The number of internships you’ve had doesn’t measure how successful you will be in your career, but it’s certainly helped me navigate my own. In total, I completed six four-month internships by the time I graduated university.
When I was first applying, one university program in particular caught my eye - a program that combined finance and computer science, and had a listed job as secretary on the IT floor of a major bank. This, I decided, looking at the university pamphlet, was my dream job.
My thoughts began to change once I started university. I quickly found that I was not very good at accounting and finance, and was having a hard time in my studies. When summer approached I began to panic, as did many of my peers. We all knew that finding our first job was going to be difficult. I remembered how hard it was in high school when no one would hire me at the mall without any retail experience. How do you get experience without any experience? It was the same problem.
Fortunately, this time around I did have a bit of experience through my hobby of web development. At the time, I was much more confident in my photoshop abilities than web development, but those self-taught skills ended up giving me a huge edge. I was only allowed to apply to fifty jobs through my university’s job board, and I maxed it out.
I received two interviews.
The interviews I had, I didn’t feel good about. I left each feeling like the competition was too much for me to compete with. However, one team was able to identify my potential and thought I would be a good fit for them. It was Pricewaterhouse Coopers, a large accounting firm, and my dream job that I had seen listed on the university pamphlet! This is when I thought I had made it.
It would be the first in a long line of internships.
My Six Internships, and what I Learned from them
Internships are short-term experiences. There’s this urgency to ramp up as fast as possible so you can make an impact as early on as you can. I entered each internship with a goal in mind and always came out having learned something new.
My first internship was at a large accounting firm. Everything I experienced here was new to me but with the right mentorship, I learned about working in a corporate setting, the mobile development process, and playing around with jQuery mobile, which was probably the hottest framework back then. I left feeling more curious than ever before. After this internship it was clear to me that if I wanted to make a large impact during a short-term employment, I needed to work for a much smaller company.
My next internship was at a medium sized company (~200 employees). There I was able to prove my value and make a much larger impact. This was a pivotal moment for me, as I decided to shift my dreams of working for a large bank to a smaller financial company. I offered the web development team my front-end UI skillsets and was able to learn more about working with development tools (git). As I wasn’t doing too well in school, and had already identified that accounting and finance were not industries I’d excel in, I decided to switch my major to Mathematics. This was a broad major that would allow me to focus on more of my personal projects.
I had the opportunity to work abroad at a small (ten person team) startup in Silicon Valley. This was my first startup, and I was encouraged to dive deeper into development and become full-stack. My perspective of what it meant to be a developer began to change. I was having so much fun working and learning about full-stack development. When I left, it was with a much deeper understanding of web development, and with having had a great experience with a startup.
While my motivation was high from my last internship, I was excited to join a startup in my home city, Toronto. I was able to demonstrate my abilities to adapt to new environments (a new team and new technologies) quickly, but I realized that it was too easy for me to be stuck in my own comfort zone. I noticed I was only doing the things I was confident in and the work began feeling very repetitive. I felt the need to challenge myself.
I decided to spend another internship in California, as I’d had such a great experience there before. While I was able to work on exciting features for a product that I enjoyed building, I quickly realized I did not like my working environment. I wasn’t part of a team I felt happy in, the cultural fit was wrong, and to make things worse, I didn’t feel like I was learning anything that would help me grow as a developer. Here I found how important it was to have a good fit, and to make sure my values aligned with the company's.
While I decided I would like to stay in Toronto, I struggled to find a company I wanted to work for that excited me. Fortunately, early in my job search I found a small company (a three person team) that was building a fashion mobile application called Blynk. It was lead by CEO Jaclyn Ling and CTO Shums Kassam. During this internship, I received a lot of support for my career growth. I was more motivated than ever to not settle for comfort, but to challenge myself as a developer to grow and learn as fast as possible, even after graduation. This was an important internship for me, as it was my last as a student, and it solidified my goal to transition into a full-time opportunity after I graduated.
I learned a lot about myself with every internship, each experience helping me shape my thoughts and views about my career. Before I started university, I didn’t think too much about the tech industry, nor did I have a good perspective of what it actually looked like. It wasn’t until my internship in Silicon Valley that my eyes were opened to the booming industry, and I began to envision where I could start my career as a developer.
As I was approaching graduation, I had the opportunity to work for two of my internship companies. In such a fortunate situation, I was able to base my decision off the things that mattered to me most: room for growth, impact on the product, and the culture of the work environment.
After my decision, I would stay at this company for three years. While this was no longer an internship, what I learned from it was that your career goals and pathways will always be changing. Nothing is ever set in stone - even after graduation. Perhaps I may want to change careers in the next few years, or decide I want to become an Engineer Manager.
After three wonderful years, I decided it was time to take my next leap of faith and try somewhere new. Currently I am working for Hatchways, and with a team I previously worked with before (led by CEO Jaclyn Ling and CTO Shums Kassam). The company is dedicated to helping developers break into the tech industry through internships. I feel very passionate about the work I’m doing, which combines being a team lead, continuing to code using more modern technologies, and making an impact on the product the company is building.
One thing I’ve learned is that the world is always changing. Technology is always evolving. You will forever be a student on your career path, and that is no bad thing. The fear of not knowing everything is inevitable, and that is something I had to force myself to understand as a graduate. While career growth is important to me, I also continue to learn more about myself and discover what makes me happy, the kind of environments I strive in, and solidify where I see myself in my next career position.
Learning new things and expanding knowledge is always good. But career growth, personal growth, involves so much more. That’s what brings everything together. That’s what makes me happy, both with myself and with my career.
It’s hard to know what you really want out of your future. Uncertainty is common, but you make the best decisions you can at the time, keeping in mind that what is best could change in the future. It’s an ongoing process, and there’s nothing wrong with that. My internships were helpful in that they were short-term commitments where there was none of the pressure of a full-time job, and I had the freedom to explore and discover what it was I was looking for.
I have always tended towards more general, broader goals. I’ve found it allows for greater flexibility, and gives me the chance to see what’s out there. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. I certainly have a much better understanding of what I want, thanks to my experiences. For me, I want to make an impact. I have to have a voice in my company, and know what’s going on. Most important are the people I work with, as they are the ones who will support my career. And I know I need to be kept busy. This is much easier in smaller companies, and especially with startups. That’s not to close the door on larger companies entirely, but for now, this is where I want to be.