Author: Nicole Clark

Intern Best Practices

Running a startup is difficult. Day to day tasks aren’t laid out and being adaptable is the name of the game. Hiring more employees increases the stability and degree of specialization, but there are still points at which everyone is hacking at things not in their job title. This makes it difficult to take on an intern and use them effectively. Why not address this problem by culling together some advice from the source?

I spent a bit of time talking to my friends in TEC—asking them about their pain points and trading success stories. The following bits of advice have grown rather organically from these conversations.

Onboarding
Onboard the intern like you would any other employee, but make sure they’re given the opportunity to learn more about every department in the company. Interns are not only there to gain valuable work experience in their area of interest, but to see how a startup functions as a whole.

Communication
Be up front about best practices in terms of contact and communication. Even simple topics should be covered: does the manager want to be cc’d on emails regarding their work or is this considered annoying? What is the best way for an intern to set up a meeting with a coworker?

Establishing routine check-ins destroys potential bad habits like procrastination and excuse making. Include interns in stand up and round up meetings—their project should be important enough that it needs to be shared with the rest of the company. Accountability increases once their work on the project begins to reflect on their performance within the company.

Make all employees as easy to reach and communicate with, as possible—especially the CEO. It makes an impressive difference for an intern to feel like they have a direct pipeline to a founder. We are still at a stage in our life where learning is a priority. Giving us the opportunity to talk to you is invaluable.

The Project
The project needs to be important and difficult enough to warrant a ten week treatment. Give interns options for which project they’d like to take on and listen to the types problems they enjoy solving. Be open to restructuring the project in accordance to their strengths.

Give them a project that allows them to air the skills they have, but encourages them to learn more. Give interns the tools and accessibility to really manage this project themselves and avenues to advance the project that don’t require consistent check-ins from managers, or additional work so that they don’t sit idle when waiting for feedback.

In the final weeks, celebrate the completion of the project and review its effectiveness.

Mentorship
Good mentorship is key. This mentor need not hold the title of intern manager—Christiaan fulfills this necessity such that the startups need not—but it is important that interns are given a direct manager to check into that can function as a role model. Ideally this person is in the field the intern wishes to enter, and either far enough along to serve as a source of professional advice or young enough to really be relatable. Giving your intern a great mentor is a simple way to reinforce the mentality of learning, foster a culture of inclusion, and increase the utility of the summer for both the intern and the company.

While distributed workforces aren’t uncommon, it is best if the mentor can be in office for the majority of the internship. If no one regularly checks in on the project and the project is not part of the stand up, interns can feel estranged or underutilized.

Culture
Maintaining good office culture begins on day one. Have your talent lead/HR head/Office Manager greet them warmly and send out an email to the whole team introducing them, like you would any new hire. Create an inclusive environment and an atmosphere of respect in which the intern is not any “lower” than the employees in company structure. The little things matter—interns should have similar desk space and setup as other employees, and access to supplies. Interns should be invited to external company events.

Respect your intern as if they are a full time employee and take their suggestions seriously. Turn down misguided ideas gracefully and foster an environment where asking questions is not perceived as foolish. Empower interns on take on additional company responsibilities during the downtime with their project. A majority of interns from 2015 stated that they’d wished they’d had less down time—creating an action plan to erase “useless time” will make the summer better for both parties.

Share the “big picture” of the company early, and give interns intrinsic rewards, when possible. If your company interacts with people (most do) give them idea of what a happy customer looks like. Remind them that behind the software exists a consumer base that derives real emotional value from your product.

Closing
At the end of the internship, ask the interns how they feel the company could improve. Take this feedback seriously. The interns have more distance from the product than long time employees, and provide a fresh and educated point of view that is often highly valuable. If possible, attend the “final presentation” at True regarding your company. It will make the intern feel validated and it will give your company valuable feedback. If possible, give the intern constructive criticism on their time in the company, and how they can be more valuable employees in the future.

Additionally, clearly articulate whether there are hiring opportunities for the intern. Some of them are seniors and will spend their next year looking for gainful employment. If you think they are a good fit, let them know.

