Meet Our Summer 2016 Engineering Interns

Mary Thengvall
Jul. 1, 2016 by Mary Thengvall

Introducing the Engineering Interns

Our New Engineering Interns Pack a Punch

Summer means campouts, longer days, heat waves, and family vacations for most, but if you’re a college student, it oftentimes means an internship. Getting your feet wet in a business environment instead of in the pool, finding the best coffee shops (aka lifeblood) between your new apartment and the office, and discovering which snacks to indulge in and which to avoid in the company kitchen.

We’re lucky enough to have 3 engineering interns in our department this summer! Now that they’ve had a chance to find their sea legs, I thought I’d check in to see how they’re doing and what they’re enjoying most about their time at SparkPost.

Hello, My Name Is…

As the Community Manager at SparkPost, one of my favorite parts of the job is getting to know our new employees. Ask someone how they got to where they are and it’s rarely a straightforward answer. There’s some meandering, a little exploring, and if you’re lucky, an adventure or two to be briefed on before the answer is complete. In true form, we have three different majors between the three engineering interns: Information Science (Avi), Bioinformatics (Emely), and Computer Science (Vincent).

Engineering Interns 2016
Avi, Emely and Vincent – Our 2016 Engineering Interns

While all three have to do with technology and programming, there is a fair amount of nuance. Emely says, “Bioinformatics is the use of computer science to analyze and interpret biological data. Think of it like a biologist who knows how to code,” and Avi recently switched from Computer Science to Information Science, saying, “I am hoping to take a less traditional route – something with a little more exploration and fun.”

One thing they all have in common is a love for programming. Whether they love the challenge of solving a new problem or the satisfaction of the end result, they’ve each got their favorite projects that they’re most proud of.

For Vincent, it was building a fleet of air fresheners controlled by a cell phone. With his experience participating in and organizing various hackathons, he’s had a chance to push the limits of typical software engineering projects. He got started programming in 8th grade, when his dad encouraged him to learn Python. Being a typical rebellious 8th grader, he focused on learning everything but. “Since then, I’ve found that I enjoy building cool projects with friends, and falling into code trances,” says Vincent. “I attend and organize hackathons, teach middle schoolers how to code, and try to participate in the Baltimore software development community as much as possible… but I still don’t know Python.”

Emely has a slightly different background in programming, choosing to come at it from a research perspective. “I work with two types of cancer research studies in school that challenge me to become a better programmer. I take pride in my work because I know that I’m helping to make a difference, even in the lives of people I will probably never get the pleasure of meeting.”

Avi comes at it from a different angle yet, focusing on the projects that he’s currently working on rather than looking back at what he’s accomplished. “The day after I finish a project I immediately start critiquing every minute detail and mistake,” he says. “One of the projects that I’m still proud of is my first paid website. It was a bit scary to put my work out there and know that I was responsible for it, but I managed to walk away a little richer and more importantly, with a happy client.”

Learning how to be satisfied with the work you’ve completed rather than looking for more improvements or critiquing past accomplishments is all part of the learning process that an internship provides. In an agile environment like the one SparkPost’s engineering team maintains, it’s essential to think quickly, respond with the best possible solution, and then move on to the next open issue.

This is part of what excited Avi about working at SparkPost in the first place. “At the beginning I was afraid that I might have bitten off more than I could chew but I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been given work that challenges me but nothing that I can’t handle. Even when I’ve run into issues I can ask my fellow interns or any of the employees for help. It has been such a fun learning experience – I really couldn’t ask for anything better.”

But before we get into what our lovely engineering interns have been working on this summer, let’s talk about what drew them to SparkPost in the first place.

What Brings Us Together Today

With as many different tech companies to choose from, potential interns, similar to potential employees, look at a variety of factors:

  • What kind of projects will I be able to work on?
  • What’s the culture like?
  • What do I want to accomplish this summer?

Everyone has a different answer for these questions based on their expectations, experience, and desires. For some, it’s as easy as a convenient location and the potential of a cool project, or simply wanting to learn more about how something works. Vincent was predominantly motivated by curiosity: “I spend a third of my waking life on Gmail, and I still have no idea how it all works.” Learning the ins and outs of SparkPost’s interface this summer gives him the opportunity to not only learn about email protocols, IPs, and email best practices, but also contribute to the product itself.

For Emely, it’s a little more involved. “In school, there’s almost a feeling that Bioinformatics doesn’t have much practical use or that the students aren’t as ‘good at programming’ as traditional Computer Science majors. As a female programmer, I wanted to prove to myself and my fellow students that ‘Yes, I can program outside my area of expertise and not only that, I am actually pretty good at it!’”

Avi was excited by the opportunity to work on something that makes a difference in people’s day-to-day lives. “Email is such a basic piece of every business. When a technology is as ubiquitous as email, people start to take it for granted and expect it to just work. It’s really cool to be a part of crafting that experience for developers.”

Welcome to SparkPost

All good jobs start with introductions and onboarding — getting your feet wet in the code so that you can be confident in the how and why of the features you’re creating along the way. As such, Avi, Emely, and Vincent’s first few days were spent getting to know the ins and outs of the SparkPost UI & API.

Since then, the engineering interns have contributed support articles, fixed a few bugs, added functionality to the documentation and web app, and rebuilt our PHP client library from the ground up. “I could easily say I’ve learned as much as I have all year but in two weeks,” Emely said.

“I also like working at SparkPost because it gives me a chance to grow as a person,” she continues. “I imagined a very strict work environment compared to what I’m used to in my own field, and I was afraid that I would have to figure out these tremendous problems all by myself. I was so wrong. At SparkPost, people are really calm, relaxed, funny and extremely knowledgeable. If I don’t get something, I can ask any person around me and they’re happy to help. It’s a very positive work environment and I love it.”

Avi seconded: “I love the openness and culture. There’s a huge focus on communication. Everyone on the team knows what you’re working on and visa versa. The daily standups and grooming make sure that everyone is on the same page and that anyone can do each task. The code reviews ensure that each problem is reviewed by at least two people. Overall, it creates a low-pressure environment where you can get things done and have fun without worrying that you break the entire product!”

And don’t forget about the fun! Vincent’s been working on his ping pong forehand when he needs a break from the day-to-day, while Avi and Emely keep themselves energized with coffee and cappuccinos from the SparkPost kitchen.

There’s More to Come

As the engineering interns continue to learn and grow, they’ll be contributing to bigger projects and making changes that will affect the future of the SparkPost product. We’re lucky to have them on our team this summer, and look forward to sharing more about what they accomplish throughout their time here.

Interested in hearing more of what we’re accomplishing at SparkPost? Join our Community Slack group to hang out and chat with some of our engineers and community folks. If you like what you see, send us an application – we’re hiring!

— Mary

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