A Summer with The New York Times

This past summer I spent ten weeks in the greatest city of the world working for one of the most respected and most exciting companies in it.

I was a software engineer intern for The New York Times on the core iOS team; a group responsible for the newsreader application on iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.

I distinctly remember my first day at The Times. It’s not something I can describe in words. It’s something that can only be understood when looking back on how far you’ve come to get there.

The majority of people who work for The New York Times didn’t start there. A lot of them come from other big companies or government organizations. A few even come from startups like Buzzfeed and Vox. It’s no secret that it’s not easy to get a full-time job offer from The New York Times, especially in journalism. They only take “the best of the best.”

For an intern, the path to The New York Times might be different. I had a roommate who was only a freshman at MIT, but nailed his internship with The Times based off his interest in iOS Development and past research projects at his university. But there were also cases of 27+ year old interns who were graduate students at Columbia or Harvard with tons of relevant industry experience from their undergraduate days.

For me, the path to The New York Times was less than usual. Three years ago, I was an intern for NBC News. I had built something that my manager, Ryan Osborn tweeted out and it caught Matthew Bischoff’s attention. I told Matt that I was a fan of the iOS work The Times was doing so early on and he invited me to lunch with his colleague Brian Capps. We had lunch and I had always kept in touch with both Matt (now at Tumblr) and Brian (now at Lickability) shortly after.

When looking for summer internships earlier this year I had reached out to Brian and asked if any internship opportunities existed on his team at The Times. He informed me that there was an internship program and that he would do his best to get my resume to the appropriate channels for consideration. I was given an interview, went through the technical interview process and shortly after, I was given an offer.

That offer led to 10 weeks of friendships, challenges, and lessons.

Lesson #1: Have goals

At the beginning of my internship, I wrote the following goals down…

  1. Learn more about The New York Times.
  2. Make friends, not just co-workers.
  3. Become a better engineer.

These goals were simple. It’s important to have broad goals with realistic expectations. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure.

  1. I knew very little about The New York Times other than the basics. I wanted to understand the companies goals, expectations, and who was helping shape that. Through internship events and other company wide meetings I gained that knowledge.
  2. I wanted to build relationships with the people I worked with; both on and off my team. I didn’t want to see them as just co-workers. I wanted to see them as friends. Through company softball, past and present interns, team outings, hack day, and more I met a ton of people at The Times I can call friends.
  3. I knew I would be joining one of the most talented teams to ever ship an app on the iOS App Store. The core newsreader app has been featured by Apple countless times and is easily one of the most notable iOS applications. This was my opportunity to learn as much as I could, and to ask as many questions as I could. After ten weeks I can honestly say I have become a better engineer. I think more carefully, logically, and architecturally when solving problems. And yes, I do drink, eat and sleep code now.

Lesson #2: Go above and beyond

You can’t fake this. You truly have to want to do great work and go above and beyond what’s required of your internship.

  1. During the middle of my internship The Times hosted a Hack Day. I was one of the few interns that participated in the event. My team worked on a solution for something the newsroom had been asking someone in the company to build for a while now. I can’t say too much about it, but we had a great hack day presentation, had some follow up meetings the following week and now it’s now headed towards production.
  2. During an internship, it’s important you take the time to really get to know the team that you are on. I was on a fairly large team, but I feel like I knew and interacted enough with everyone on it to understand that I enjoyed being around them. I built a strong relationship with a lot of the senior and junior developers on my team. All of them are bright, interesting, talented and diverse in some capacity or another. I also built strong relationships with our product managers, designers, QA, newsroom and senior management folks. It’s also important to expand your mind and body outside of your immediate team to start to understand what culture is like throughout the whole company. What’s key to understand is that cross rivarly at The Times doesn’t exist. And I enjoyed the specific and not-so-specific group of people that I worked with every day.
  3. During an internship your mentor is someone you will spend a good bulk of your time with. It’s important that you try to get to know your mentor as well as they’re trying to get to know you. I tried to accomplish that as best I could with my mentor, Adam. I wasn’t afraid to ask him questions and tried not to be too afraid of asking him for further clarficiation. What’s important to understand is that everyone is learning in some capacity or another. Adam was willing to help with that.
“Yes you may think your questions are insanely basic but the truth of it is that those who come in willing to admit they don’t know everything and ask the questions they need answered are the ones who will succeed and do the best”
— Paul Yorke, New York Times iOS Engineer

Lesson #3: Understand it’s just ten weeks

At the end of the day, you have to understand it’s just ten weeks. You can’t learn the whole code base. You can’t build too many front-facing features. And you can’t become the next CTO. It’s just ten weeks.

What you can do is try to understand what it would be like to spend some of your full-time career at the company.

The New York Times is an incredible and amazing place to work. I had four other internship offers for the summer. And honestly, I haven’t thought twice about them.

As I was leaving the office on the last day of my internship, I thought a lot about what I would miss about The Times. I thought a lot about the friends I had made, what I had learned and most importantly, what I had learned about myself. I worked for the type of place where people enjoyed what they did and believed in everything the company stood for.

And I loved it.

What’s next?

I’m going back to college to finish senior year and graduate in May. Follow me on Twitter and add me on LinkedIn to see what’s next!

Special thanks to Danny Wu for proofreading this blog post. Also special thanks to everyone that I met at The Times for a very special summer.