If you are reading this blog post, you are probably either:
1. Interested in interning at Policygenius
2. Interested in interning anywhere in the FinTech industry
3. Want to learn more about the experience of working at Pg, or
4. Fell asleep on your mouse and your nose accidentally clicked the link (it happens).
Regardless of how you landed here — except for maybe the option 4-ers — I think that one of the most telling ways of what it’s like to work at any company in any industry is what an intern experiences. For 8–12 weeks of the summer, you are thrown into an expedited full-time employee track and have the freedom to dip your toes into a variety of engaging problems that are aligned with your interests — the company, the tech, the product, etc.
An intern’s greatest fear (and understandably so) is finding yourself working on menial tasks and feeling like you haven’t soaked up as much knowledge as you wanted to. My 12-week virtual internship with Policygenius this past summer was anything but that, and here is a small peek into one of the most intellectually stimulating, wonderfully busy, and extraordinarily fun summers I have ever had!
My name is Ayusha and I am an incoming Junior studying Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I have had a couple of previous internships in the past, and they mainly consisted of front-end engineering, including Web Design and Android development.
In my past internship experiences, as well as in classes at school, I have worked with Java, C++, R, and a little bit of GraphQL. Along with being a CS Major on campus, I am involved with a student-run consulting firm, a professional business organization, and I spent a bit of time playing for my school’s club tennis team.
As you can probably tell from that brief summary, I am interested in a lot of different things, and coming into my internship at Policygenius, I was hoping to gain more exposure to the back-end side of software engineering. However, I didn’t have a clear idea of what part of the stack I wanted to engage in, and was hoping that I would be able to learn more about what back-end development consisted of during my time at Pg.
Luckily, thanks to the amazing mentorship and collaborative culture at Policygenius, I was able to take part in an internship program completely tailored to my goals for the summer. I spent 4 weeks each on 3 different teams — Data Engineering, Home and Auto Fulfillment, and Life Fulfillment. Each team tasked me with a project that I would work on for the entirety of my rotation that would also expose me to a different part of the back-end tech stack.
I was thrilled with how much technical exposure I was getting, but something I didn’t expect was how much I learned outside of my day-to-day programming. I want to touch on both of these aspects in this article since both are incredibly vital and unique not just to my experience, but to any internship. Let’s first dive into the technical stuff.
Technical Things I Learned:
My first four weeks at Policygenius consisted of upwards of 20 different “cameos”, where I got to learn about all the various teams in the company.
Along with other typical onboarding tasks, I began working with the Data Engineering team, and saw firsthand how information passes through the application behind the scenes. In my time there, I got to build a complete ETL Data Pipeline to automate commission processing for the Finance team. In that project, I was not only introduced to Python (now my favorite programming language) but to the Google Cloud Platform. I created Cloud Functions that retrieved data from cloud buckets, parsed the data, and sent a formatted deduped version of it to BigQuery for easy consumption. Just like that, 50,000+ lines of data that would have had to be manually parsed and organized were automatically done in the span of a few seconds.
My third and final rotation of the summer was with the Life Fulfillment team — the largest of the three. This project was where I got the opportunity to build an entire microservice from scratch, and work with a variety of different APIs to create a dashboard to track key Service Level Indicators. I used Puppeteer and Lighthouse to retrieve performance data from the Policygenius product, sent that data to a Datadog dashboard in the form of a custom metric, and deployed my microservice on a Cron-Job schedule using Kubernetes and Docker.
By the end of the project, Engineering, Product, and Operations all had a way to see how the internal tools they used day in and day out were performing in real-time! Coming into the internship I wanted to gain a better understanding of the components of a back-end microservice — the requests/responses, data storage, and deployment processes. Creating each of these components as well as threading them together with the microservice I built was the perfect way to fully understand how many back-end systems operate.
While all of these projects taught me so much about systems architecture and exposed me to various programming languages, the most unique technical aspect I picked up was the Product Process. The features I was building weren’t meant to be used for a couple weeks of the summer and then scrapped later — they each had a tangible impact on the overall company vision and important OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).
