Intern Recap Summer 2016

Each summer, Paperless Post welcomes interns to join our engineering team! Our interns come from all over and have different interests but all are excited to work at a tech company and get their code into production. They go through an intensive education program consisting of workshops, meeting with all the teams, lunches, and hack days, but spend most of their time developing code.

Each intern works on a substantial project and as the program is nearing the end, we wanted to share some thoughts on their experiences! We really appreciate their hard work.

Iris

I’m Iris, currently getting my Master’s in CS at Columbia University. My passions lie in mobile technologies, game development, and improving my programming skills as a craft. As I wrap up my last week at Paperless Post as an iOS intern, I wanted to reflect on this summer and offer some advice to incoming interns.

First off, try to gauge your own expectations as well as the organization’s you’re joining before diving in. I had just finished up half my credits at Columbia and felt like I had a thorough background in Operating Systems, algorithm analysis, compilers, and language design. I had also spent the past two years at a small start-up creating educational mobile games while being exposed to two different 2D tools for game-making, both for mobile. While I felt comfortable enough with iOS’s tools, such as Xcode, I had never been exposed to UIKit and Apple’s more well-known framework for creating apps. Paperless Post seemed the perfect organization for someone like me who desired to learn a new technology while also craving the structure and processes of a more established start-up. Knowing ahead that our needs aligned allowed me to identify concrete goals for the breadth and scope of my work from the beginning.

The first week I met a lot of new people and was exposed to new ways of doing things. For someone more introverted, it can feel draining. If, like me, you’ve never used tools like JIRA for Agile and an established Gitflow for formalizing tasks, you might have to go through an adjustment period. When I joined, there was one other intern who had already been there for a month and seemed to be shipping tickets like no big deal. I would resist the urge to jump right in; shipping my first ticket felt amazing until I realized I had messed up our team’s Git history. But also don’t let the fear of making mistakes hold you back — the entire organization is super supportive and geared towards helping people grow.

After a couple of weeks flew by, I saw the value in the many processes in place. Daily stand-ups and a storyboard for referral never had me asking “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” Everyone’s role on the team was so seamlessly integrated with our automated processes. I knew that I had to update my JIRA tickets for the QA Tester before shipping code, and talk to the Product Manager before making any UI changes. We smoothed over any rough edges during sprint retros or over Slack. For the first time I really felt like part of a well-oiled, fully-functioning technical team. I felt super grateful that I was able to be a part of it for three months, and that I will carry this experience with me wherever I end up.

Don’t forget to let loose and have fun during an internship as well. I’m lucky that Paperless has a great culture of throwing Thirsty Thursdays, sponsoring cross-team lunches, and even hosting an internal hackathon, Stampy Day. To the best of your ability, try to participate in extra events, meet new people, and explore New York. If you’re lucky enough to be interning at Paperless Post, make the most out of it.

Si Te

Hello world, my name is Si Te, and I am currently a 4th year Mechatronics Engineering student studying at the University of Waterloo, Canada. This blog was written at the end of my summer 2016 internship summarizing my experience in the city working as an iOS developer at Paperless Post.

Working at Paperless Post in New York City was a pleasure because of the friendly working environment, the summer activities around and within the city, and fun company events. The company has a clear focus on fostering consumer self-expression by providing tools and photorealistic visuals to help customers create personalized cards. In addition, the way that Paperless Post approaches a software product could be described with Steve Job’s words: “at the intersection between technology and humanities.” In my opinion, the focus on the human aspect of the product is what sets Paperless Post apart from its competitors. The human aspect includes everything from the texture of the paper to hand-painted cards to the prompt email reminders that help the event hosts to prepare. By the end of the first month working here, it was evident that many features on a similar software product, Evite, were inspired by Paperless Post, but because the focus of Evite was misdirected, they could only copy the form, not the soul of Paperless Post.

The excitement of working at Paperless Post is being a part of a company that combines the spirit of Silicon Valley and merging it with the arts in a masterful way that few other companies could achieve. As an intern working on the iOS team from May to August 2016, I’ve seen this first-hand. The iOS team distills the core spirit of the company in an iOS app, albeit missing some features that exist on the desktop counterpart. This means that as an iOS developer intern on the iOS team, I got the chance to work on many types of things, ranging from on-boarding to invitation delivery. The developers work closely with the product manager, the quality assurance, and UI/UX designers to ensure the final product works seamlessly. For each new feature planned, there would be around two meetings with all members on the team brainstorming new features or commenting/critiquing on the existing plan. Interns were fully involved in these discussions and were certainly encouraged to suggest new ideas or voice concerns. Thanks to these in-depth product or technical meetings, the Paperless Post iOS team is able to produce a user-friendly app that is well-thought-out with useful features.

The iOS team is also constantly striving to be better. Every two weeks the team will do a Sprint Retrospective that reflects on the performance of the team in the past sprint. Members on the team were not shy from writing down all the things that the team has done well and not well. These kinds of open communication really helped the team to improve. The shorter technical version of the Sprint Retro is code review. The team members were very thorough in code reviews, and taught me a considerable amount of Swift that I didn’t know before. To further promote the quality of code, there was a guideline put in place explaining the correct syntax of the Swift language, while continuous integration tests made sure that a merge into master branch was always passing all the unit tests.

Stampy Day at Paperless Post is a tradition where everyone in the company is given two and a half days to work on any project that they think will benefit the company but didn’t have the time to work on. This was yet another opportunity for interns like me to show a new idea. For this term, I’ve worked on a card recommendation engine using a basic artificial neural network. I’m thankful have gotten help from co-workers when trying to gather card data. Although the end product didn’t work as well as I initially hoped, the process of writing code on something that I was very passionate about was very fulfilling.

