What I Learned This Week At My Internship
We often read or watch posts about internships in big companies like Microsoft or Amazon. Every day in LinkedIn is a new and interesting story about some guy/girl who came in as a different person after these types of internships. And I always thought (in my complete ignorance) that these experiences almost seem fake.
But after I finished my second week as an intern here in Encora Inc., I kinda know where they are going. Every day has been a learning opportunity. We are currently at what the company calls “Reset Phase”, a month full of awareness about what is innovation, and hard/smart work.
Communication is fundamental
Sound obvious, and at some point it is. We communicate every day of our lives just to get whatever we may need or want. But to be able to communicate in a great manner can sometimes be seen as art. We don’t simply talk to people and they give us what we want. We need the ability to express whatever we may need. I don’t want to sound like, well “just be a positive person” because is more than that. Body language comes very importantly in this manner. Your eyes, smile, and your hand gestures can tell a lot about yourself. You make an impression even if you have not talked at all.
Being an active listener can really become handy, and also starting to look for interesting topics to shape the conversation. This can maybe be about yourself and making sure not to sound anxious.
Sometimes is harder to communicate something if the conversation is held between a crowd. Sometimes this topic can be about something you have never heard before, so always know a little bit about everything. Find hot issues in every field. Technology. Science. Social. Always be aware of your tone and behavior, so you can match it with your peers. And don’t forget, names are a pretty big deal, so try to remember them.
There would be times when you have to deal with conflict. Conflict is an inevitable and healthy part of life. You can learn to deal with conflict in a positive and constructive manner that enhances decision making and contributes to effective working relationships. This subject was my pick for my first Lightning Talk, where I talked about what steps who can follow to make the conflict resolution process a lot easier:
- Create an effective atmosphere
- Clarify perceptions
- Focus on individual and shared needs
- Take a positive approach
- Generate options
- Develop a list of stepping stones to action
- Make mutual benefit agreements
- The part on good terms
Let’s remember that we deal with conflict so we can have a change or progress in a particular situation. Progress really happens when we accept change as a part of our lives.
There is no change until someone steps up, and they put their reputation at risk for a greater good, something different. You cannot do change on your own, you need power, and in other to have power over a situation you need a team. Remember that change requires work and sometimes traditions will need to break in order for true change.
We usually seek change when we are confronted with failure or we are unhappy. To keep change in mind, writer, Scott Berkun, helps us with these tactics:
- Power: What changes can you make?
- Persuasion: Whose support can you earn?
- Intuition: What can you anticipate?
Change won't happen if you at on your own. People make changes.
Last, in this communication part, we have the aspect of feedback. Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative. Feedback is effective when it provides information on correct rather than incorrect responses and when it builds on changes from previous trails.
Feedback should highlight both strengths and weaknesses. Too much praise can be considered patronizing and inauthentic, while over-criticizing can feel aggressive.
Let’s get technical
Over the course of the week, we got the chance to start getting technical. We started learning a little bit about the Linux Shell.
What is the shell? The shell will allow you to run programs, give them input, and inspect their output in a semi structuring way. The shell is a programming environment.
Modern filesystems have directory (folder) trees, where a directory is either a root directory (with no parent directory) or is a subdirectory (contained within a single another directory, which we call its “parent”). Traversing backward through the file tree (from child directory to parent directory) will always get you to the root directory. Other highlights of this crash course are:
- When working within a filesystem, the user is always working within some directory, which we call the current directory or the working directory. Print the user’s with
- You can create a new file by opening it with a text editor, like
mkdir, by default, only makes a single directory.
Another thing learned this week was the X-Workflow. X Workflow is meant to be a manual to better the way we work.
This General Process is the cycle in which we live while we work.
- Problem Discovery: get to observe something. The description of a new project, a bug on the system, etc.
- Observation: observe the system and try to understand it
- Data Gathering: gather all the data and look at it historically
- Data Analysis: use the data you have to prove the ideas wrong or right
- Hypothesis Generation: generate some ideas of your own
- Experimental Design: is a set of tools that aid in the process of knowledge generation and hypothesis testing
- Problem Definition: describe what is exactly the problem
- Constraints: define the constraints of the problem. There is no single system that behaves the same way, no matter the surrounding condition
- Search For Solutions: actual ideas are born
- Research: search. Maybe somebody already solved your problem
- Brainstorming: talk about some solutions
- Modeling: discarding weird ideas that may not work and choosing the best one that fits into the constraints
- Prototyping: implementation of the solution
- Specification: the guide with which you build the solution
- Planning For The Future: document what you did, what you accomplished, and what you failed to do
Profound life lessons
Another lecture that was shared, was the Profound Life lessons from Standford Professor John Osterhout. Where the gist was this, and some personal notes:
- Performance is great but is not fundamental. Just make it work, worry about performance later.