Resources for Learning to Code

Want to learn to code, but don’t know where to start? Getting a degree in computer science is a great option (not just because money talks), but may be unavailable or unappealing to people. Luckily code is something that can be learned outside the classroom.

There are a huge amount of resources (this is comforting), but learning to code is very difficult (this is not so comforting). I have spent too much time on beautiful websites, thinking to myself “how can I make something like this” to give up that easily. And so I’ve done the digging for you. Here is my list of coding resources along with advice I’ve picked up along the way. And don’t worry–this is as close to a listicle I’ll ever get.

Figuring out the Stack

Before learning any languages, basic literacy is a must. There are a ton of articles that give adequate summaries, but this one seems to deliver the most information in the least amount of words. This article is a little longer, but–like the rest of the blog–maintains an upbeat and optimistic tone. At this point, optimism seems like a good idea.

What Do you Want to Make?

Before you start, it’s important to figure out what you want to make. As useful as tutorials and dashboards are, no such tutorial will be supporting you in the real world. Creating your own project is the best way to motivate yourself to actually internalize the information you learn. Make sure it’s something you actually want to build–that will keep you motivated. (A great example of this–the company gyrosco.pe grew out of a personal website).

This approach is useful in that it also solves the project of what language do I learn first? Lifehacker does a good job of summarizing what languages to learn first in terms of what they offer and what they’ll teach. This nifty infographic gives an in depth dive into the history and utility of programming languages.

Switchup does a great job of guiding you to the right programming languages based off of your expressed interests. It then gives you a list of code resources along with reviews. If you’d like to read on, I’ll be listing many of these options and resources individually.

One more thing before diving into individual learning resources–how do you solve the problem of not even knowing what you don’t know?

My suggestion is Bento. You can follow a track or go to the “grid”. Their resources are sorted by specific language or software a category (for example, fundamental, front end, back end). In an Internet environment throwing you constant resources, it’s extremely useful to see everything sorted. It also shows you the categories of knowledge you need to pursue.

Resources

Free

Online
Good ‘ol Codecademy— if you haven’t heard of this, you’ve been living under a rock. For the rest of you Patrick Stars, Khan Academy also has a computer science page. Free Code Camp has a slightly different mission–the program touts helping nonprofits—but you have to put in around 1,600 hours of work to get there. General Assembly’s Dash is newer but no less dazzling.

If you have no aversion to crass language, consider this website’s advice. There is a nifty list of free programming books in pdf form. Their manifesto is pretty funny.

Looking for something specific? Use Redhoop’s class search engine.

If you’re looking to have the “college experience” of learning good code practice and how to think like a programmer, rather than just knowledge of syntax and specific languages, aGupieWare has created a well-thought out compilation of free online computer science courses from top universities (think MIT). They’re organized in a structure that mirrors that of a bachelor’s degree–introductory courses, intermediate courses, and electives. There is a basic set, and a more extensive range of courses.

Want to watch Youtube videos? Look no further than The New Boston’s channel. Bucky helped me through CS 112. I would especially recommend his Java video on classes and subclasses. All of his examples are food.

Last, but not least, a few specific resources I stumbled upon: “Learn Python the Hard Way”, Google Python Class, Django, HTML & CSS, Github.

Games!
Gamification of coding makes learning more fun. Codecombat and Codingame are two well-received examples. You can also learn to build simple games of your own on Crunchzilla. You should have at least a little of your own coding knowledge before you try your hand at this one, though.

Afraid of actual syntax and just want a good grasp of structure? Unashamed to play a kid’s game?–don’t be ashamed, it was developed by MIT. Scratch is wonderful (and free). Code.org also offers a ton of games to teach code to people of all ages. The nonprofit aims to inspire students and improve diversity in the tech workplace.

