Blog Becoming Certain with Uncertainty: My Remote Internship Experience

During my senior year of high school, one of the most terrifying questions I would get is “What’s your plan for college?” It’s always scary to be confronted about your pending future, and as someone who waited until May 1st (College Decision Day) to commit to the University of Washington, I was no exception. Now, as a senior in college, I’ve come face-to-face with the same situation, except the question is now “What’s your plan for after college?”

Around this time, I was interviewing with Narrative Science for its summer 2020 software engineering internship based in Chicago. Now in December, after having completed my remote fall internship with Narrative Science, here are some things that I learned:

Remote Work

Working remotely really isn’t awkward or inconvenient as I had imagined it would be. In fact, there were a lot of advantages to it. For one, I didn’t have to deal with the stress of trying to find housing in Chicago and completely uprooting my life for 3 months. As many companies transition and settle into these distributed work models, it really gives people more flexibility, whether that is being able to work in another city or not having to deal with an early morning commute. However, a strong company culture is really the key and foundation to success for these distributed environments, and I came to witness that several times throughout my internship experience. Even small things like having set rituals and setting up virtual coffee chats can really foster a connection between a company and its employees.

Communication

Having clear, frequent, and intentional communication is really the backbone of working remotely. One of the first things that stood out to me when I started my internship was how quick and willing people were to jump on a Zoom call and set aside time to answer questions, pair program, or just chat. As a new intern, I could go on and on about how appreciative I was of this. It was probably the second day of my internship when I learned that you could start Zoom meetings directly through Slack, which would help carry me through the next 11 weeks (as someone who’s used Slack for 4 years in college, I was never aware of this feature!). Even when it wasn’t face-to-face, people still actively communicated with each other on Slack, whether that is about problems that they were facing, ideas on how to improve something, or just fun life stuff.

Motivation and Productivity

From my own experience, communication is what really drives motivation, which in turn drives productivity. This year, I’ve found that it’s so easy to lose motivation when you are physically disconnected from people and responsibilities in your life. In terms of interning remotely, there are many things that I learned about staying motivated and productive. For example, even in remote environments, you still feed off of the energy of people around you. It helped that my team had really “get-up-and-go” attitudes that showed that they cared about the work they were producing. It also worked out nicely that the things I was working on were really interesting, so staying motivated wasn’t a huge issue. One of the best things about the internship was that since it was part-time, I was able to create my own schedule and work it around my school days. Having this set schedule actually made me so much more productive in other parts of my day as well. 

Adaptive

I’ll also have to say that working remotely may not be everyone’s cup of tea and there are always going to be challenges (e.g. wifi crashing unexpectedly due to Seattle thunderstorms), but I’m excited to see how Narrative Science continues to work to build and support this environment for their employees (and potential future interns)!

More than anything, one thing that I’ve taken away from this experience is how valuable it is to be adaptive. Especially in a roller-coaster year like this one, where we’ve constantly had to adjust ourselves to a “new normal” and then a “new new normal” after that, I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that it’s okay to not always be certain. There is a lot of value in taking a step back, reconfiguring yourself every now and then, and throwing yourself into unfamiliar grounds, no matter how foreign or uncomfortable it might seem.

While I have to admit I was pretty disappointed at the time that I couldn’t experience the in-person version of the internship or the Chicago culture that I’ve heard great things about, everything worked out nicely in the end and I still had a wonderful intern experience. I’m extremely grateful to Narrative Science for the opportunity and continual support, and I’m excited to see what 2021 will bring for the Narrative Science team! 

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