This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to work at Khan Academy as a software engineering intern. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Khan Academy, it is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. The people at Khan Academy believe that you can learn anything, so I figured I would take this time to reflect on things I learned this summer.
Learning to work with remote coworkers
Khan Academy has a very remote-friendly work culture. This was my first time working at a company where only about 50% of the employees worked on-site. Thanks to Slack and Google Hangouts, communication about work went pretty smoothly; however, things like the time difference and missing out on “water cooler” talks made getting to know my remote coworkers a bit more challenging. One thing that I wish I had done as an intern was attend the remote tea-times. These bi-weekly meetings were designed for remote employees and on-site employees to gather and just chat about things that are not necessarily work-related. If I ever do find myself back at Khan Academy, one of the first things I would want to do is attend one of the remote tea-times 🙂
Learning about accessibility compliance
One of my projects this summer was to help the Learning Platform team rewrite the discussions feature. The old discussions feature had a lot of room for improvement with regards to accessibility. For instance, learners who navigate through the site exclusively with a screenreader might have had trouble interacting with different parts of the discussion tools. Working on the discussions rewrite definitely made me more conscious of how the tiniest details can make a huge difference in how easy or difficult it is for a user to engage with the interface. Simply adding a few ARIA attributes and updating the focus element already saves the user from having to tab through the entire document to see what changed after the click of a button. Although this probably was not the most technically challenging project I’ve ever tackled, I truly had a blast tag-teaming with my co-workers on a project that helps Khan Academy truly be a platform where anyone can learn anything.
Learning what to look for in a job
One of my favorite parts about working at Khan Academy this summer was being surrounded by people who are incredibly passionate about the mission of the company. The engineers at Khan Academy are incredibly bright, and I’m sure many of them could easily have chosen to work somewhere that pays them more than a non-profit organization. However, they choose to work at Khan Academy because they know their skills are being used for a really good cause. The office walls are filled with testimonials from students, teachers, and parents saying how Khan Academy has changed their lives for the better. Some of my favorites are from students who couldn’t afford fancy test prep courses or books, but because of Khan Academy’s free SAT prep, they scored high enough on the standardized tests to earn college scholarships. It’s quite remarkable if you think about it.
Everyone has different priorities when it comes to job searching, and I think this past summer has helped me narrow down my top priorities. First and foremost, I want a job where I genuinely enjoy working with my coworkers and where we all feel like we’re contributing to a worthy cause. As long as I’m in an environment where I feel comfortable asking other people for help and working with them to solve problems, I think I’ll learn a lot during my first few years in the workforce.
All in all, I very much enjoyed my internship at Khan Academy, and I hope that I’m just as happy wherever I end up full-time *fingers crossed* 🙂
Yesterday was my last day at Square. Looking back at this summer, I can say for certain that it had many more ups and downs than my previous summer at Google in Irvine, but the experience overall was a net positive. I learned about Java best practices (I feel like I have to read Effective Java now), as well as the frustrations of working on a project without having gone through the proper planning.
Some of the highlights from this summer:
- Hack week. Every so often, teams at Square will drop what they’re doing for a week, and engineers will work on hack projects of their choosing. Fun fact: Square Cash was originally a hack week project. Hack week was one of my favorite experiences from this summer because I met some awesome engineers on other teams, one of whom would become my best friend (and idol) at Square. I also got the opportunity to tackle a different part of the Register POS codebase, which was challenging but fun.
- Intern hack week. Even though we didn’t officially have full-timers on our team for intern hack week, we had a tremendous amount of support from full-timers who were eager to help us out via Slack or in person. Most teams only have one intern, so this was a neat opportunity to work with other interns on a project while still benefiting from the knowledge of the codebase experts.
- Meeting Square’s leadership. Throughout the summer, we had Q+A sessions with Jack Dorsey (CEO), Jackie Reses (Capital Lead and People Lead), Sarah Friar (CFO), and Gokul Rajaram (Caviar Lead). I was inspired not only by the amount of knowledge and experience they each brought to their roles, but also their commitment to using the company’s purpose of economic empowerment to drive business decisions.
- Company-wide focus on learning. Jack Dorsey talks a lot about the importance of learning about machine learning in order to better prepare ourselves for the future. At one of the recent town squares, they announced that every engineer will be expected to go through ML Bootcamp, and non-technical people will have the chance to take an ML class for non-engineers. Don’t quote me on this, but I think at some point, they’re going to make this resource open to the public, too.
- Square Speaker Series. One of the office hallways is lined with portraits of all the speakers who have given talks at Square, including Sal Khan and Nora Poggi. This summer, I had the privilege to hear DeRay McKesson talk about civil rights activism.
- My project. This was by far the biggest internship project I have ever taken on, and I was surprised by how much responsibility they gave me. As an intern on the Checkout Experience Android team, I worked on a new feature for the Register POS app. The app is several years old now, so, over the past year, a team of engineers designed a new “futures” architecture to address some of the pain points of the current implementation. My feature was the first feature to employ the futures architecture, which was exciting but also frustrating at times. I could go on about how the management of my project could have been improved, but I’ll save that for a later time. Bottom line: I learned the hard way just how important it is to have a PRD and a design doc before diving into a project.
Lastly, and quite frankly the part I’m going to miss the most,
- The top-notch human beings I met. It was pretty much like working with celebrities. Prior to this internship, I wasn’t aware of Square’s open source presence, but it’s there all right. It felt crazy to be going to the authors of mortar and dagger for help on my project, but they were always patient with me and more than willing to share their expertise. In addition to their programming prowess, Square engineers blew me away with their interests outside of work and their past lives. I worked with someone who used to teach ancient Greek literature in a prison, someone who practiced law before becoming a programmer, and even an aviation fanatic who also happens to be a Quora celebrity. As I hinted before, my project came with many challenges, but thanks to the incredible people around me, I made it through the summer in one piece, breaking the master build only a handful of times 🙂
This post originally appeared as an answer on Quora and has been edited to fit this audience.