Ten months ago, I had finished the “hard part” of applying for internships — endless applications, hours of preparation, and numerous coding interviews. I thought the “easy part” of deciding where to intern had finally arrived. Ironically, at the time, the “easy part” felt significantly harder than the “hard part.” How do you decide where to intern? Internships are a very special type of learning opportunity; you get to spend three months trying something new with the sole purpose to learning and exploring new technologies and your interests. Given that I was a junior, this would be my final internship, making this decision feel even more important to me. There were so many questions flowing through my head. Did I want to be at a big, medium, or small company? Was there a specific city I wanted to work in? Did I want to work on a product that I personally used, or would I rather work on a product that was entirely new to me? All of the companies I was considering had great intern programs, were located in cities I was excited to spend time in, and had interesting problems to solve. I knew I would have the opportunity to work with talented engineers and grow my technical skills wherever I went. So why did I end up choosing Strava? Throughout the process of speaking and interviewing with Strava employees, something felt very different about Strava, which ultimately enticed me to join the company. Although I was not initially able to put my finger on how Strava was unique or why I was excited to intern at the company, I now know. After spending ten weeks interning at Strava, I have learned that Strava is not just like any other tech company. Strava’s culture is truly that of a sports team. Specifically, people at Strava are selfless, supportive, team-oriented, and collectively value the company’s mission both inside and outside of work.
Months before my internship began, Strava’s sports-team-like qualities trickled into my interactions with numerous Strava employees. My first experience of this was during one of my technical interviews. After we had wrapped up the coding question and our interview had officially ended, my interviewer had offered to stay and continue chatting with me after noticing I still had a handful of questions I wanted to ask. He proceeded to spend at least another 30 minutes of his workday sharing his experiences with me. Another engineer had also taken time out of her day to speak with me after I had voiced some concerns about being one of the few women on my team. Like my interviewer, she had taken the time to respond to all of my concerns, sharing her honest experience with me. This showed me that members of the Strava team are willing to go above and beyond the norm, spending their valuable non-meeting hours (let’s be honest, what engineers like meetings?) speaking with me to help me make my decision. Just like good teammates, they showed me that they were invested in making me feel prepared, welcomed, and supported, even before I had officially joined the Strava team.
Once I joined the Strava team, I learned that these acts of selflessness are the norm. I was an intern on the platform team, but for about half the summer I was working more closely with the API and Strava Business teams to help implement a new kind of Strava challenge — the streak challenge. Since my sidekick (the Strava term for a technical mentor), did not have as much context on this project, I often found myself asking others for help; they always happily did so, despite the fact that they were not required to help me. One engineer even took the time to comment on one of my code reviews, even though they were not assigned to review it. Even more so, he set up some time for us to pair code in order to further explain a concept I was not grasping. We ended up pair coding over video chat because he works full time in Denver, and I was working in San Francisco. These small acts exemplify how Strava engineers are team players. In many cases, it would be faster for them to solve a problem, instead of taking the time to explain it to another engineer. Like good teammates, they are focused on the success of the team.
Members of the Strava team are not only willing to help and provide feedback, but they also know when to step back and provide engineers the opportunity to learn and make mistakes. While working on the streaks project, I was tasked with running a load test, even though I had no previous experience doing so. A load test is used to validate a system’s performance under high load, which is a potentially risky process if not done correctly. In my previous working experiences, interns and junior engineers were generally not given such responsibilities. On the off chance that they were, a more experienced engineer would watch them like a hawk throughout the entire process. This was not the case at Strava. The other engineers working on the streaks project were unfazed by my lack of experience, and pointed me in the direction of the metrics that I should monitor, trusting that I would reach out if I needed help, but gave me the space to learn by trying. This level of trust made me feel like I was a valuable member of the team and showed me that even though I was an intern, I was still able to provide meaningful contributions to the team’s collective goals. It was reassuring to know that my teammates trusted me, but would ultimately have my back if I needed them
Along with trusting and looking for opportunities to help their teammates, members of the Strava team are constantly lifting each other up. A big part of Strava’s culture, both in the office and in the product, is giving out kudos. In Strava’s product, giving kudos is a way to tell an athlete that you think they did a good job on their bike ride or morning run. In the office, giving kudos works similarly. It is a way to provide feedback with high visibility for even the smallest of things that would otherwise go unnoticed. You can give kudos to any team member for anything they did that you appreciated or thought they did well. These awards are highly regarded and made visible by being displayed on a monitor at the front desk. You don’t need to move mountains to be formally appreciated. This system reminds me of the awards that are given out at the end of a sports season, in which each team member is appreciated for their dedication and hard work.
The constant praise and support does not stop when Strava employees leave the office. A long running tradition at Strava is a weekly running workout, Workout Wednesday (WoW), that everyone in the company is invited to participate in. The tradition of weekly WoWs was started as a way to help some members of the Strava team train for an upcoming marathon. What I found special about WoWs is that not everyone running each week is there to train, rather many are there to have a good time while pushing themselves and those around them to do the best they can. During my first WoW, another intern and I were running significantly slower than most of the Strava team, when one of the full time engineers slowed his pace to run with us. He kept encouraging us to continue running, even if it meant slowing down, and would adjust his pace throughout the run so that we did not have to run alone. I found it so thoughtful that he was willing to take a step back and tone down his own workout in order to help us get the most out of the WoW.
Strava’s sports-team like culture is not an accident; it is an intentionally crafted environment with strong mechanisms that keep it in check. I am proud that I listened to my gut and decided to join the most peculiar company I interviewed for.
I would like to thank my mentor, J Evans, my manager, Jeff Pollard, and the rest of the Platform team and API team for all of their time, help, and support! Additionally, I want to thank the intern class for a great summer! (: