In my two summers of college, I’ve experienced both sides of the company culture spectrum - IdentityMind Global - a small, <50 employee start up and Teradata - a 37 year old company with over 11,000 employees. Every few days, new differences emerge as I gain perspective on how each teaches a unique style of development.
The Startup Side - IdentityMind Global
IdentityMind Global is a company specializing in antifraud and antitheft for banks. I worked at the Palo Alto office where you could walk and visit every department from marketing to engineering in about 7 seconds. Marketing and design were on one side with Engineering on the other. I sat beside another intern, Jeremy, with our boss right behind me and the Chief Architect behind him. Behind those two were four more people, and that was all of engineering. Everyone worked on the same repository, since the only project was also the entire product.
Overall, working at a start-up in Palo Alto was a great experience. Wake up around 7, drive to Caltrain, get off on University Avenue, and walk 5 minutes to work. I’d stay until 5 or so then head home. If anything, that summer taught me the challenges of working on other peoples’ code, a foreign project where you have a pinhole to look through and somehow piece together bugfixes and new features. On one hand, help was willingly given by those who were free. On the other, people rarely were. Accessing code or documentation was trivial, and I gained a strong overview of how each branch worked together to find clients and provide a strong end product. Marketing and Engineering would often get lunch together and every friday everyone in the branch would gather into one room, eat together, and joke around. We were surrounded by brilliant people, all working toward the same goal.
Meanwhile, one of the marketing interns told me about his experience at another start up:
If you got up before 6, people looked at you like you were crazy Although I didn’t quite experience the same pressures, the back and forth between wanting to complete as much work as possible and finding time to relax at home were undeniable. Never before did I realize that my own passion towards wanting to complete building something could someday compete against my desire to relax and find something else… coding was the relaxation.
The Corporate Side - Teradata
Teradata was another world altogether. To start off, there was an established intern program that designated events and projects for the entire summer, we needed guest passes on the first day to gain access, and all you could see on each floor was cubicles and the occasional data visualization of airplanes.
The program provided mentors as well as managers available for help on projects, who were also receptive to feedback. Several weeks ago, I expressed interest in working on Docker, a wish that was granted the week after. With many projects that all came together for various products, understanding the big picture was no longer obvious, as I took several days to understand the full scope of my team’s influence. More enterprise level programs were integrated together and resources were readily available.
At the same time, meetings potentially took weeks to set up, as I couldn’t simply walk a few feet over. Gaining access was a hassle as I had to sign multiple forms and wait for another department to update my status in their system and finally grant me control.
For lunch, you could go to the cafeteria, drive around, or walk to a nearby sandwich shop (Summer’s Deli - I highly recommend), which was a drastic change from having the vast variety of restaurants on University Avenue, Palo Alto. Sometimes multiple interns from other floors and teams would meet up and socialize. This part was honestly the most similar aspect between start up and corporate culture which surprised me. I guess people of the same age category enjoy roughly similar lifestyles and have almost identical priorities no matter the size of the company.
All in all, I was surprised by how similar the internships were and how much more I learned talking to mentors as opposed to focusing on documentation, which brings me to the most important point: learning from other peoples’ experiences is thus far, the most important thing an intern can do.
Network, network, network
Interns believe the most value aspect of their internship is the experience gained from working on complex problems, but Gary points out something different. When job searching, connections are invaluable and speak volumes louder than the difference in experience, abstracted into 3 lines on a resume. Moreover, networking allows you to gain perspective without the burden of taking time and experiencing everything.
This summer, I took networking to heart in hopes of learning about different peoples’ career paths, and its been highly rewarding. Some long term employees felt Agile/Scrum increased the necessity of performing, as it created a means to quantify skill. Others found outlets to find new hobbies through programs provided by the company. Recent college graduates expressed the excitement of working toward a hackathon winning patent against architects and senior developers with only a mere 2 years in the workforce. Networking is one of the few means of gaining the wisdom of experience without experience.