- Intuition is great. But is not a lifesaver, it won't have all the answers, rather the questions.
- Sometimes replacing software is the answer, not improving them
- Facts precede concepts: you learn from experience
- If you don’t know what the problem was, you haven’t fixed it: things just don’t magically fix themselves, track the problem right, so it doesn’t bother you later.
- The theory is great but build something that is reproducible. If it hasn’t been used, it doesn’t work.
- The three most powerful words for building credibility are “I don’t know”: there is power on those two words, trust is built when you say that you actually don't know, so try to use them more
- Coherent systems are inherently unstable: not following the rules can sometimes be beneficial
Finally, we approach our first round of lightning talks. The purpose was to give a presentation on a topic related to technology. Where my peers chose these topics:
- Data Science: provides meaningful information based on a larger amount of complex data or big data.
- Networking Protocols: a protocol is a set of rules that governs the communications between computers on a network.
- Genetic Algorithms: genetic algorithms mimic the evolution by natural selection. Genetic algorithms feature populations of individuals that evolve with the use of the principles of selection, variation, and inheritance.
Creativity is not a personality trait, is hard work
To start this section, I would like to cite Derek Sivers, where he says “Ideas are just a multiplier of execution. Execution is worth millions. Ideas are worth nothing unless executed”. Something to keep in mind when you are talking about your next big project, it’s not big until you make it big.
Kathy Sierra, the keynote speaker at O’Reilly ETech, remarks on how important our cognitive resources. This theory focuses on the influence of the reader’s intelligence and experience on their reaction to stress.
She also commented that when doing tasks, this can be in your work or personal life, you need to pile them in three aspects. Which are:
- Cannot do, but need
- Can do, but with effort
Kathy describes a phenomenon called ‘Pileup on B’ — you have some stuff you want to learn in Pile A (Can’t do it but need to), a lot of stuff in Pile B (can kinda do it, with effort), and a few things in Pile C (Mastered it, reliable & automatic). But there are so many things to do in B that you never get to work on Pile C. There are a couple of ways to fix this.
- Break up the things in Pile B into subtasks, smaller goals that can be mastered (pile C) in a faster time.
- Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. The longer you do beginner activities like practice, the longer you will be a beginner.
Another interesting approach and point of view come from K. Anders Ericsson, author of Peak: How to Master Almost Anything. He summaries it in a way kinda tricky: all is a technique issue. And it really is. Your skill in anything is based on the number and quality of “mental representations”. For example, any player (about pretty much anything) can improve by studying and challenging themselves with other experts. They build mental representations of others’ games, which help them improve much more than simply playing more games.
Finally, author and speaker, Scott Berkun brings to our attention some Creative Thinking Hacks. As the title of this section summaries it, creativeness is a combination of aspects, is not something you have, but rather something you execute.
Fears become solutions.
Everyone has different passions and triggers, but that doesn’t mean the creative process should be a burden. Rather a routine, find out when you are more creative. Scott suggests that the environment plays a big role in this, you can go for a walk to clear your mind, know if you are more a night/morning person in terms of creativeness. This is what he called Escaping.
Another tip, or hack as he calls them, is to keep a journal. Of ideas, of your life, of your concerns, of anything! This would help the creative process to rise because you are putting your mind in a piece of paper. You are making it real.
The third hack describes that if you want to solve something, try thinking about what should not solve that. Thinking what are the bad ways to solve a problem, then you will have a clearer mind of your process.
Fourth describes that if you are better working on a team, find a partner, or maybe a rival, to give that bust of motivation.
Number five is about accepting that risk and failure would be a fundamental part of the creative process. Bad feedback will become good feedback if you apply it right, so commit to taking risks.
And finally, for number six, recognize what is your switch mode. Meaning, knowing if you are more of a visual, verbally, physical person. So you will what will work best for you and what will not.
Getting to know Encora
Finally, the Orientation progress continues, and we became to know the different departments, websites, and duties Encora Inc. has.
I would like to list them here:
- The Hub: a reliable repository of Encora’s (prev. Nearsoft’s) internal content. So the is easy to find, easy to understand, and easy to act upon.
- Training: the department that focuses on continuous learning experience, not just employees, also interns and guests.
- Leading Teams: teams that are interested in making people grow. These can be achieved by a mental and/or physical health, financial growth, and nutrition plans.
- Office Managers: staff that keeps offices running smoothly by managing necessary maintenance, purchasing, and services.
In conclusion, this week was full of knowledge, and also a lot of the nervous that we present last week kinda fade away. I am sure there so much other stuff to learn as we approach the Software Industry, so a little reminder I would like to give to my peers and myself is at the end of the day we can endure much more than we think we can.