Internships or self-learning
I worked in two startups this summer: Apptopia and AdmitHub. I was a dev/growth hacking intern (gray area between dev and marketing) for Apptopia and a primary developer for AdmitHub. I’d never worked in any startup before these.
If anyone from either of the companies sees this, shout out to you! Thanks for the opportunity. I learned a lot (understating).
Here’s a bit about the experience:
I worked remotely at first for AdmitHub. I got on calls with my boss, Andrew, and pair-programmed using Floobits (love it). The first day legitimately working, I was introduced to Meteor. I’d heard about it, but never really used it. Andrew showed me the ropes to get me started. I hit the ground running. I had never pulled that much weight on a project (except for my own personal ones).
After a couple days working, I was on my way. I fleshed out huge chunks of the web app. With Andrew, we were able to have an MVP even with him being preoccupied with other work and me having to study for ACT and subjects (not a good idea) and then coming to Boston to begin work at Apptopia after a month into the project. When I got to Boston, I worked on the weekends and the night, because we had to launch as soon as possible in anticipation of the coming year. Yeah, that was fun. It honestly felt like I was working on my own project, considering I was the primary dev other than Andrew. The only difference was I felt it was more urgent with externally imposed deadlines rather than my own (which sometimes caused procrastination D:). Working directly with one or two people on a project is like heaven (I now vouch for pair programming). Deadlines make you learn faster. I will apply this to my future projects.
I get off the T and find the building. I text my boss because the elevator isn’t working. He tells me they’re in a meeting, so I have to wait. I sit down in a Starbucks for 2 hours. He calls me to come in. I get in the elevator. I have to call a number for them to unlock the elevator.
I walk off the elevator. A nice lady greets me. I find out nobody had any idea I was arriving except for the CEO, Eli, who hired me. Yeah, that was kind of weird.
I am directed to the conference room. I sit down and wait for Eli to meet me. He comes in and is super friendly. He asks about my skillset to remind him what I can do. I say frontend and JS stuff primarily. He’s like: “Okay, so first challenge…” He gets out his phone and opens up the Apptopia site. It looks horrible because the site is fixed-width for desktop. He says, “It looks like shit. I want you to make it mobile friendly.” He doesn’t give me any details other than who I should talk to to get me set up. Okay.
We will be launching the product soon (it’s already pretty much ready). I never got to say bye to Andrew in person, but it’s all good. The entire project is heavily based on my code. This site is going to be one of very few of my projects that will be live for quite some time (hopefully). I am happy I took the opportunity, and definitely pushed my skills to a new level (I learned Meteor through this!).
I believe I was tearing up when I left Apptopia. My coworkers hugged me. Eli and I had a one-on-one conversation for some time. He gave me some advice. I thanked him for the opportunity. I truly feel like I made some impact in Apptopia. My work wasn’t some crazy deep learning hardcore CS stuff (referring to this intern’s work), but I learned a ton and helped push products forward.
Work or learn on your own?
I don’t think there’s a clear winner to this. I sure could have learned a ton of what I was planning on learning and what I wanted to learn during this summer. However, my work pushed me to learn things I would never do on my own. Would I ever have access to a multi-thousand dollar fund for running an ad campaign? I would rarely ever have my own scraping data (at least in the near future) from sites for data scientists to mine and extract patterns to target new users. Meteor seemed interesting, but I never planned on really using it for a project. I was immersed in a culture, at both Apptopia and AdmitHub, that emitted an aura of “go for it.”
I think work and internships push you to learn things you’d never learn on your own. Although the internet’s vast and you can find info on virtually everything, it’s like this:
You have access to a vault of obscure tools. The tools are beyond your comprehension in complexity, for now. You have manuals for all of them. They’re all in rooms that are miles apart. You’re going to choose one and figure out how all of that works. Maybe you’re an adventurer, so you’ll go find a few others. But you’ll use those tools, and maybe a few others you pick up, to build what you want. Some tool manuals, you’ll never see. Work can teleport you to one you may never see before.
Okay, that may have been a pointless analogy.
I think a balance of work and learning is best. If you don’t have work, and you don’t have any personal project you’re really passionate about (like a startup of sorts), find some. It’ll open doors. You can’t just stick to your own stuff all the time. Never stop learning stuff you are interested in because you’re interested in it, though. As I proceed through my final year in high school at TAMS, I’m taking everything I learned this summer, technical and personal, and moving with one mindset: “go for it.”