Toni Akinwumi 11/01/2017

How We Enable Our Interns to Make an Impact

Making An Impact

When interns join Shopify for their internship term, they work on projects that will impact our merchants, partners, and even their fellow developers. Some of these projects will alleviate a merchant's pain points, like the ability to sell their products on different channels, or simplify a complicated process for our developers. We want interns to leave knowing they worked on real projects with real impact.

For example, Sivapriyan Sivakumaran, now a full-time developer, worked on the launch of our Amazon Channel during his internship, which allows our U.S. merchants to sell their products on Amazon and expand their business. Working on a project that had a direct impact on our merchants is one of the reasons he eventually accepted a full-time role.

While speaking with current and former interns about their experiences here, a few common themes arose that contributed to a successful internship. This included having autonomy, mentorship, constant challenges, and the ability to cross-collaborate. We’ll go through how we enable each one.

Autonomy

Interns are given the autonomy of full-time employees and a component of the learning curve is to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. So we challenge interns to work on new projects and programs unfamiliar to them. During his first term, Terell Brown worked on the App Platform Mobile team on a project that involved surfacing Collection App Links in the Android mobile app. When another team member realized some technical debt needed to be alleviated—deprecating the existing design pattern and introducing a better one—Terell discussed this with his lead and got the approval to figure out the issue in order to complete the original task.

A snippet of Terell working on the Collection App Links Buy button

 

This was a complicated project because it touched multiple codebases and could also affect third-party app developers. He needed to talk to stakeholders from different teams to figure out a transition plan that minimized the impact on third-party developers, while achieving the desired end-state. As an android developer, he wasn’t as familiar with back-end work, but because of the autonomy given to him he was able to work on this project. He believes the ability to receive an open-ended problem, ask the right questions, and provide an informed recommendation on the best course of action has been an indicator of his growth as a developer.

Support Through Mentorship

Though interns are given autonomy, we also assign a mentor to them who will work with them throughout their internship. Interns and their mentors will pair program regularly and also work on projects together. Interns are encouraged to ask questions, and figure out the solutions with their mentors. Returning intern Jeanie Suparman currently works on the Partnerships Engineering and Operations team. She worked on the interface for the recently launched development store view for our partners, and is working towards providing better tracking for our affiliates. So whenever they receive a referral bonus, we can provide tracking data that shows which marketing strategies worked the best.

Some technical aspects of her role require data backfilling, which is a process of collecting data from somewhere else and compiling it. She’s had to use the Elasticsearch framework and Ruby on Rails, both of which she was unfamiliar with before her internship here. Whenever she needs clarification about a certain process, she searches our internal documentation and other online resources for the solution. But when she feels like she has exhausted all her options, she discusses it with her mentor who offers other resources or different perspectives on how to solve the problem. Interns are challenged and taught to dig deep and really hone their critical thinking skills, in order for them to become better developers.

New Challenges

Returning interns are given the option to move to a different team or take on different roles. Exploring other options gives them the opportunity to work with new people, and to pursue new challenges. Ben Emdon is on his third term here where he previously worked as an iOS developer intern on the Mobile Team, and now works as an API developer intern on the same team. As of now, he writes code that generates Java and Swift models for our mobile clients.

Ben wrote the initial dashboard on the Shopify home graph for the iOS mobile app 

 

They use GraphQL for this, which has strongly typed schema that they can take advantage of to generate models to model our schema. This can be a complicated process, but Ben and his mentor bounce ideas off each other to come up with the best approach. Since there needs to be a lot of discussion with other teams about its design patterns, he believes this can make the GraphQL API process a little chaotic. But he knows it’s important to build something that will be here for a long time. This kind of growth mindset is what we believe sets our interns up to be stellar developers who can see a challenge and tackle it.

Cross Collaboration

One of the best parts about how our organization is set up, is that everyone has access to everyone no matter what level or team. This fosters an environment that enables collaboration and relationship building across the board. Kirin Rastogi is a developer intern on the Trust Team, which manages our merchant's data. He is writing algorithms to improve our automatic detection process for things that don’t comply with our privacy regulations. He's also working with different teams in Shopify Core to ensure that all their data complies with those regulations. 

With the internal systems we have in place (like Slack), he can directly message anyone in real time and they can talk about the issues or set up a meeting. He can also set up lunch or coffee with people who are working on teams that he may possibly be interested in joining if he returns for another term. We believe our people are our biggest asset and making it easy to talk to each other is what makes Shopify such a great place to work.

This term’s intern cohort has been the largest we’ve had to date. As Shopify continues to scale, so has our capacity to hire interns for different roles and teams. The interns we hire possess the passion, ambition, and motivation to be challenged and get the job done. They work on impactful projects that will make them think outside the box and deepen their knowledge. Ultimately they will gain the experience needed to further their careers and can potentially lead to opportunities to join our organization permanently.

If you’re interested in an internship here at Shopify, look out for our internship opportunities!