Starting at a Startup: Advice to the future intern
Blog post by ELP Student Hana Coon (Computer Science | Class of 2020)
With six weeks under my belt as a startup intern, I’ve identified a few key things that have contributed to an amazing month and a half of learning, growing, and 24/7 entrepreneurship. Without further ado, here are my top six tips for the future startup intern.
Whip up a wiki.
As I navigate my summer at a startup, I’ve kept a running guide with any and all things about the company and my work that might be valuable to me or another intern down the road. To make a guide or wiki like this, find your favorite text-editor and section it off into things that are important to you. Mine has sections for jotting down design tips I pick up, weird web-programming nuances, insights on running a startup, the logistics of user testing, my notes from meetings I attend, and big things coming up in the company that I want to keep on my radar. By maintaining a resource like this for yourself, you’re keeping track of important information while also creating something that you can look back on to assess your growth when your internship ends.
Be a Slack lurker.
Way back in 2015, Slack-users across the world rallied for some way to “like” or react to other workspace members’ messages in a Facebook or Twitter-like fashion — and Slack delivered. The “emoji reactions” feature that was released as a response to the outcry of dedicated Slack users is my favorite and most common way to use Slack. Adding reactions to messages is the perfect tool for the intern who wants to build a presence within the company without flooding channels with individual messages. The engineer from the other side of the office just uploaded a photo of her brand new puppy? Slap a “heart eyes” emoji on that. You really like the direction your designers are going in with their new website design? Give them a “clapping” emoji to show you’re a fan. If you’re not a devout Slack-reactor like I am, or your company doesn’t use Slack, find a similar way to stay involved in the correspondence. You’ll stay in the loop, and they’ll appreciate you following along.
Tell your manager when your hamster dies.
It took a lot for me to muster up the courage to tell my manager that the reason I was taking a little bit longer than usual to get my work done was because I was mourning the loss of a small rodent. I felt silly at first, but I was pleasantly surprised by how understanding and kind the response I got was. Most people who want to see you succeed will genuinely want to know when things are happening outside of work that might be bringing you down. The same way you would inform someone if you woke up with a fever and weren’t coming in to the office, it’s just as important to keep those around you at work updated on things that are affecting your mental health in addition to your physical health.
Learn how to use the coffee maker.
My second day on the job, I looked around for a friendly face and asked them to show me how to use the office coffee maker. While I still have yet to use it on my own, that pleasant interaction with a brand-new coworker was the perfect segue into a friendly working-relationship. Bonus: I’m now armed with the ability to not only crank out a pot of coffee but to be a friendly face and a helping hand for a new employee. These kinds of interactions are what make a great company culture. Seek them out.
Stop asking Google-able questions.
In this day and age, I firmly believe that there is such a thing as a dumb question. After listening in on quite a few meetings where unfamiliar startup lingo has been thrown around left and right, I’ve come up with a method for formulating a select few valuable questions. During meetings, talks, and presentations, jot down questions you have and words you hear that you need defined. Afterwards, quickly Google each of the words you didn’t know. Many times, briefly reading a definition is enough to make things click. Sometimes, however, you might need a word defined in relation to things at the startup itself. This becomes a question you can add to your list of things to ask your manager or someone else who’s available to help. Finally, curate your list of questions you created throughout the meeting to eliminate anything that can easily be found online. From there, you have a solid and well-thought-out list of things to ask about.
Rally the other interns.
Don’t wait for a month into your internship to start forming a relationship with the other interns. Be the one to start an “intern group chat,” go on a journey through the office together to seek out the La Croix stash, or use each other as resources for navigating your first days at the company. While mentorship from your more senior coworkers is important, so is building camaraderie with those who are in the same situation as you are. Cheer each other on and build each other up.
Startup interns are in an incredibly unique position to receive close mentorship, learn the day-to-day operations of an up-and-coming company, and mold their internship into an experience that works for them. You’re in for an exciting ride — take advantage of all it has to offer.