Interns: the hidden treasures of your summer months
Over the course of my education I (Evelyn Haslinger) did several internships. The disillusioning reality of most of these internships was that I would have spent my summers better off by doing literally anything else. My last internship was at the end of my undergraduate studies where I didn’t even receive a workstation: I was sitting between two coworkers and could watch them work. At that point, I had 8 years of programming experience and clearly could have pulled my weight.
In contrast, I accomplished my first scientific publication around the same time. That is quite rare, because usually you start doing those during your doctoral studies and not as an undergraduate. This accomplishment did not come to be because I was super smart or years ahead of my peers. But, because I got the right support and guidance from my mentor Roberto Erick Lopez Herrejon.
These two examples are meant to demonstrate that you can either waste the time and energy of a young person or, given the right problems to work on, receive astonishing results. The remainder of this blog tells the story of three interns we had at Symflower and the projects they accomplished.
Prerequisites for an internship @Symflower
Before we offer an internship, the applicant needs to demonstrate talent in their chosen field. For instance a graphics design intern would work on a small graphic as part of the hiring process or a programming intern would need to solve a programming assignment.
Of course we do not expect an intern to already know everything an experienced professional does. But a certain skill level needs to be present to do a meaningful internship.
Florian did his internship in 2019, after his first year of study in Media Technology and Design at the University of Applied Sciences Hagenberg.
Florian’s main reason for applying in the first place was that our job advertisement mentioned an animated product video that he was thrilled to work on. To be honest, I was slightly sceptical about the outcome, but we were willing to try. After all, the main purpose of an internship is to give the opportunity to learn.
The creation process of the animated product video took several weeks. Florian took the lead and was responsible for everything: starting with the text for the voice-over, the animations as well as finding a speaker and choosing the background music. Of course we did several feedback loops for all stages of the project. Additionally we had several brainstorming sessions to come up with ideas for depicting certain concepts. So the creative process was a team effort, but all the concrete implementations were solely done by Florian.
As you may already suspect, the video turned out perfect. Take two minutes and enjoy: Symflower in a Nutshell.
After the publication of the video we got several requests concerning the marketing firm who did the video. Because our viewers wanted to commission their product videos there too. No one would have thought that this marketing firm was Florian, our summer intern.
Learn about Florian’s internship impressions
When I started my internship, the team consisted of 3 people, today Symflower already has 13 employees . On my first day we talked about what my main tasks for the next two months should be. This provided me with a great overview and showed me how appreciated my internship is.
My first assignment was to rework the icons on the website. At that point the corporate design of Symflower - besides logo and font - was not precisely defined, which gave me quite a lot of freedom and responsibility for finding a fitting design language. From the beginning on, I experienced how the solving of practically any task can benefit from open communication and feedback.
The level of challenge of my tasks scaled well with my improving skills and confidence and peaked in the creation of an animated explanation video.
Lucia is one of Florian’s fellow students in Media Technology and Design at the University of Applied Sciences Hagenberg. She did her internship with us in 2020 starting during the COVID-19 lockdown. Lucias internship was sponsored by the FFG.Femtech program that aims to get more women interested in technical fields.
With a duration of 6 months, Lucia had the longest internship @Symflower until now and accomplished several projects. Most notably is her work on the redesign of our product frontend. She worked in tandem with our frontend team as well as with our product owner: brainstorming ideas, receiving feedback and iterating over her solutions. We are really impressed with her creativity and the quality of her screen designs.
Take a look at some of her designs below. We are really looking forward to migrating our current frontend to Lucia’s new designs.
Learn about Lucia’s internship impressions
My internship started in the midst of the Corona lockdown. Though I was not working on site and talking face to face with the others, I never felt as if my onboarding process or the first tasks were any different from the tasks given to my colleagues.
Within the first week I was already given bigger tasks for the company and within the first month I was assigned to redesign the frontend of the product. At first I was overwhelmed by the size of the project and did not know where or how to start. In the end I was able to overcome that obstacle through constant feedback from the team and planning my approach step by step. After finishing the first drafts with layout and navigation I felt more comfortable and it was a lot easier to proceed in this as well as on other tasks.
I learned a lot in those six months of employment, from time management to new techniques and applications for graphic design. I also learned to appreciate the team I am working with and the help they offer on a daily basis.
At first we were unsure whether a programming internship would turn out fruitful, because you constantly hear that it takes months to get productive in a new programming project. We strongly believe that it is possible to find programming tasks in any project that a junior programmer can work on, even when her time is limited to a few weeks.
We chose to use the same onboarding procedure for Vanessa, as we do for any new coder @Symflower: We started off with small issues that gradually increase in size and complexity, alternating between pair-programming and single programming. The only difference we made is that the chosen issues were slightly simpler than we would have chosen for a regular developer.
Vanessa also surprised us with her performance during her 6 week internship, showcasing that it does not take months to be productive even in a large project. After her first three days of the onboarding prozess she required very little guidance, learning most things quite autonomously. Some of the issues where we estimated that she would take a day were completed within an hour or so. Overall she completed 25 issues ranging from small to large sized, thus adding relevant extensions to our product.
Learn about Vanessa’s internship impressions
At the beginning of my internship I was very surprised to find out that I was allowed to immediately start working on the product code. The first steps were made in pair-programming, which helped a lot with getting to know the code base and its conventions. My mentors explained everything very detailed and I was able to ask lots of questions about the program. Even when I programmed on my own I was always able to ask one of my mentors for help. All in all I think it was the right combination of responsibility and support from others.
In general I really liked the team spirit. Everyone was very welcoming and supportive, I immediately felt like I was part of the team.
We constantly tend to underestimate the capabilities of young people and career starters. In doing so we miss out on new insights and astonishing results.
We at Symflower think it is key to treat them like any other team member. This means to: look for challenging projects where they can learn and improve. treat them as peers, not interns. give their voice the same weight as that of any other team member.
We are really happy that Flo and Lucia decided to permanently join the Symflower team after their internship. Also Vanessa will soon rejoin us, as soon as she has completed her Bachelor thesis.