Developing Stages: Part 1 — Sass and Baby Steps

Chronicles of an interaction design student turned UI engineering intern.

As a first year interaction design student entering a 12 week internship at Allstate NI without the faintest idea what they were getting themselves into, I write this in hope someone in a similar situation will find it enlightening or at the very least entertaining.

Assume the usual disclaimers (all opinions are my own and do not reflect the company, etc. etc.).

Week 1, Day 1: You never escape icebreakers and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Day 1 was all about soothing those unavoidable nerves. That means gathering in a hotel conference room full of 25+ other interns and placement students for an induction day bursting with spaghetti marshmallow towers, people bingo, and the necessary evils of paperwork and id photos.

Observations:

  • Focus on the people, not the activities. Induction is one of the best opportunities to get to know the other interns before everyone scatters to different departments.
  • Free lunch in the canteen is shockingly good.
  • Everyone is just as confused about the dress code so don’t worry.
  • Improvised tours are the best kind of tours.

Week 1, Day 2: Multi-team tea breaks for the win!

Day 2 was all about settling in and getting to know the rest of the team who were all nice and welcoming. A casual tea break with the Product Design team proved to be the best kind of midmorning break. In the remaining time we dove straight into git (from the command line, no less) and experienced the good (introduction to the various teams and what the UI department gets up to) and the not quite so good (choppy livestream on reporting timekeeping issues) of meetings when not setting up the new computers and praying for faster download speeds.

Observations:

  • No one wants to shove a square peg in a round hole. If you’re a design student they want to play to those strengths, not force you to do nothing but program.
  • Start using industry tools as soon as possible. Thankfully at IxD Belfast we use GitHub for all our projects so the jargon was familiar but for others it was new territory because their courses make them use internal university systems.
  • Don’t just stick to your department, get to know different teams and chat to people from around the office.
  • David Guetta is a React wizard.

Week 1, Day 3: More JavaScript than I’ve done in my entire life.

The crashcourse continues after making the introduction official (and snagging a cookie from the free breakfast) at the morning standup meeting. From Sass, BEM, SMACSS, to node.js, ReactJS, and Test Driven Development, my brain was bursting in the best possible way by the time the day was done.

Observations:

  • Nothing like free breakfast and a ping pong table.
  • I need one of those mini gongs they use to start the daily standup meeting.
  • All that industry news you (try to) keep up with and the research for your projects? It actually is useful in the real world so at least you recognise what people are talking about even if you don’t fully understand what’s going on.
  • But at the end of the day, stop worrying about what you don’t know. They are concerned with teaching you, not testing you.

Week 1, Day 4: Reacting when things go wrong.

The plans for the day were canceled in favour of joining a day-long ReactJS training course. Already off to a great start after forgetting my lunch at home, my work email decided to lock me out so I couldn’t access the notes for the React exercises until after the morning break. But hey, better to get all the bad stuff out of the way early and not let it ruin your day. By the time we were packing up to head home, I was loaded up on React notes to read and genuinely looking forward to trying it out again.

Observations:

  • Organise the little things. Trying to make lunch at 6am before running out the door is a recipe for disaster.
  • Not some amazing developer? Don’t sweat it, everyone is remarkably supportive of the weird design kid trying to code.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask where stuff is. It’s not like you can hide the fact that you’re new and/or an intern so just embrace it and ask nicely.

Week 1, Day 5: I need more Sass and free food in my life.

Who doesn’t like Fridays? Even reading through mandatory compliance courses can’t dampen the mood. Catching up with the manager over a refreshing coffee break reinforced the benefits of having an approachable boss as we reviewed the first week and plans for the future.

Flexbox and CSS grid experiments (including the delightful Flexbox Froggy) along with some Sass and Jekyll research consumed the rest of the afternoon and soon enough it was time to head out for the annual summer social event. Copious amounts of free food, drink, bouncy castles, and fairground rides were involved and provided an opportunity to reconnect with familiar faces from induction day. I can’t think of a better way to end the first week.

Observations:

  • I need to start using Sass like yesterday.
  • I will never understand people who don’t get excited about ice cream (especially free ice cream).