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Internship Experience Interview Report: Akira Nakashima

April 2, 2024

Evolving From an Internship to Joint Research Between NEC and University Laboratories

Researcher, Secure System Platform Research Laboratories
Akira Nakashima

Nakashima joined NEC after completing his master's degree in 2023. He has been involved in cryptography research since his students days and is currently conducting research in the data security field with a focus on secure computation.

Participating in an internship for his studies with no thought of finding a job

I first learned about the NEC internship through an announcement on a university mailing list around May during the first year of my master's degree. The announcement was framed as a research internship opportunity for students in homomorphic encryption, which is my major. So, I thought that I might learn something since that is my major, and I applied for the internship. At the time, I wasn't even thinking about finding a job, so to be honest, I only applied for the sake of my own research. In particular, NEC has many researchers who are internationally active in the cryptography field. I recall that when I consulted with my academic adviser, he told me, "I think that you can learn a lot at NEC's research laboratory" and recommended that I participate in the internship.
At the time, I was living in Kyushu and participated remotely in the internship. However, that was in the summer of 2021, right when the Tokyo Olympics were being held. It was a time when the number of people infected with COVID-19 was increasing. Initially, I planned to visit the research laboratory at the beginning and end of my internship, but in light of the situation at that time, I shifted to a fully remote arrangement with my PC being delivered and returned by home delivery service. The employment interviews and presentation of the employment offer were also held online, so I only set foot inside NEC after I joined the company.
That being said, during the internship period NEC provided a mentor, established online opportunities to consult and report on my progress once every two days, and I was connected via chat at all times, so I did not feel like I was being left alone. NEC also established time for one-on-one chats with the team members during the internship period.
Of course, I am no longer working only remotely but also reporting to the office to work face to face. In fact, it seems many of the students who interned this year were working in-house. I think that is a more stimulating environment.

Feeling enjoyment and a sense of purpose during his first full-scale implementation

The overall theme of the internship is presented during the recruiting process, but the specific details of the work are determined in consultation with your supervisor and mentor in light of the situation where you are assigned as well as your own interests and skills. In my case, I mainly focused on the implementation of cryptography. In addition, I also investigated encryption methods, held seminar-format study sessions, and conducted improvement studies. In the study sessions, I summarized the encryption method algorithms and other information that I investigated on slides, gave a presentation to the team members, received suggestions, and engaged in a question and answer session to jointly think about ways to improve the algorithms. This led to a lively discussion and created a very stimulating forum.
During the implementation, I worked on the development of homomorphic encryption (encryption method which can perform computation with data in an encrypted form). I had never really carried out a full-scale implementation at university, so it was a really fresh experience for me. When trying to implement cryptography in a practical way, there are various aspects that you must pay attention to. For example, when generating a random number, you cannot use the kind of algorithm that is implemented in a game, etc. because you have to use something which is properly secured. I majored in mathematics during my undergraduate days and was a novice when I started doing cryptography for real with my master's degree, so I had not even mastered such basic rules and only learned about them when a team member pointed them out to me. In addition, the pursuit of practical speed also became an important point.
Naturally, the goal in corporate research is to tie it to productization and business. The discussion unfolds such that one might say, "If you are going to use it for this solution, then this encryption method is probably better" or conversely, "This method is unsuited to this authentication, so we should do it a different way." This kind of discussion which places social implementation as the goal was very stimulating. I was able to come to the realization that technologies that I thought up or implemented could benefit society and people, which was a lot of fun. Of course, that feeling remains unchanged to this day.

An introduction to Nakashima's daily schedule during his internship

Start work (remotely from home)
Research and implementation work
Move to the university graduate student room and have lunch with friends
Research and implementation work at the graduate student room
Progress report
Research and implementation work
Stop working

Evolving from research conducted during his internship to co-authoring research papers presented at top international conferences

In my case, the research activities into cryptography that I worked on during my internship continued even after the internship period ended. The university research laboratory entered into a full-scale collaboration with NEC to conduct joint research. As a result, a research paper summarizing this work was successfully published by ESORICS '23, a top cryptography related international conference, and I was able to list my name as a co-author. (Note 1) My senior colleagues are heading to the conference site to give an oral presentation. 
In this way, it is not unusual for research conducted during an NEC internship to lead to presentations at an academic conference. This year as well, results produced by students during their internship period were presented at an academic conference in Japan with the students' names listed as co-authors.
Moreover, even if the research content does not tie into results in academia, what you learn in the internship will nourish your own research. I myself was able to acquire knowledge about cryptographic technology through my NEC internship, which I believe helped me to grow. In fact, the research paper that I presented during the second year of my master's degree won a research paper award at the SCIS conference in Japan. (Note 2) The award ceremony was held in January of this year. I believe that the NEC internship was a good opportunity to broaden and deepen the scope of my own research.
After finishing my internship, I discovered that the recruiting process had started and immediately applied. For my interview, I created materials and gave a presentation on "what I would like to achieve after joining NEC." The selection process advanced very quickly, and they extended an offer, so I decided to directly join NEC. The internship was a lot of fun, and the team members were all very kind and nice, so I considered myself lucky to be able to join NEC.
There are many NEC researchers that I hold in high regard. There are some who have been active in academia as researchers and produced results for many years while others excel at coordinating with others and promoting co-creation as business people. I am very grateful to be able to work in such an extremely inspiring workplace.

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