Asana’s summer internship program: from our 2015 intern class
September 24th, 2015
For the past three months, there’s been a bit of extra buzz around the office–lots of energy, fun outings, and great ideas aplenty. With that buzz, we’ve also checked off some huge parts of projects in Asana, like killing our API key, integrating InfluxDB, and several notification improvements on mobile. For all of this, we have our interns to thank. ♥
The Asana 2015 intern class was composed of 15 students from universities across the world, some in our own backyard and others across oceans: Stanford, Caltech, Harvard, MIT, UPenn, Duke, CMU, St Petersburg Academic University, and the National University of Singapore. Regardless of background, native tongue, or previous internship experience, each intern has become part of our Asana family and impacted our product, processes, and day-to-day life in ways we are continuously impressed by. As they head back to school, we wanted to share some conversations I was able to have with a few of them about their time here.
First off, meet our intern class:
From top to bottom, left to right: Egor, Kevin, Cindy, Josh, Yujian, Gaurav, Eric, Annie, Su, Alvaro, Max, Alex, and Jaden
What did you work on this summer?
Annie: At the start of my internship, I wasn’t too sure what I was interested in, so my mentors encouraged me to work on a few things to find out. I discovered that I really wanted to work on the new framework, Luna2, which did. By working on both ends of the framework, I had the chance to interact with other engineers, and loved showing them how fast our new database is.
Cindy: As part of the Platform team, I started off getting to know how the API code works with smaller projects, and then helped to implement personal access tokens. When we talked about all the work that was to be done in planning meetings, I thought it was something Saagar and Isaac (my mentor and another experienced engineer) would do. Then they went on vacation, and I was the only engineer working on it. It was cool to have full ownership over something I didn’t even think I’d contribute to.
Max: I spent the first half of my internship working on the security and stability team. I took on regular program work, which was a good introduction to such a large codebase and helped me understand how changing one function can affect the codebase. Following that, I worked on access control. Because our framework is complex, I had to understand what people before me had built and then build on top of it.
Kevin: Push notifications! I made them deep link to the app, and worked on push notification actions, which aren’t live yet. It was cool because they’re features that our own team was excited about because they use the app all the time. I enjoyed knowing that the work I did matters.
Aaron: I was on the Growth team, where I made it easier to add email domains to organizations, and revamped the new user experience.
What surprised you the most about Asana?
Cindy: I expected that my mentor would tell me, “here’s your project, work on it for the whole summer.” I didn’t think that I would be a full member of the team and be able to execute on my own. To my surprise, from day 1, I was invited to all planning meetings and treated like a full-time engineer, even though I may not have had the same level of context and knowledge as everyone else.
from day 1, I was invited to all planning meetings and treated like a full-time engineer, even though I may not have had the same level of context and knowledge as everyone else.
Aaron: I was surprised by the openness, and the fact that everyone is approachable and welcomes criticism. For example, I was in a 5 whys for breaking something (writing bad code) after I started, and nobody blamed me for it. I came out understanding why it was broken, and how to mitigate that risk in the future, which was far more valuable than feeling bad for making a mistake.
Kevin: How well-run the company is from a people perspective: mindfulness is real here.
Alex: Honestly, I wasn’t sure that I’d fit in quite as well as I have. I was expecting a specific culture–what with the yoga, kombucha, etc., but people are pretty normal [laughs]. Another thing that surprised me is how thoroughly we’re redoing our codebase: it’s rare for a company at this stage to rewrite the product from the ground up. I think it’s so cool that we had the guts to go through with it.
Egor: That Asana is used across the whole company, for things from the culinary program to personal matters. No information is lost.
Gaurav: My biggest surprise was the management structure and philosophy. At first, it was hard to tell that people were in charge of something, which is different than what you’d expect. Now I understand the AoR structure and how teams work together, but I remember having the thought in my first two weeks that, “I’m sure we have a CEO, but I’m not sure who he is…”
Su: One thing for me was the way people communicate: how open they are, not defensive about their ideas. People will use contextual cues, such as, “I’m tired,” “I’m irrationally attached to this idea,” or “I’m confused,” and then share their ideas. The context provided really helps communication and allows people to share their full ideas, without judgement.
Max: How good the food was! It was even better than I expected. Also, how much people value interns: I felt very much a part of the team, and didn’t get any special treatment (besides events, and some cool swag) as an intern.
Tell me about your experience with mentorship at Asana.
Cindy: I didn’t really know what to expect, but working with Saagar (my mentor) was really collaborative, and Greg, my manager, was always available for questions. I never felt intimidated to ask either of them questions.
Aaron: I like to compare it to academia: it was great to get feedback from peers who are going to have to live with what you’re building, instead of just grade it. I felt I got great feedback and guidance from my whole team.
it was great to get feedback from peers who are going to have to live with what you’re building, instead of just grade it.
Kevin: It helped me grow and feel empowered to figure stuff out on my own when I could. I felt like I was another member of the team who was new—I knew less, but that was okay, and I had the resources to find the answers to my questions.
Max: While I had one official mentor, I felt like everyone on my team (and on other teams) were my mentors. For instance, I’ve learned a lot from Alex S, my manager. We quickly figured out that I learn a lot in code reviews, so he and the team would include me in most of them, maximizing my exposure and learning.
Any advice for someone starting their internship search?
Annie: I’d say to recognize that there’s a lot more to the work that you’ll be doing than just the work itself. For example, look for a place that’ll support you. It’s easy to think, “I want to work at a big name company!” but at smaller company, chances are you’ll have more responsibility on a smaller team, you’ll recognize people at the office, while still having variety and learning from the whole team.
Cindy: Expand your expectations beyond good food and gaining full-time industry experience. One of the biggest things I’ve taken away and will look for in the future is ownership and independence on a project; it’s possible to be a major contributing member and not just a cog in the machine, which will help you get the most out of your experience. Also, approach your search with an open mind. I never thought enterprise software was an interesting problem, but I’ve found so much passion for what I’m doing by keeping an open mind.
approach your search with an open mind. I never thought enterprise software was an interesting problem, but I’ve found so much passion for what I’m doing by keeping an open mind.
Max: Focus on the people and finding a place where you’ll feel comfortable. Granted, this can be hard to gauge in interviews, but it’s something to look for. Also, look for a program that is an authentic reflection of a full-time role. For example, I have felt like I’m doing work I’d be doing as a full time asana. I don’t feel like I’m at summer camp, and I know what working at Asana would be like. I have perspective on what working life at Asana is like, which has proven to be a lot more important than having a fun, carefree summer (it’s still fun).
What has it been like using Asana all summer?
Cindy: It was a big transition for me, because I hadn’t used it much. As I used it more and more to manage projects and tasks, I realized its effectiveness. I even started using personal projects because it’s so convenient to have all of my responsibilities in one place. It’s been cool to see myself using the product, thereby developing more passion to build it.
It’s been cool to see myself using the product, thereby developing more passion to build it.
Egor: It’s been smooth! I don’t like when everything is limited to verbal communication, because it’s easy to forget or misunderstand things. It’s better when everything is written, so I like creating tasks for everything.
Thank you to our intern class for all they contributed to Asana. Interested in interning at Asana? We’re hiring.