Engineering Internships at Pollen

Internships have always been important to Pollen, especially for brands such as JusCollege which offers interns a unique opportunity to travel and learn at the same time. However we were especially excited last year to launch our first engineering internship in the UK.

We accepted two interns, Phoebe Gash and Sheila Htin-Kyaw, for a two-month programme. Now, as we start 2019, we’re looking back at how successful the programme has been — so we spoke to Phoebe about her experience…

Pollen: Hi Phoebe! How did you first find out about our internship?

Phoebe: I was on an intensive, three-month Javascript bootcamp and at the end was a demo day where we’d present an app we’d built. James and Ola (from Pollen’s Engineering team) came and we got talking.

Pollen: What did you demo?

Phoebe: It was an online gaming forum kind of…thing. Some projects were neater and did just one thing, but ours was a bit of a monster designed to demonstrate we could use all the technologies we’d learned.

Pollen: And what happened after that?

Phoebe: So, we got speaking to James and Ola and about internships — which was something they’d been thinking about but hadn’t put together yet. They asked if Sheila and I would be interested in interviewing and we both got accepted.

Pollen: Was your team just the two of you? You and Sheila?

Phoebe: No, there were three other guys. Sheila and I were actually the only two women on the course and Pollen happened to get both of us!

Pollen: And what was your background before taking the course?

Phoebe: Operations, mainly. I’ve worked in at a few different start-ups in London, such as London Residents Club where I was the Head of Operations. I had contact with the developers there and also have two little sisters who were learning to program at school through tools such as Scratch. That’s what planted the seed in my head to move into programming.

I felt that what I was doing wasn’t really using my brain to its full capacity. I was just running through the motions, so I quit my job and started teaching myself to code — which is what led me to the Javascript bootcamp.

Interestingly, even though I was learning Javascript I actually work in Python here. I’m learning the language from scratch while familiarising myself with how the team works.

Pollen: And how is the internship programme setup — is it paid, is it for a set duration, etc?

Phoebe: It is paid, but beyond that it’s been quite changeable. Initially it was for two months but when we got close to that deadline we extended by another two months, so we could see our projects through. 

Pollen: A diverse and welcoming environment is important to us. You mentioned earlier that Sheila and you were the only women on your bootcamp course?

Phoebe: Yeah. Other places I looked at were male-dominated and some were just all men. Working with a male majority wasn’t a problem at the bootcamp, but it’s intimidating. That was a massive part of why I wanted to come here, because the split here is basically unheard of elsewhere!

On the course we heard a lot of horror stories. How if you go work for a bank or something then you’ll be holed up underground in a basement and ignored. Or how, if you join a small start-up, you’ll have too much responsibility and won’t learn the right way. So, I knew I was looking for an environment like this.

Some of what we’re asked to do here is still scary in a “Oh no, what if I get this wrong?” sort of way, but there’s also a lot of guidance and support.

Pollen: Has it been like that since the start, or has the responsibility slowly increased?

Phoebe: It was a slow start. Setting up the developer environment takes time. Ola wrote the Django Girls tutorial, so we used that to familiarise ourselves with Django in the first week. After that we moved on to working with the codebase and moving things on to production.

Pollen: And what’s the high point been so far?

Phoebe: We’ve contributed to the Eventbrite integration, which has been amazing. I’ve also been working across other integrations, so for me that’s been the most exciting part — getting to know how things work. We usually work on smaller parts of big jobs, like bug fixes.

The other high point was on my second day. We went to the London Aquarium. The integration team in Engineering is called Penguin, so as a treat for the end of the quarter we all went to see the penguins!

Phoebe Gash is a Javascript and Python developer who is part of Pollen’s engineering internship programme.