Fake it till you make it (or until summer is over): how to intern in tech
By: Brooke Landrum
What I learned in three months at Narrative Science
I have always been tech-averse. I wait to upgrade my phone until I can no longer make calls and think wearing an Apple watch may kill me. That sounds dramatic but realistically there is so much data about me in a server somewhere that I can’t access, and probably couldn’t understand anyway, and that makes me uncomfy. I’ve never wanted an older brother, certainly not one that might be listening to me at all times and knows every single one of my preferences. Get out of my room Jeff! Geez. Therefore, starting an internship at a tech startup was about the most daunting thing I could do with my summer.
Picture me, bright-eyed and hopped up on caffeine my first day of work. Halfway through orientation, someone from engineering comes in to tell the interns about the actual technology we are going to be marketing for the summer. Now, picture my pea brain spinning around in circles as almost every word goes directly over my head.
How did I manage to figure out not only what I was supposed to be marketing, but understand it enough to add value?
Don’t worry, that’s not included in my NDA. I’ll tell you.
1 Ask as many questions as you’re comfortable with and then ask one more
One of our former blog posts talks about being Iron Man at work. I challenge interns to switch over to DC comics and channel The Riddler (minus the villain part) instead. It sounds cliche, but I certainly didn’t listen when I was told it’s ok to ask questions. It’s not annoying, especially as a new employee. Fresh eyes and ears are a very valuable asset for a company. Asking questions not only gets you information, it also gives veteran employees a new perspective how messaging and communication may not be clear. Our marketing team in particular talks about “zooming out” meaning to shift focus to outside our four walls. No question is a dumb question because someone out there, most likely a potential customer, will have the same one.
2 Be social without social media
It took me about a month to realize that one of the best ways to understand what is going on in a company, is to understand what is going on with the people in the company. Now, I wasn’t 21 at the start of summer. For a while, I missed out on social gatherings, happy hours, and hanging out in the kitchen at the end of the day to shoot the breeze. So I had to go way out of my comfort zone and find other ways to get to know people. Fortunately, just as I started looking for other ways to be social, I got a message on my computer telling me that I had been paired for a ‘donut’ with our Chief Product Officer. I came to find out there was a program we used which randomly paired you up with a different person in the office every two weeks and you were supposed to go grab a coffee or a donut together. So I took 3 giant steps out of my comfort zone and got coffee with the CPO that week. We talked about life, travel and then I asked my favorite question “Why did you decide to work at Narrative Science?” The next 15 minutes (well beyond our scheduled 20 minutes) consisted of him telling me everything he is passionate about within the company and what he works on during the day. There literally could not have been a better way to get to know about a different department and the company as a whole.
3 Work somewhere where you care about what is being built
The main reason I was successful in my internship is that I believe the products we are building and distributing at Narrative Science are useful, impactful tools with the right values behind them. It turns out, this tech company is actually building software that combats some of the very aspects of technology that make me uncomfortable (re: data is confusing and there is a lot of it). This doesn’t just apply for tech-averse people like myself.
In a startup or small company, you have to give your all to the product or service you create. It’s the only thing that will make the grind not grind you down. That is exponentially harder to do if you’re ambivalent about what you are creating. This isn’t me just rewording the “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life” nonsense. No matter how much you love your job, there will still be days that you would give anything to be at the beach. It’s particularly annoying when you are able to see said-beach from the office but you’re inside and the water looks so blue… but I digress. Simply put, if you don’t care about your product, nobody else will either.
That’s a Wrap!
These are just a few preliminary tips on how to personally reconcile and professionally navigate working for a tech company, even if you think wearing an Apple watch might kill you and you definitely don’t want google to know your favorite color. I will talk your ear (or preferred messaging platform) off about any of the above topics, or any other technology conspiracy theories, if you’d like. So, find me on twitter @brookelyn127 or on Linkedin!
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