PubNub devangelist Internship: #TheReview by Ladies Storm Hackathons
Imagine having your company’s CTO and co-founder on Snapchat. Imagine the CEO randomly sitting down to eat lunch with you. That was all part of my summer internship at PubNub*.
*PubNub is the only Global Data Stream Network (DSN), providing the backend infrastructure which powers other realtime apps. It is like a Content Delivery Network (CDN), except instead of static data (like news articles or videos), the data is in motion (like geolocation, stocks, sports scores, etc.) Some applications include messaging, maps, data visualizations, and more, and some of our customers include Lyft, CodePen, dating apps, among others.
I found the PubNub role in late January when I saw Tomomi’s, who would become my manager, tweet below. I applied online, followed a few other PubNub people on Twitter, and then occasionally tweeted at them and liked their tweets.
The first interview was a little over a month later. The video chat, which was with Tomomi and another evangelist, Bhavana, was pretty conversational. They asked me about myself, past projects, school, why I wanted to be at PubNub, and about developer evangelism.
The second one was with Josh, the technical marketing manager. Having watched his video on the history of developer evangelism on YouTube, I remember being more nervous about proving my sophomore Computer Science major chops. Though it was slightly more technical, it was still very behavioral, and I’m amazed at how much I learned about evangelism from just the interviews!
The final interview was with Stephen. I watched most of PubNub’s YouTube videos to prepare for this one, which was the most technical of the three. I walked him through two hackathon projects on my GitHub, explaining my code, some thought processes, what I learned, what I used, the hard parts, and more. I don’t remember much else about it, except that I asked a lot of questions about him and PubNub, many of them made up on the spot (fast forward to the end of summer, and not much has changed!)
Looking back, these interviews were more behavioral than other technical internship interviews because evangelists need to be able to teach, communicate with, and relate to other developers. PubNub’s SWE intern had ones with data structures and algorithms with the head of engineering instead.
One Friday afternoon in March, I checked my Twitter. Stephen tweeted at me, “yo!”, and he, along with quite a few others from PubNub, had followed me back (finally! ;) .) Tomomi also DM’d me some congratulations, which made it more official (it became official official a few days later, in the form of email.)
PubNub Boot Camp (Onboarding)
There were a series of meetings with different managers and executives for all new hires. In them, managers went over company values, the office hierarchy, perks, gear, laptops, lockers, sick days/vacations, desks, who to go to with questions or if we needed anything, etc.
This, along with the next section, was the best part. I like hackathons because of the freedom to make whatever I want, and that’s what we evangelists did this summer (as long as our projects used PubNub in some way.)
Some projects I worked on included:
- a web data visualization of tweets about the Warriors using PubNub’s Project EON
- an Android app using an unofficial Pokemon Go API to show Pokemon around you (using PubNub for Android push notifications)
- an iPhone app that displays your heart rate on an EON chart (which it got from the accompanying Apple Watch app) and also uses the Raspberry Pi as a medium in which LED lights flash at different speeds based on the heart rate. It also incorporates a login system and means of tweeting out progress with Twitter Fabric.
- an Android app with a map of Muni buses in motion that uses the Uber API to call an Uber from within the app, and Twitter Fabric as a means of tweeting about it.)
- a realtime voting web app, which had people in the office competing to see who could have the most votes (not naming names, Stephen and Ian…)
- a web app that showed how Americans were feeling about candidates in the upcoming presidential election with EON charts and different colors on a map of the US (this was a group effort, shoutout to Josh).
It was neat to work across different platforms and dabble with hardware for the first time. We were encouraged to take ownership of each project, and yet also to try something new. Engineers and evangelists from in and out of the office provided mentorship, support, and help not just regarding projects, but on their experience and on, well, everything and anything.
Each project was concluded with a blog post, meant to teach and inspire other developers with a PubNub use case and tutorial. Some projects were tough and annoying to make (though they were all fun), and some bugs actually kept me up until around three in the morning. It was moments like those, ones that made me question if I could be an engineer, that, in the end, made me really want to be an engineer.
b) Attending meetups
Though teaching others to use PubNub is a part of evangelism, there are other ways to get them excited about the product. We attended local meetups (#SFHTML5, Women who Code, etc.) held at other San Francisco companies (such as Airbnb, Yelp, Slack, Google SF, and more). Meetups were not necessarily about networking —to me, they were about learning from the talks, speakers, and other attendees, and getting PubNub’s name out there. I gave so many elevator pitches about myself, what I was doing at PubNub, and what PubNub is, that it really improved my communication skills and ability to explain technical concepts in multiple ways to be understood.
