Last summer I was given an internship opportunity in the R&D department of Bazaarvoice as a software engineer. Having only finished my freshman year in college, I had no idea what to expect from a tech company of this size. I would have never guessed that on my first day I would be handed a macbook pro with better specs than any computer I had used before. I certainly didn’t anticipate anything like the All Hands conference downtown, or the Seven Year anniversary party. And although I suspected I would pick up a few new skills during my employment, I could have never imagined the breadth of my learning over the past few months.
Overall I feel that my first week was analogous to any of the computer science classes I have taken in school, albeit at an accelerated pace. I would write some code, and once I felt comfortable with my progress, I would show it to my mentor, who would point out the things I had done correctly, and offer advice for improvement in the areas where it was needed. Like any assignment for school, the tic-tac-toe project was exclusively for my own benefit; no one was going to use my code for anything, but there is no better teacher than practice. The project served its purpose, because by the end of my first week I was developing code for the product.
Development was a totally new experience for me. All of my previous programming involved starting from scratch, and at completion, every line of code was my own. At Bazaarvoice, I was a developer jumping into a code base thousands of lines deep, and there were a dozen other developers constantly shaping it. It was an awesome experience working as a member of a team, rather than working on a project on my own. As a team member I not only gained experience in programming, but also in the team dynamics of software development. I feel that I was able to be a boon to my team, having contributed code in the development of several features. Because I was writing code for features that the team was familiar with, it was very easy to get help from the other members of the team. I was only one degree of separation away from the developer who had the answer to one of my many questions; if the first person I asked did not know the answer, they could immediately direct me to someone who did. This high availability of assistance was a key factor in my ability to put useful code into the product. The code review system — in which every line of code was looked at by at least one other developer before entering the product’s codebase — ensured that my code conformed to the proper coding practices. Because of this, I not only improved the functionality of my code, but also the style.
My education went beyond the software itself. I attended all of the team meetings, which taught me about the “real life” side of software development. I attended meetings which showed me how the developers made sure that the product they were producing was in line with the needs of the customers. Every week involved multiple meetings to estimate the time it would take to implement various features, so that the team’s progress could be projected into the future, and we could know how long it would take for the product to have certain degrees of functionality. The meetings were one of the most informative aspects of my internship, because they addressed issues that I had never even considered as a CS student.
This was my first internship, so while I can’t offer a personal comparison between working on a personal project and working as a team member, I can say that last summer was an enriching opportunity, which not only expanded my computer science knowledge, but taught me first hand what it means to work as a software engineer, and in my mind, that’s the most valuable thing I can get out of an internship.
This summer I have returned to Bazaarvoice, and this time I will be working on an independent project from the ground up. I am excited to see how this internship compares and contrasts to my first.