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Navigating an Engineering Internship During Unusual Times

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Editor’s Note: For the past four months, Pixlee has had the pleasure of welcoming Bruce and Brianna, two co-op students from the University of Waterloo. From the company-wide kickoff in San Francisco to remote work due to COVID-19, their unique internship experience is one they won’t soon forget. In this co-written post from Brianna and Bruce, they shed light on life at Pixlee.

Company Kickoff: San Francisco

We had the chance to start off our internship by attending company kickoff in San Francisco.  This meant that we would be meeting Pablo, Pixlee’s Director of Engineering, for the first time at the airport. It was quite intimidating to meet 60+ people on your first few days of work, but this trip helped us immensely with getting a thorough introduction to Pixlee. Within a week, we both had a chance to learn a whole lot about the Pixlee platform and how different teams operate.

In our first meeting as employees, Kyle Wong (the CEO) explained the company goals for 2020. One of which was to make Pixlee “the best company our employees ever work for” and in our 4 months here, they did a really good job of achieving that goal. Even though we were new to the product, we were able to sit through insightful meetings about ways to improve team processes and learn about Pixlee’s goals and core values. We also had a chance to bond with the team through team-building activities and relaxing stretching sessions between the long meetings. By the end of the trip, we were closer than ever with the Toronto Pixlee team, AKA Pix6, even before we did our first JIRA ticket.

Upon returning to Toronto, one of the first questions our managers asked us was: “what do you hope to get out of your time here?” This was followed up throughout the term by more questions to make our experience better and actual action on all of the goals that we set at the beginning of the term.  But the people you work with are just as important as the goals you set. The Pixlee team is filled with people who are smart, fun, enthusiastic, and will genuinely try to make your time here the best it can be.

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Brianna and Bruce joining the team for company kickoff during their first week.

Every Day Matters as a Software Engineering Intern

The day of a software engineering intern seemed more or less the same as that of a full-time engineer at Pixlee, which gave us a lot of room to learn. It goes something like this:

Pixlee’s engineering team is mostly in Toronto but interacts a lot with the teams from San Francisco (and to some extent, Korea). To sync all the schedules, we have slightly later working hours than internships we’ve done in the past. Usually, we would arrive around 10, make myself some tea, post our daily standup on Slack, and jump straight into coding. 

Pixlee has a lunch perk where we get $15 in Ritual credits twice a week so this usually leads to a lot of debate as to what to eat. We’ll all eat together, talk about whatever’s going on (they got me into Robo-investing this term) and it’s a good time to unwind and have some fun.

After lunch, the interns usually go back to coding with meetings sprinkled throughout. These meetings are another aspect that separates the Pixlee internship from most other ones. At the weekly all-hands, we learn about what goes on with the company and would cover things such as:

  • New clients for Pixlee
  • Feedback from existing clients
  • Our employees’ big moments (such as “Pixleeversaries”)
  • The general state of the company, and operations updates.

Then we’d have meetings with the engineering team. At sprint retro, we can give input on problems we had with development and how to fix them. At project syncs, we discuss progress and the direction of projects. These meetings give us better perspectives on why we’re doing what we’re doing which helps with making decisions on things such as implementation. We also have weekly and monthly one-on-one meetings where we discuss topics relating more around our personal goals and specific projects we want to work on. Then, my manager(s) will keep an eye out for upcoming work related to my interests and have it assigned to us if possible (this actually happens a lot, so take advantage of that).

After an afternoon of coding and meetings, we’d usually leave the office around 6. Sometimes we’ll organize event nights like board games where everyone socializes. Although most days follow a similar pattern, Pixlee’s employees still manage to make one of our values, “everyday matters”, hold true. Every day, the work I did was impactful. Whether it was figuring out the design of a feature, implementing it, or releasing it, our work got pushed out to millions of people around the world who interact with our products and find value in what we do.

The Unexpected: COVID-19 and its Significant Impact

In mid-March, Pixlee started to recommend the team to start working from home as a good health and safety precaution. This meant that if we had the ability to work from home, it was best to do so. A few days later, the recommendation became mandatory. This was, of course, very saddening to hear that we would have to spend the rest of our internship at home. The city’s response to the pandemic highlighted the severity of the situation and showed that these were circumstances outside of our control. The only thing we could do now is to adapt to the new conditions and make the best of the rest of our time at Pixlee. 

Over the rest of March and April, we worked from our homes and tried our best to adjust to this new lifestyle. This experience showed the importance of the daily meetings and interactions we have with the team in order for work to be completed in an efficient manner. In the office, it was very easy to get up and walk to someone’s desk to ask for help. Remote, we would have to adapt to digitally expressing what we’re asking and hope the message was understood. Nevertheless, we tried our best to produce the same amount of work through this unfortunate situation by continuing to keep in contact with team members through Zoom and messaging frequently on Slack. 

Adapting for Success

Even with these unforeseen circumstances, we both made the best of the time we had at Pixlee to learn and absorb as much as we could from everyone. We still had a chance to work on important and impactful projects that aren’t “co-op projects”. They didn’t set us off to the side to work on a project that would never be used on the Pixlee platform. Instead, we were working alongside full-timers and had a mentor-like experience from working with them.

In our opinion, we still think that we got the full “Pixlee experience” even when things happened that were out of our control, which is part of what makes it so great to work here. Even when unexpected situations come up, the Pixlee team can quickly adapt and still have a positive and cheerful attitude towards it. Everyone is still able to put out great work and continue chugging out PRs as if they were physically in the office.

Overall, we can both agree that this is one of the best companies either one of us has interned for. There’s great people, great work, and great opportunities to learn.

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