On Interning At Made by Many

Or, 5 reflections from my time at a New York City product agency.

Last Friday — August 14, 2015 — was my last day as an intern at Made by Many. And, typical of last days, it was strangely anti-climatic. Most of us rolled into the office a little lethargic after a sendoff celebration the prior evening; most also departed early for weekend trips or Friday events.

As a result, I left our SoHo studio for the last time thinking “that’s it” without the reality having fully sunk in.

Now, half a week later, I can fully appreciate that the internship has ended: I am decidedly not in New York City and am no longer compulsively checking our company Slack channels. So, as I get ready to transition back into the world of academia for one last semester, I’ve taken the time to jot down my reflections on this summer: on interning, on product development, and on working in teams.

1) Boiling the ocean is all kinds of exciting.

To paraphrase Chris Bell, Made by Many’s senior developer in New York and my direct mentor for the summer: it’s super rewarding to boil down the ocean from square one to figure out what you want to build.

Mapping out our problem space mid-internship. Photo by Adam Brodowski.

Some context: this metaphor comes from our reflection on my second-to-last day on the summer’s product development process. In essence, we started with a clean slate and a charter to develop a production-ready product in any vertical we deemed interesting and valuable, all in 12 weeks. And, we did it: our project HelloBacker is live, complete with a Product Hunt post and all.

We spent a good chunk of our first weeks in NY essentially stumbling blind, until slowly, through diligent research and brainstorming, we narrowed in on a space, and then a vertical, and then finally a singular idea.

I have never gone from A to B so thoroughly and so quickly. The process was filled with anxiety, but the end result was so worth it. And I fully attribute the ability to get to this end to the practices and mentorship we gleaned from the Made by Many team.

2) Zoning in is easy. Balancing is hard.

I find it very easy to become engrossed in my work, focusing singularly at the task at hand and working diligently towards completion. I don’t think I’m alone in this regard, and I find it especially true while writing code.

Zoning in for too long derails productivity and causes confusion among a team.

Yet, I found this summer that while this pattern may serve me well when slugging away on class projects, it isn’t always the best approach for working in product teams. At it’s best, this behavior can (mistakenly) seem to be the most productive way to spend one’s time; at it’s worst, it serves as an excuse to become detached from fellow coworkers.

Whenever I zoned in on my work too much for too long, I would come back to my intern team later feeling disoriented and lagging on progress made that day. I would use “productivity” as an excuse for working this way. But, as I learned, zoning in too much for too long can just as easily lead to more work later through catch up and needless revisions.

I’m definitely still not perfect here — I thrive when I get sucked into solving a problem. But, as a result of this summer, I’m getting better at performing the balancing act between working efficiently and staying up to date with team members.

3) It’s a blurry line between opinion and perspective

As an intern team, Marina, Emily, and I got heated. Especially near the end of the internship, when we all knew our product better than anyone and had invested so much sweat into the thing, we would take stances and defend them without remorse.

The challenging part here was not talking it out or finding a compromise. After grinding it out together for weeks, we respected each other enough to debate, (eventually) resolve, and move forward.

The hardest part was how often opinion would trump logic and reasonable discourse.

It ain’t easy. Via xkcd.

I only fully realized this fact after reflecting last week with Chris and Stuart, Made by Many’s CTO and New York City lead. When a debate is fueled solely by heated opinions, it often goes in circles and only serves to frustrate those involved. Plus, it’s very easy to think what is really a strong opinion on your product to be an informed, objective perspective.

I’m still figuring out how to know the difference between a visceral opinion and an informed perspective. It takes time. It also definitely becomes easier after working with someone for a while, coming to understand their thought process and style. Still, I’m glad I can better distinguish the two now, which should lead to some helpful restraint in the future.

4) Working is learning.

It was great to see how Made by Many continuously invests in it’s employees continued learning as part of work. I was encouraged (sometimes willingly, sometimes after discussion) to work with new technologies as part of our project. HelloBacker is built with a host of frameworks and languages I had less experience with prior to this summer: ES2015, React, Alt, and Bookshelf to name a few.

From day one, Made by Many focused on personal development as part of the internship. We were encouraged to blog about our experiences throughout, I attended tech events with coworkers outside of work, and we had the chance to build our professional networks. It’s always good seeing a company invest in you and your experiences beyond the day-to-day.

5) Hindsight is 20/20

Finally, it’s easy to write about these reflections in hindsight, and I have learned that this principle holds true for all things product. I had a lot of conversations during my last week about how things this summer could have unfolded differently: we could have started working digitally sooner, we could have done more prototype interviews later, we could have worked with a client, we could have added X feature to the product, etc.

Some of these reflections are great, but others are just traps of worthless regret and remorse. Reflections in hindsight made this blog post possible and help one make better decisions in the future. Still, it’s important to know when to move on.

I think we’ll all miss this view. Photo via Emily.

And in hindsight all together, this summer was fantastic. I got to work with great people, at a great office, and ship a working product — all in twelve weeks. I look forward to staying in touch with the folks at Made by Many and supporting HelloBacker part time. Thanks for the memories, New York.