Engineering Internships at Intercom

When you think of tech there are only a few places that come to mind.
The Valley, headquartered by firms like Google and Apple, or perhaps Seattle, where Microsoft and Amazon are based. You'd never think across the world, Dublin, because that's where I ended up.

Peng demoing his work to the Dublin and San Francisco offices.

Coming from the University of Waterloo, software internships are all too familiar to me. Every year, thousands of students from hundreds of universities take up software engineering internships at companies all over the world. These internships boast high salaries, perks like free food, but most importantly a chance to work and learn from the best companies tech has to offer. The motto of "no pet projects", and "interns are just like any other engineer on the team" is echoed by almost every company that wants to attract the best. And for the most part, the companies deliver. People are put on real work that has to be done, work such as redesigning Airbnb's inbox UI, to prototyping new pub sub message systems. It’s real work, work that if not done by an intern, will be taken up by a full time engineer.

But real work doesn't have to be interesting work, and big tech companies come with a lot of baggage. Slow deployment pipelines, lots of bureaucracy, and the chance of being put on a team far from the actual product. The escape from the big company baggage, while still preserving the benefits of the great tech internship, is to join a startup. They move fast, there's always something to do and you can always find something that you can invest in. And the thing about startups is that you can find them in all shapes and sizes. And I found mine at Intercom.

At Intercom, I'm a product engineer intern on the Acquire team. The Acquire team is one of the several product teams that own their respective Intercom product. This meant I was working on all layers of the stack, from the backend Rails application to the front-end interface in Ember.js. In many aspects Intercom is just what you'd expect. A startup that moves fast, ships multiple times a day, and does it with great efficiency. They push for a merge to production on the first day, and an impactful change to the application by your first week. They achieve this by shipping in cupcake iterations of small but real changes, clearly defined in Intermissions. The expectation to ship continuously doesn't stop and I had to constantly remind myself to breakdown additions into small pieces so we can keep shipping.

But to be absolutely honest, a lot of this can be found in a lot of different startups. These things are really just the industry standards of a great tech startup.

What was really different to me about Intercom was how it approached the product. When I joined the Acquire team, while the product itself has launched, the vision for the product and the upcoming roadmap still hasn't been finalized. My first surprise was that everyone on the team was involved in the definition of the product and the upcoming roadmap. The decisions weren't made by the product managers and the rest of the product team, tucked away from engineering. Instead the entire team got together with a draft of the state of the present product, and we started talking through the present to the future. Everyone was given a chance to contribute and we put together what we wanted to include in our roadmap. We got to fight for what we thought was important and discover the strengths and weaknesses of Acquire. Yes, the roadmap still needed approval from Paul, our VP of Product, but we had a significant impact in shaping what we as a team will work on in the upcoming quarter. Of course product evolution doesn't just stop at the roadmap. The process of identifying improvements and changes is an ongoing process, and I'm happy to say that the whole team is always involved. This whole process of defining our team, our product, and how we'll reach our goals gave me a great sense of insight as well as build loyalty. Loyalty to the team and the product where I'm not just an engineer, but a part of the product.

So Intercom is a great tech startup where you'd experience all that you'd usually expect. In addition for me, I got to see how products are developed, help shape the changes, and eventually become part of the product. An experience I'd struggle to find elsewhere.

When you know it's been a good demo.

Peng joined Intercom from the University of Waterloo as a Product Engineering Intern for four months.