Working at Paperless Post in the Big Apple has expanded my experience considerably. Weekends in the city are always enjoyable with lots of things to do. The 40 minute commute to work has also been strangely helpful because I was able to read articles and books on the train that I wouldn’t have otherwise read. The combination of all the great things about this internship has made the summer feel short. It was a great pleasure to intern at Paperless Post. The most memorable lesson learned for me was when looking for summer New York housing, find a room with air conditioning.

Koko

Hi! I’m Koko Nakajima, a rising junior studying computer science at Brown University. This summer, I’ve been working with the Styles team at Paperless Post as a product design intern.

The Styles team (as its name might suggest) works to ensure that visual styles are consistent across all aspects of the Paperless Post experience. The team maintains a living style guide with UI components and design patterns, for both developers and designers to reference in their work.

I spent most of my summer working on a redesign of the Post Box — where users can view all the cards they’ve ever sent, scheduled, received, drafted, archived, or trashed. Initially, my task was to reskin the Post Box using our current styles. This area of the website hadn’t been updated for a while, and was in fact several generations of styles old. It quickly became apparent that there were many design improvements that could be made, from both a visual design and product design standpoint. Several stakeholders suggested that this might be a good opportunity to rethink the entire architecture of the Post Box. Under the guidance of my mentor, I developed designs for a new, restructured Post Box to better address common use cases and reflect up-to-date styles. I began with wireframes to demonstrate the general structure of the pages:

Then, I proceeded to fine-tune the visual design details, while fleshing out the more granular information architecture.

Other, smaller projects I contributed to over the summer involved tasks like re-skinning the Paperless Post team blogs or improving the usability of the UI kit Sketch files for designers.

The projects I worked on allowed me to explore many facets of product design, from user research to wireframing to speaking with stakeholders. I also received invaluable feedback and advice from many of the other product designers, who had tackled similar problems in the past. It was interesting to see how product designers worked with people like developers and content designers; as a student, I often find it difficult to consider design in the larger context of a team or product. Here, the design and development processes seem to intersect and inform one another quite frequently.

At Paperless Post, I was constantly surrounded by people who fostered a culture of collaboration and encouragement. I can say that the collective enthusiasm for learning contributed to a fantastic intern experience.

Tony

Hey! I’m Tony and I want to share my experience interning at Paperless Post. A little bit about myself first: I just graduated from RIT with my MS in Human-Computer Interaction, and I’ve been focusing a lot on the front-end aspect of web development. I’ll try to give you more insight about the internship program at Paperless and why I think it is a great company!

First of all, you will work in stuff that is relevant to you and will make you challenge yourself. As a developer who focuses mostly on the front-end, I was accepted into the Events team, which holds a large chunk of user-facing features of the site. For me this was very exciting, since I was able to work with the features that have an opportunity to make a long-lasting impact on first-time receivers.

Within the first week, I was attending all of the team meetings. Our PM made sure the whole team knew what our long-term goals were, so when I was working on a feature it wasn’t just coding, it was working on the small features that would get us to where we wanted to be as a team and as a company. The strong focus on A/B testing gives us a lot of insight on what our users like and what they don’t, and enables us to tailor our site to match our users’ expectations.

When I noticed that a feature that I could implement within a two-week sprint had the potential to cause so much impact in user engagement, it felt awesome. Unlike other companies where interns are given a side project, here at Paperless you will be working on the main product with the team, as well as sitting with them, attending meetings with them, and even having beer with them!

Everyone in the company is very supportive and fun. In the time I’ve been here, someone has asked me how my internship was going at least once a week. You will meet a lot of smart people and you’ll be able to experience the company culture right away.

This is the first time that I’ve been part of a truly agile team. We have two-week sprints in which we do our best to push the most relevant stories to production, and at the end of those we do a recap and identify areas of improvement, including what failed and what we should keep doing. I witnessed how the team was able to change the workflow in small ways that would make us more efficient as a whole, and knowing that everyone has the same focus on moving stuff forward makes you feel like you have your entire team backing you up.

During my internship I worked on some really interesting projects. The biggest was an overhaul to the Delivery and Tracking page, in which I had to update the styles and fonts to match the style guide that the whole company follows on the site. At first I thought this would be simple, but it really took some time and reviewing to finally get it right. As a front-end intern, I was working closely with my team’s Product Designer, and we made sure that the feature was pixel-perfect at the moment of shipping it. It did take some iterations on our end to finally make it right, but when I saw the final result it was totally worth it.

Another project was replacing all usages of an open source library that wasn’t performing too well. I had to come up with a solution that was more efficient than the library we were using, and that had a programmer-friendly API so that everyone could easily start using it. I took an approach of benchmarking the old library’s performance and then running those tests across two prototypes that I had made for the new utility function. We were able to go from a fairly small library (~150 lines of code) to a 3 line function that outperformed the previous library while also covering all of our use cases and exposing a fairly straightforward API. It was really nice to see members from other teams jumping into my PR, commenting about different approaches that we could take and giving recommendations.

One thing that you will love about Paperless is that, despite having a fairly large number of employees at the time of this writing (160+), they keep the startup mentality. There’s a “work hard, play hard” attitude in the company, and this is really evident, especially during the summer. With countless activities from company lunches and team outings to Thirsty Thursdays and Summer Fridays, they make sure that you understand what it really means to be part of the company and that you’re enjoying your time here.