On Campus Class
Ada’s Developer Academy seems to be the only free bootcamp I’ve found. Unlike other programs that are 10-20 weeks long, this one spans an entire year, and features a built in internship program. It is located in Seattle, and while the program is free, students must figure out room, board, and insurance on their own. This may be difficult given the program is full time and does not allow enough free time for a job.

Mostly Free

Udacity has a ton of free coding videos. There are options to take a “full course”–these require payment. EdX also offers courses in computer science; most can be audited for free, but to receive a “verified certificate” you need to pay.

Paid

Apps
Want to learn how to make an app? There’s an app for that.

Books
I’ve already mentioned a ton of books that you can get for free. I’d like to additionally mention Jon Duckett’s books. They’re wonderful resources, because they’re incredibly well designed and full of beautiful and easy to understand examples. You can buy them on Amazon. Be forewarned–apparently the binding is a little weak. They’re beautiful enough that I had no qualms about taking the risk on them.

Online Bootcamps
Rather than compare online bootcamps myself, this comprehensive guide seems to be a better choice. This article gives analysis of a little more depth to a few on the list. Keep in mind that some online programs charge by course, while others charge by month–figure out what works better for your schedule and what languages you wish to learn before making the commitment. Not included on either of the above articles are Code School and Treehouse–each of these charge per month.

On Campus Bootcamps
If you’re looking to really have the immersive experience of an on campus education, and you aren’t afraid to pay for it, SkilledUp offers a very comprehensive list of coding bootcamps.

What Now?

If you get stuck at any point in coding, Stack Overflow is a great resource for getting answers to your questions. Another great way to learn code is to simply fiddle around with code from other websites. Remove lines and see what happens.

If you really can’t think of any personal project that pushes you forward, there is a great subreddit called “daily programmer” that lists daily programming challenges. Just a little something to help you get away from the handholding that dashboards and tutorials give you.

It is important to remember that computer science is a way of thinking even more than just the learning of languages. Math is extremely important. For a long list of problems that demand computational thinking, look no further than Project Euler. According to Wikipedia “each problem is solvable in less than a minute using an efficient algorithm on a modestly powered computer”. Apparently someone solved 78 problems in 24 hours. And yes, it’s on video.

I noticed that there’s a ton of resources on learning a language, but not that many about how to actually put that thing on the internet. I got your back, friend. Here’s that article.

And so begins the insanity that is teaching myself to code. Wish me luck. Updates to come.

Tech Needs the Liberal Arts


Tech Needs the Liberal Arts

We’re sitting at the epicenter of startup culture. A place where the industry means tech and words like product assume a highly specific definition not necessarily congruent with the way the OED defines them. In this culture of pervasive homogeneity I find myself frequently being asked “why English?” What is the point of a liberal arts education when the endgame is to land a career in technology? I can count the number of programming languages I know on one finger, and the number of ones I know proficiently enough to create something functional on zero.

What am I doing in Silicon Valley?

It doesn’t feel like enough to simply say that I am smitten with the possibilities of technology and the idea of creating my own career. I give better answers: “I am going into [insert writing driven career here].” At worst I attempt to prove that I can understand code. Sometimes I explain I can’t make a career off of writing alone. It’s been fifty years since Hemingway wandered through Paris making a living off of selling prose and if you read A Moveable Feast you’ll remember, he was barely living. Being a writer, in the most beautiful sense, is to barely be living.

Here is what concentrating in poetry has taught me:

  • I take in large quantities of information (think War and Peace & Crime and Punishment in the same weekend), and crystallize their content into a persuasive argument.
  • I am used to harsh criticism of what I most love, and have made a student career of improving on critique.
  • I have opinions. I can take a project from start to finish and claim full of ownership of it, in success and in failure.
  • I regularly spend hours parsing details in order to better understand the bigger picture. Poetry demands that the reader understands the effects of the smallest units of language. I do the same in companies. I look at specific people and figure out how they contribute to the mission of the company.

