team was set on developing a specific product and brainstorming what roles each team member would take on to succeed. Although they worked on different parts of the project each day, Dan and his team discussed their work often and brainstormed techniques they could apply to the project. An important part of this step was identifying where their product would be used in daily life.

“Before we started building, we needed to know what gap people need to fill in everyday life, and how we can help customers achieve and fill those needs,” Dan says, demonstrating the program’s dual business and technical focus.

The next stage, project development, was the most exciting for Dan because he was able to put his technical skills to use and create a product that would help scientists and data scientists easily reproduce their research to show others how they arrived at their conclusions, sharing their research with each other. Dan felt it was gratifying to think that his team’s idea would ripple across industries, helping professionals in their daily lives.

It seems appropriate that Dan and his team’s project focused on communication, teamwork, and sharing ideas, because those values are at the core of IBM’s company culture. During his internship, Dan and his team were immediately impressed by the willingness of the entire IBM team, from junior staff to company leaders, to give the interns advice or a helping hand.

“The highlight of the Extreme Blue program for me was the network that you had access to,” says Dan. “We were looking into a supercomputer at one stage in our research, and we were able to call the lead project manager in New York to ask him about it. He was so happy to help, and spoke to us for an entire hour on the phone!”

A common thread between all of the Extreme Blue alumni’s internship experience was the collaborative, interactive team mentality at IBM.

“We got really amazing guidance from people we’d never met before,” says Dan. “Our managers also helped us with everything they needed. They’d explain to us how a project grows from an idea to an actual product out on the market, and how we could add to the culture at IBM.”

When their team project was complete and ready to be presented at the regional expo, Dan and his team had the benefit of supportive mentors who helped them prepare for their big moment. The entire office would gather at points to give the young interns pointers on their speech, hand gestures, and where they could be provide clearer explanations of their project. As his internship came to an end, Dan was incredibly excited to present his idea to the top executives at IBM. Full of confidence from all of their practice and feedback, his team did well in their presentation, and enjoyed seeing the projects their peers had created. The event was also an incredible networking opportunity, allowing the students to show their skills to company leaders.

“The Executive Senior Vice President was there, and he spoke to us directly and shook our hands. It was so exciting!” says Dan.

Today, Dan is in the Consulting by Degrees program at IBM, a position he says is a direct result of his participation in the Extreme Blue program. Although his internship has come to an end, Dan’s future at IBM has just begun.

Take a look at Dan’s advice for succeeding in the Extreme Blue program:

  • Be malleable with thought processes and ideas. Don’t hang onto one project: it will change. Be flexible with what you’re trying to build.
  • Be a self-starter: this is your own individual work. There is guidance when you have questions, but no one will tell you what to do or come up with the idea for you.
  • Don’t get discouraged: there are situations where your idea may be altered, but remind yourself that you and your team are going to build the best possible option.
Amy Wu
Cloud Innovation Lab Software Developer
Technical Intern
University of British Columbia, 2016

Vancouver born Amy Wu was looking for an internship experience that would allow her to pair her Computer Engineering and Software major with her minor in Commerce. Much like Dan, Amy is part of a generation of students who want to apply their diverse skillsets to the multifaceted field of technology and consulting. Unsure of her next steps, Amy spoke with another Extreme Blue alumna at a networking event, and she told her about the program’s multidisciplinary approach.

“Since I have a minor in Commerce, the business aspect of the Extreme Blue program was especially appealing to me,” says Amy. “The program is also a great way to prepare for any entrepreneurship or capstone project, because it offers much more innovation and creativity than any other internship! It was the perfect match for my own interests.”

After she was accepted to the Extreme Blue program, Amy began her internship and got to know her team members as they turned their idea into a reality. They helped build the next generation of cloud innovations for IBM that would support their client’s cloud migration. Since their project involved programming, Amy was able to pair her skills in software with hands-on technical experience constructing the product’s hardware. Furthermore, she was able to build her business skills and consider the project from the client’s perspective.