C) Hosting a meetup here at PubNub
PubNub has been growing, and the office space does not reflect that. We used to host meetups every night, and then stopped when it got cramped. The office was very supportive when I wanted to host a small ping pong meetup one night.
It was stressful when not many came at the start time (as an avid meetup-attendee, I should have expected this), but got better as the night went on. Our CTO, Stephen, and my evangelist manager and mentor, Tomomi, made everyone feel at home. They, along with other engineers who stayed, really brought out the atmosphere and culture that has made PubNub home for me this summer, and I expect to see quite a few of those attendees applying for jobs at PubNub in the future!
C) Workshops, Presentations
I helped Tomomi lead a workshop on how to build a messaging app at a coding school in Fremont, and then led my own workshop at the inaugural Spectra Hackathon, the Bay Area’s largest women’s hackathon. It was neat to teach others how to build a webapp using PubNub, though it took longer than I thought to prepare everything. (Hell, everything about this internship took longer than I expected — but that’s alright. Writing good code takes time.) I also spoke at meetups, like #SFHTML5 at Google SF (thanks, Tomomi, for the hookup!) and Square WomEng Hear and Now: College Edition. I got the chance to ask Jack Dorsey what he was reading at the time (he was listening to a podcast on Abraham Lincoln, does that count?)
A group from Twitter’s Girls who Code summer immersion program also came to our SoMa headquarters to learn about PubNub. I gave them a tour of the office, gave a brief presentation on developer evangelism and an overview of PubNub, and answered questions about college, hackathons, my internship, and what my experience has been like as a minority in tech. That was followed by a personal discussion with our CEO, Todd, who took the time to speak with the group!
Overall, the work was fun, rewarding, and also challenging, and the amount of support and mentorship interns received from everyone, regardless of department, was amazing. I talked with other interns around the Bay Area, and it seemed like my work was more enjoyable. I loved when a friend told me (excitedly) that she had just emailed her CTO a question, talking to him for the first time. I laughed, thinking of myself talking to Stephen everyday!
The People at PubNub
Even though PubNub went through some changes in management and in structure during these past three months, it was the people that helped make the internship what it was. They were hardworking, passionate, warm, and so, so, so smart. They came from all over the country, all over the world, and all over Silicon Valley. I felt so supported and welcomed, and also empowered. These engineers could have worked at almost any company in “the Valley,” but chose to work at PubNub. That was neat.
Everyone had access to the hierarchy of the company, printed nicely on a piece of paper and given to new hires. It showed the CEO at the top, and branched down. Even though I was an intern at the bottom, I never felt truly “at the bottom.”
I loved how my voice mattered, how easily accessible executives and managers were, how easy it was to start something (like a ping pong meetup or a Girls who Code tour), and I loved how everyone took the time to talk to interns about their past experiences, studies, and jobs. For people who were so smart, accomplished, and determined, they were generous with their time; from them, I learned technical know-how as well as about other companies in Silicon Valley, about startups and funding, entrepeneurship, productivity hacks, different software, IDEs, and tools different engineers used, post-college life — the list goes on and on (it really does — I actually made a list.)
Though I have been to numerous tech companies around the Bay Area (with She++, random meetups, visiting hackathon teammates, mentors, people I met who-knows-where, etc.), I still found the atmosphere of PubNub to be my favorite. I fed off of the passions of everyone.**
**I used the word “inspire” so much this summer, that I feel the need to redefine it as “feed off the passions of others.”
Though I would count the people I got to work with as a perk, there were more tangible ones as well. Though I did enjoy Twitter’s micro-kitchens and abundance of food for a week, I have to say PubNub’s plethora of different chocolates, teas, nut butters, LaCroix, and energy bars was on point.) We got three lunches a week, but it was easy to have five (or more) because the kitchen was so well-stocked. All employees, including interns, were assigned MacBooks. There were gym and transportation discounts, and it was neat to see co-workers working out there, too. It turned into a social thing, and there were also in-office games for when code took long to compile!
After a jam-packed summer like this, I should be tired. The company and the internship weren’t perfect, but then again, what is? And yet even though I slept about as much as I do during the school year, I’m hungry for more. I’m hungry to continue learning and building, and I intend to keep in touch with everyone. I also plan on continuing to contribute to the PubNub blog, evangelizing at hackathons and meetups, and leading a few workshops on PubNub. I also wholeheartedly plan on visiting when back in the Bay on breaks, and am so grateful for everyone at PubNub for an enlightening and amazing internship experience.