If this seems nebulous, that’s because it is. And the necessity of qualifying such skills does a disservice to the many of students who want to go into predominantly technical fields and have chosen the liberal arts over STEM, not because STEM was “too difficult” but because they refused to sacrifice what they love. I deeply believe in college not only as a pre-professional vessel of “skill learning” but also a place that teaches how to go about learning. Regardless of your choice of humanities or sciences, your major should make you hungry. The area of knowledge doesn’t matter so much as the desire to learn more.

Employment is a very convincing counterargument to this suggestion. LinkedIn does a great job of illustrating the difficulties with marketing a liberal arts education versus that of STEM. STEM skills can more easily be described in concretions. There is a plethora of endorsement buttons for SQL but nothing that says highly capable at crystallizing information. My most applicable skills are abstractions; strategy and operations but what do those words even mean? Hell, I’m endorsed for Facebook.

Having spaces to explain verbatim doesn’t offer much help. You can’t detail your winning qualities without sounding pompous or at least what Holden Caulfield would call a phony. The best case you can make for yourself is in the experience section. That being said, the best way to prove your accomplishments is by acquiring a job, but the only way to acquire a good job is by making a show of accomplishments. This is a known paradox, and it thrusts an apparent wedge between a STEM versus a liberal arts major’s ability in being hired post grad.

Companies demand a level of specificity certain majors just can’t offer. Without these specific skills, entering any large company is aggravating. Spotify wants an agile coach and a product analyst. Reading the actual job description offers respite — “these are certainly things I could pick up quickly” — but students wilt when looking at the necessary qualifications. We don’t have them. And we almost certainly won’t be hired and given the chance to learn.


Ultimately, entrepreneurship is attractive because I am able to plow forward with the skills I do have. Rather than feeling belittled by specific qualifications I elected not to learn, I let specialization fill in the blanks. I may not understand databases and algorithms, but there exists someone who does, and I can pick up skills from working closely with them. This active sharing of knowledge closely mirrors the Socratic method found in a liberal arts education. In short — entrepreneurship is making a career of learning. It is a field in which we have the advantage. It is a field in which we are given the opportunity to pick up the skills that would otherwise be impossible to acquire after leaving our respective institutions.

I wrote my first HTML tag around the same time I read my first poem. Both gave me the sense that I could create something completely on my own. This means a lot to a 2nd grader who is just beginning to get caught in a system where uniformity is valued over creativity. Neopets and Jack Prelutsky are comparatively small wins to True Ventures and Yale University, where I currently find myself. But what remains true is that I began creating in order to express myself and to help others. Technology is about solving problems. Technology is about building something. Writing is just the same. I went to college to learn, and I ended up prioritizing one academic passion over the other, but I chose the less limiting path.

This is the point at which waxing poetic only seems to make a compelling argument for naiveté in a manner that undercuts this argument. To be clear, it isn’t easy and much of the time it won’t be successful. But failure is an opportunity to get better. Idealism can be unhealthy but passion shouldn’t be — especially in a world where investments are fundamentally made in people by other people. Daydreaming of being the next Facebook or Snapchat may not be productive, but we have been taught to be adaptable. There is nothing keeping us from starting something of our own.


But that is still the packaged answer. And, so, one more time — why English?

I study English because it makes me hungry. It keeps me awake at night with a flashlight under my blanket and writing until I have to ice my hand. Nothing is so essential to the practice of living as the written word. To love literature is to love the human experience at a most intimate level. Poetry is the act of wrangling someone through what it means to be so attentive. Poetry is essential.

William Wordsworth teaches us to appreciate the details. Frank O’Hara teaches us to look and listen. Thom Gunn and Anne Sexton teach us how to touch. Derek Walcott teaches us not to forget home. Paul Muldoon teaches us to play. Charles Bernstein teaches us to create our own logic. Sylvia Plath teaches us to be unabashed. Patricia Lockwood teaches us to cut through the crap.

The next time I tell someone at a tech conference that I study English, I’m waiting for a “me too”. The space between the liberal arts and the technological world is not so large — a love of one certainly shouldn’t bar you from competence in another. A blank space is just an opportunity. And LinkedIn, I don’t even do research. I start things.