In the life of an Extreme Blue intern, there is no typical workday, and each project team is different. Amy’s team would meet each morning and plan their day in terms of when each person would be working individually and when they would join together. When she was working independently, Amy would write code or research a specific topic. As a team, they would prepare their presentation, review their technical design, and have discussions with their mentors to make sure that they were on-track.

This commitment to team building and skills development is a staple of the Extreme Blue program; Amy immediately felt comfortable reaching out to anyone in the company for advice or to ask questions. Each team has a technical and business manager, and Amy met with them frequently to discuss the project and her learning outcomes.

“I really felt like everyone wanted me to learn, succeed and achieve my goals,” Amy says.

For Amy, the collaborative, positive work environment at IBM did not end after her final presentation. Instead, the strong relationships she developed with her peers and mentors have continued to grow. Once the program was over, Amy’s business and technical advisors encouraged her to keep in touch and, impressed by her hard work, offered to act as references for her if she wanted a future career at IBM.

“Unsurprisingly, I did!” she says. Today, Amy is an IBM Cloud Innovation Lab Software Developer..

“The program really helped me know what direction I should take with my career. I wasn’t really sure what to do,” she says. “But because of this project I found out I do enjoy the cloud aspect and so working for cloud innovation lab, as I do now, is perfect for me.”

Take a look at Amy’s advice for succeeding in the Extreme Blue program:

  • Develop the ability to speak confidently and quickly.
  • Focus on how fast you can learn something new. Your project will change every day, so you need to be able to pick up new ideas quickly.
  • Network and keep in touch with all the people you’ve worked with, and all the mentors who’ve helped you out along the way.
Rashmi Patil
Software Developer for Application Development
Technical Intern
University of Toronto, 2016

Rashmi Patil has long combined her love of math, software, and computer engineering with her passion for meeting new people. A lover of adventure and learning new things, Rashmi did not want to find just any internship, but was looking for a meaningful work experience opportunity. When she came across the IBM Extreme Blue program, the dual focus on technical development and design was intriguing to her, and she was eager to be a part of a small, close-knit team. She set her heart on the program and was thrilled to be accepted.

Due to her technical background, Rashmi and her team were working on compiling data, but she also had the chance to develop her business skills. She was encouraged to think about the needs of a potential customer, and to keep these ideas in mind when designing products. Furthermore, she began to think about her role within the company in broader terms, and thought about how her product would complement IBM’s other projects.

“Understanding how technologies fit together was really cool,” she says. “We actually met with other teams and people in different department often to get an idea of which projects fit together and we also spoke to customers to see what they were looking for from our product.”

Like Dan and Amy, Rashmi was able to build her professional skills in new areas largely because of the guidance and teaching she received from her mentors. Her learning experience was enriched by the collaborative atmosphere at IBM, as well as the opportunity to work closely with a small team of talented peers.

“You work hard in the Extreme Blue program, but it’s really fun!” she says. “I was able to learn so much because I felt very comfortable in a team environment, and my managers were really supportive of exploring our new ideas.”

This team mentality is supported across a network of teams within IBM, and the interns were all encouraged to network with senior managers as well as other students. One of Rashmi’s favourite parts of the Extreme Blue program was a company-wide camping trip to Algonquin Park, where all of the interns got to know each other and bond outside of the office setting. Rashmi found everyone she met to be friendly and encouraging, and she embraced the many networking opportunities IBM provides the Extreme Blue interns. Getting to know people on informal terms was helpful later on when she needed to contact leaders in other departments for advice.

Looking back on her experience, Rashmi reflects that the most valuable lessons she learned in the Extreme Blue program were research skills, how to form strong professional relationships, and public speaking. Today, as a full-time employee with IBM, Rashmi encourages all interested students to apply for what will be a life changing learning opportunity.

“The Extreme Blue program is challenging and fun, and the hard work is absolutely worth it!” she says.

Take a look at Rashmi’s advice for succeeding in the Extreme Blue program:

  • Be curious, and explore every opportunity you can. You’re at your internship to learn about areas of a business where you might want to continue your career, so try everything you can.
  • Work as much as you can, since every new project and task will teach you new skills.
  • Think outside the box. A huge part of the Extreme Blue program is innovation, and as an intern, you have the creative freedom to think of new ideas.