Zaka Culture Series: Remote Internship Programs

Reem Mahmoud
Jul 6, 2020 · 5 min read

Zaka is a community-driven, remote Artificial Intelligence (AI) company based in Lebanon. Our mission is to democratize the understanding and development of AI in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. We do this through our 3 main pillars: education, consultancy, and community building.

At Zaka, we focus on fostering a healthy, autonomous, and creative work environment. As we build our remote company culture, we want to share our experience: successes and failures through this series.

In this edition, we introduce our remote internship programs. We share our remote working experience with interns from various levels including young university students, fresh graduates, and professionals looking for a career shift into the field of data science and AI. Our goal is to foster a strong program that prepares them with industry-grade skills while also having them feel supported and play an impactful role in our team and mission.

Our amazingly talented Zaka intern team.

We kicked off our internship programs in March 2020. We were one of the first (and unfortunately few) companies in the MENA region to introduce remote internships amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The launch of our internship program came at a convenient time with university students looking to satisfy internship university requirements or leverage the home quarantine period with a productive experience.

Ever since the program launch, we have had the pleasure of hosting 30 interns from different parts of the world including Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. We currently have 6 internship programs available that can span a 3-month or 6-month period. Our most active programs are:

Our Machine Learning (ML) interns work hand-in-hand with our team to develop cutting-edge ML solutions to real-world problems. They get to build market-ready skills and work closely with client feedback to improve and iterate on their work.

Technical content developers are involved in creating educational content on a wide range of topics in ML. They work closely with our education team on tasks that are heavily research-oriented, requiring high communication skills and attention to detail alongside strong technical understanding.

Qualitative research (QR) is an important part of what we do. Our QR team has been focused on human-centered design thinking methods to help improve our company products. Interns interact closely with stakeholders and are directly involved in the product design through ideation, brainstorming, prototyping, and testing.

The marketing team has the most fun of us all! They interact directly with our community members (our customers). They help build our company’s culture, improve our engagement with our community, and strengthen our global community ties.

Tips for Remote Internships

Working remotely definitely has its perks — flexible hours, working at your own pace, attending to your family mid-day, and more! What people don’t acknowledge much is that it can be quite challenging to be productive when working from the comfort of your home. These challenges are particularly significant when you are just starting out.

Since we knew most of our interns would be entirely new to the remote working environment — and work altogether — we took a few steps to try and ensure they have a comfortable and successful experience.

We are sharing with you some of our main platforms or activities that help us engage with our interns and team. This is definitely a work in progress, and we are learning and evolving as we grow.

Source

As our team expands and works remotely, it is difficult to keep everyone connected and ensure that members meet and get to know one another, sharing their experiences, challenges, and learning together.

The first thing we always aim to do is make sure our interns are aware of the impact they are making. Even though it might feel like they are working alone and on a single project that might seem like small scale to them, they are all bringing products or solutions to life that make an impact in larger company projects and in the mission. We try our best to highlight their role in the company and make them aware they are core members of the team.

“Zaka is a family, not a company or an internship. The people you meet as you progress through the internship are people who leave a nice lasting impact on your career and life.” — Tony Soulage, Technical Intern

To help in strengthening the connection amongst our team, we started hosting monthly intern gatherings where all interns as well as Zaka employees connect on a Friday evening over a virtual gathering.

Our first gathering was this June. All departments got to meet one another, discover what projects others are doing, play “Two Truths and a Lie” to break the ice, and learn fun facts about each other.

A shot from our first intern gathering!

It was so much fun and humbling getting to meet interns from different places and backgrounds. We got to learn about each others’ hobbies, fears, funny and scary childhood experiences. We also shared and learned our working from home experiences including morning yoga, disconnecting from devices in the morning, and pretending to be working in a coffee shop with friends (yes, one of our interns has been using this strategy and finding it useful!)

Internship supervisors hold regular standups to have consistent check-ins with interns, assess progress, and provide feedback and support. Because many of our interns are experiencing remote working for the first time, we make sure to give them the flexibility to discover their own pace and routine while also providing constant feedback to help them adjust and grow in their journey.

All our communication as a team happens regularly over Slack. This includes supervisor to intern interaction when following up on tasks and asking questions, as well as allowing interns from different departments to connect with one another.

Trello has been another very useful tool in helping interns and their supervisors keep track of tasks, progress, new ideas, and any issues that need resolution or attention. Each intern gets to design their own journey on their internship Trello boards, making them their own!

We are constantly learning and adapting our ways to improve in the future. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please let us know in the comment section or email us your thoughts.

So, are you interested in an internship opportunity? Fill in your application today!

Don’t forget to support us with a clap!

You can become part of our community too and help democratize AI in your city! Reach out and let us know.

For more information, you can visit www.zaka.ai

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Zaka

An intelligent transformation

Zaka

Zaka is on a journey to democratize Artificial Intelligence (AI) through sharing knowledge, building solutions, and connecting people!

Reem Mahmoud

Written by

Co-founder & Education Lead @ Zaka • Ph.D. Student in ML @ AUB MIND Lab • Vice President @ Beirut AI

Zaka

Zaka is on a journey to democratize Artificial Intelligence (AI) through sharing knowledge, building solutions, and connecting people!