Memoirs of an Intern

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After 8 months, my time as a Product Design Intern here at Intersect is coming to a close. I’ve drawn a lot of boxes during my time here, and would gladly stay here forever if I didn’t have to return to that thing called “school”.

Before I leave, I want to share some of my thoughts and insights about my time here… and also use this as an opportunity to immortalize myself on the company’s blog.

Me with the co-ops during my first 4 months at Intersect

The Prologue

Before I talk about the time I spent working here, I want to backtrack a little and talk about my experience with Intersect before I got hired. I think the hiring process is worth highlighting, as it was truly stellar (other companies, are you taking notes?).

I applied to the job posting on a Friday night and didn’t think much of it, as the normal response time for job applications was usually anywhere from a few weeks to never. To my surprise, however, I received an email the following Monday morning, asking to schedule a phone interview.

What a pleasant surprise.

I wasn’t expecting a response faster than greased lightning, but nevertheless, I was ecstatic. I hadn’t taken my first sip of coffee yet, but was shaking as if I was already caffeinated. Taking care to sound eager, but not too eager, I responded to the email, and the rest was history.

From submitting my application to receiving my offer, the hiring process took less than two weeks. I really appreciated how speedy the process was, as it gave me more time to figure out some logistical things, such as where I would be living in Toronto, and informing my school that I would be taking a break to pursue this internship. At this point, there was still about a month and a half before my start date and the good vibes I got from the interviews only made me more excited.

The Culture

When I walked into the office on the first day, I was greeted with a thunderous round of applause. This was not, as I had guessed, a way of welcoming a fresh intern; the applause started as a way to make fun of people who accidentally walked into the office when it was part of a larger space and has evolved into a way to welcome anybody who walks in and out.

My previous internship was in a very corporate environment, complete with cubicles and grumpy ladies shaking their heads at me for wearing jeans, so it was a nice change to walk into an office where everyone generally looked happier. Intersect didn’t take itself too seriously; throughout the week, everyone worked hard on their projects, but there was also a healthy amount of banter and fun sprinkled in here and there, culminating in a week end celebration on Fridays complete with beer and Rebecca Black blaring on the speakers.

During my first week here, I joined Intersect to participate in the GWN Dragon Boat Challenge in support of the Canadian Cancer Society. We weren’t seasoned dragonboaters, which meant we were the backmarkers for 3 out of our 4 races, but that didn’t stop everyone from paddling their hardest and having fun. We were THE scrappy underdog team, as we were at one point scrambling to find enough people for a full team right before a race, so imagine everyone’s surprise when we ended up winning our last race (and a medal!). Everyone’s collective positive attitude was infectious, and it gave me a positive feeling about the rest of my work term.

A true underdog story

The Work

A lot of what made my work experience so positive was the opportunity to make a real impact on the projects I worked on, which greatly contributed to my growth as a designer.

The first project I joined was already underway, and almost immediately I was given a complicated problem to solve. Now, I’ll admit, I didn’t produce the most thought-out designs from the very beginning. The first wireframe I showed my mentor was extremely questionable, as I thought having a blank page with a single button on it that would do everything was a genius idea, but he struggled to make sense of it. He was silent for what seemed like an eternity (probably contemplating if he had hired the wrong Calvin), but eventually said, “It’s okay! I will help you get there.” In that moment, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing, and that my design craft needed a lot of work. My confidence didn’t shatter, however, as his assurance of backing me up only gave me more motivation to improve my skills and produce better work.

I definitely stumbled a bit during my first few weeks here, but guidance and support was in place to ensure that I didn’t fall flat on my face. Day-to-day checkpoints helped to ensure that I was on the right track, alongside regular discussions that provided new insights for the problems I was solving. I also had biweekly 1-on-1s with my mentor where I brought up any concerns I had, and received feedback on how I was doing overall. I also took heavy advantage of the biweekly Product Reviews, using this opportunity to get my work roasted by people from different departments. I was encouraged to take ownership of my work and to make my own design decisions, but I also appreciated the safety nets set up for me.

My second project (which was really a new phase of my first project for the same client) went a lot more smoothly, as I gave myself ample time to get familiar with the problem before starting my designs. After we handed it off to the client, I was feeling confident going into my third project. And then: plot twist! I found out this project would start from scratch, right from the discovery phase. I had never started fresh on a project before. Was I ready for this?

I was too eager to dive into finding potential solutions when we didn’t even know what problem we were solving for yet. Thankfully, every time I dove too deep my mentor would pull me out before I could drown. As the project progressed, he let me try and improve on my own, offering feedback on how I could do better while avoiding jumping in and taking over. The project team also had my back, managing client relations and providing their insight on the problem and potential solutions, allowing me to focus on my design work with fewer distractions. The final product looked very polished and received many positive comments from the client – a result that was only possible due to the efforts and support of everyone on the team.

It was a little surreal when I finally handed the completed project off to the client, as I never expected 8 months ago that I would be the primary designer on a project as an intern. It would be a crime to say that this was “all me” as I know I wouldn’t have done nearly as well if I didn’t have an amazing project team backing me up. I still have much to learn, but thanks to an amazing mentor and coworkers who were always willing to help, I went from making some questionable wireframes to presenting a fully fleshed out product design to clients. Not bad, eh?

The End?

Me with the co-ops during my last 4 months at Intersect

These 8 months went by way too quickly – there should be a speed limit enforced for the good times in life. The combination of a great company culture, amazing people, and challenging work presents a package that you really can’t find anywhere else. If you’re looking to do rewarding work with some of the best people around, it’s here.

I’m really going to miss going to work with my best friends.

Want to join a great team doing great work? Intersect is always hiring!