Empowering Teammates and Thriving Remotely

Caleb Habtegebriel
Apr 22 · 4 min read

Humble beginnings

This past winter, I interned as a Software Engineer at Coursera on the Growth Acquisition Team. When joining my team in January, I had a slight fear I would have a hard time fitting into my team because of the remote working environment and previous experiences with remote academic projects. Although I had the fear of how well I would do during my internship, I was encouraged because I was joining an organization dedicated to empowering and providing opportunities for underrepresented communities.

What sparked my growth

As soon I started my internship, my teammates, manager, and mentor reached out to me. Specifically, my mentor Peter Clarke reached out to me even before my internship and made sure that I felt comfortable working. He also completely freed his schedule to provide as much assistance and guidance as possible. As a new member of the team, it was very encouraging to see someone so invested in the success of others and someone that is dedicated to advocating for others. Peter’s communication skills and his ability to motivate his teammates made me feel more confident and like my work and contributions to my team mattered. Asking questions, setting up meetings, and communicating in public channels seemed easier because of the support from my mentor and teammates. I felt like I had the freedom to pursue my best work.

Growth Acquisition (Blue Whales) Team

Learnings

When I first joined Coursera, I observed that everyone intentionally sets up meetings with one another. Specifically, when working remotely, I realized having intentional one-on-ones with all your team members and direct co-workers is an important first step to producing your best work. I learned that it is a great idea to learn about the interests of others outside of work, what they are working on, and the biggest problem they are solving. These are great ways to get to know people, especially in a remote-first environment. Once I knew my team members well, working with them was much easier since I built a good rapport.

My mentor often led by example. He had a great habit of using public channels for team-related questions. This was a big fear of mine since I did not want to seem dumb or “blow up” a slack channel with many questions that could’ve been sent through a direct message. However, I learned that many others usually had a similar question as I did. Through these public Slack channel conversations, I even learned about things that I did not initially expect to learn about, which was a bonus. In my experience, asking questions in public channels helped spur a more empathetic and communal culture where fellow interns and full-time employees alike felt more comfortable asking for help or additional context. Consequently, I started to also meet and learn from others who were outside my team, which added immense value to my internship.

Lastly, I appreciated the idea of mentorship because I was given the space and time to absorb knowledge. With my four months at Coursera, my mentor was deliberate about my day-to-day learning and experience. My mentor and teammates often set up office hours to ensure I was able to clear up anything I found confusing. Office hours served as a safe space to discuss technical problems, receive direct guidance, and collaborate on aspects of my project that I was blocked on. Furthermore, it served as a resource to complete my work, and I was able to constantly learn from my teammates how to approach complex engineering problems. Asking others for learning resources, courses, and interesting past pull requests were good habits I was able to build. Pair programming sessions helped me learn about how others think through problems, allowing me to reflect on how I can better approach problems and quickly learn new tools. I had many opportunities to practice explaining my approach and breaking down problems to my mentor as well.

End result

High-functioning teams thrive when they have high-functioning individuals. To help new teammates achieve their full potential, existing team members play a key role in helping newcomers feel comfortable navigating their organization’s remote world. As a fully remote Coursera intern, I learned valuable engineering, communication, and interpersonal skills from mentors and teammates about thriving in a remote-first world.

About Me

My name is Caleb Habtegebriel and I’m a third-year Computer Engineering student from Dallas, Texas. I attend the University of Texas at Austin and I interned at Coursera in the Winter of 2021.

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