I had the opportunity to develop a data pipeline to make the Finance team’s job easier, display metrics that will be used to improve performance long after my internship ends, and demo to the Operations team a filter feature I built that would solve a problem they had been having for years. This experience of not just creating products but seeing them put to use is one of the things I am most grateful to Pg for providing me, and whether it was pairing seshes with my stellar mentors Li Chang (Lily), Jeremy, Ben, and Justin, 1:1’s with my manager Anton, or ad-hoc meetings with PMs and designers, I can’t put into words how thankful I am to have worked with people who were dedicated to seeing me grow and learn every single day.
Non-Technical Things I Learned:
“Take a deep breath in…now out.”
This was how we began every workday as a member of the H&A Fulfillment (nicknamed ‘Bago) team. It may seem like a trivial phrase that people throw around to create a semblance of calm in the ever-changing tech scene, but this clearing of the mind left me not only ready to tackle the JIRA tickets and meetings I had for the day, but also allowed me to soak up all the wonderful learning experiences unrelated to the technical work I had.
“Pull as Much as You Can”
The first of these lessons was one that I was told during the second week of my internship, from Senior Vice President of Engineering, David Kaplan. I had asked him for advice on getting the most out of my internship for the summer, and he responded immediately with “pull as much as you can.”
I was confused as to what this meant at first (pull? Like from Github…?), but it quickly became apparent that being proactive and reaching out to various people during my internship resulted in me “pulling” advice and tips that I never could have imagined to have learned from a 12-week program. I was hesitant at first to reach out as “the intern” and unintentionally waste someone’s time, but realized that while everyone I was surrounded by at Pg was incredibly smart, they were also wonderfully eager to share that knowledge with me.
Thanks to the culture at Policygenius, I immediately switched my mentality of viewing myself as an “intern” to viewing myself as a full-time employee, because that is exactly how I was treated.
Everyone and Everything Is a Mentor
This mentality of “pull as much as you can” ties into the next invaluable lesson I learned — everyone and everything is a mentor.
In most internships, you are assigned one mentor, but the learning doesn’t stop there. There is something you can pick up from every single event you attend or person you meet. I also can’t stress enough how much I recommend noting it all down, so you can look back and see exactly what technical and non-technical skills you picked up along the way.
I scheduled a meeting with JP, the Product Manager on the H&A Fulfillment team, and left the Zoom call with 4 pages of advice and tips for a career path I am interested in. I met with Carson and Natalie, both Product Designers, and learned how I could modify the feature I was building from a design standpoint to be used across the entire organization.
In terms of events, something I loved about working at Policygenius was the large number of meetings I was required to attend. While many view this as a negative, each meeting taught me something new that you can’t always learn in a classroom setting. 1:1s with mentors teach you how to be introspective and ask questions about yourself, ticket-creation meetings teach you how to break up a problem into different pieces, and grooming meetings teach you how to predict problems you will encounter down the road.
I left my internship with a log of what I completed every day, what I learned from each person I met with, and what I picked up at each meeting. This documentation came in extremely handy for the summer, but more importantly, I know I will refer back to the things I learned at Policygenius for the rest of my career.
Work Is Play
The final and favorite lesson I want to touch on revolves around a phrase people have been using for years: Work is Work, and Play is Play. Or is it?
Prior to joining Pg, I always separated out work and play. At Pg, I realized they could be one and the same. The workday was sprinkled with virtual lunches, random coffee chats, and surprise icebreakers that I looked forward to each and every day of my internship. Everyone I jumped on Zoom calls with throughout the day was someone I viewed as a friend first, and a coworker second. Even after logging off at 5PM, I found myself logging back in to join a virtual game night, dog parade, or themed party with some of the funniest, kindest, and supportive people.
I know that while after this summer I might lose access to my Policygenius email and/or the Slack workspace, I know for a fact that I will not lose access to the incredible friendships and relationships built along the way.
At Policygenius Engineering, we work on solving challenging problems with innovative approaches. If you are interested in the type of work we do and wish to experience our highly collaborative culture, check out our careers page!