My Adventure at Basecamp

The greatest summer camp there ever was

This summer, we worked on building the best Basecamp we know how to build. We chatted around Campfires, and as interns, were guided along the way with a mentor. We leave with new skills — not necessarily learning how to fish, how to fight off a bear, or how to live without wifi — rather technical, creative, and business skills such as learning how to use Ruby on Rails, researching, designing, experimenting, implementing new features, and seeing first hand how the whole company runs on Basecamp 3.



I’m a happy camper

I’m Michelle, one of the design interns at Basecamp this summer. I was offered a full-time remote internship to work on a series of projects with a few designers on the team.

Here was an opportunity to learn aplenty, to gain experience working on a variety of design projects, to improve my skills, and become a better designer. You bet I was going to seize it!


Why I set up camp here

There were three main reasons I wanted to join Basecamp this summer: the mentorship, the culture, and the chance to work remotely full-time.

1. Mentorship

I was mentored by Conor Muirhead for my first project and Jonas Downey for the rest of the summer. They are extraordinary designers and wonderful mentors who have been so encouraging and supportive. They never failed to explain to me how a design can be improved, how copy can be tightened up, how adding a little transition effect can make a pattern work, or how the code can be written in a more efficient manner— and more importantly, always explaining the reasoning behind it.

Meeting the team

Basecamp is filled with friendly, intelligent, and talented folks. I had the privilege to meet with almost all the gentlemen on the design team for a 1–1: Adam Stoddard, Conor Muirhead, Jamie Dihiansan, Jason Fried, Jason Zimdars, Jonas Downey, Kris Niles, and Ryan Singer. For taking time to meet me and sharing your design origin stories, recommending some reference materials, and passing on tons of advice — thank you!

2. Culture

As I was reading REWORK during the winter, I found myself nodding my head in agreement with every essay and trying to imagine what a company with this culture would be like. The biggest surprise since coming onboard this summer has been that there weren’t any surprises — it’s exactly as it was written about and that was incredible to experience, to witness, to be immersed in. To work in an environment with no drama and no office politics was sincerely a breath of fresh air.

Basecamp’s been so open and honest about the company, the culture, and even the benefits they offer. This wasn’t the kind of internship expecting you work 60+ hour weeks. They said work can wait, and they meant it and they graciously extended the 4-day Summer Week benefit for the interns, too!

3. Working remotely

One of the main reasons I wanted to have a career in tech was that in theory, you can work anytime, anywhere. Prior to this, I had only experienced working remotely one day a week at a previous job. The internship at Basecamp was full-time remote and they flew us down to Chicago to meet the team in person for a week.

Working from home means that I can set up the environment the way that works best for me. I’ve also been able to spend a lot more time with my family before I head to London, England in September. It may be just little things here and there, but it all certainly adds up. And I’m spoiled now because once you experience it and appreciate it, the thought of going back to a traditional office gig, doing the rush hour commutes, and being tied to a desk for the classic 9–5:30, doesn’t seem as appealing.


Designing at Basecamp

After coming onboard, I quickly realized that all the projects at Basecamp start with design and the designers at Basecamp do a bit of everything: write tight copy, graphic design, UX design, and front-end development, too.

It’s unlike the traditional companies or in an agency setting, where you have one person doing UX, one person doing graphic design, and another doing web development. All the designers here code things up as well, and I love that! I take great pleasure in seeing the designs come to life beyond just a mockup. Granted, it has been tricky at times, but the problem-solving and experimenting to overcome challenges get my mind racing and it’s a wonderful feeling.


The learning curve was steep

I had the distinct pleasure to tackle a variety of projects in Basecamp 3 throughout my 14 weeks as a design intern.

Working on Basecamp 3 was the first time I’ve worked with Ruby on Rails. In my first few weeks, Conor gave a rundown of how the codebase was set up and helped me learn the syntax. We also paired up often to work on some technical challenges together and since then, it’s become easier to work on development work.

Other things I ramped up on include the technology stack in Basecamp 3, the design methods, and the getting the hang of how brilliantly the company can manage everything on Basecamp 3.

When working on the personal notes design exploration, there were times that I felt like I wasn’t making progress when I took a few days away from deep implementation work to explore ideas and create mockups. Wise advice from Jonas: “You just have to shake it off, and step away from the text editor for a bit.” It was reassuring that I’m not the only one feeling this way during exploratory times. It was also on this exploration where I came across CoffeeScript for the first time. Gone are the days where js2coffee was my best friend. I’ve since been able to catch on the syntax to get it working well nowadays.

Recently, I learned how create A/B tests with Jonas, and I was excited to help line up our next few tests. We set the default behaviour to what we think is better for both the customer and the business. When the results of the first test came in, I was amazed that a slight change in wording and styling to help people make choices can make such an impact! This makes me look forward to seeing how the next few tests go.

I could honestly go on and on. This has been a challenging, fun-filled, learning adventure and it’s been such a blast to dive in, learn, and make things!


Reflections

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have come on board the team to work remotely full-time, to be immersed in the culture I’ve read a lot about in the books and on SvN, and to be able to produce work and ship some of it!

I’m 19 and I will happily be taking in all that I’ve learned this summer for the rest of my career. I learned so much from my mentors and from working on a variety of projects: from tackling the to-dos in Basecamp 3’s exports, to the personal notes design exploration, to lining up the upcoming A/B tests, lending a hand with the onboarding work, and the in-app video design exploration.

Design interning at Basecamp has been an incredible experience and a big part of that was the stellar mentors I’m lucky to have. I got to work with Jonas, Conor, and Jason this summer and as a result of their great mentorship and the work we got to do, I haven’t been more eager and driven to continue onwards learning and designing to continually get better.

Thank you to everyone at Basecamp for making this the exceptional experience it has been.


You can check out some of my work that’s shipped on Basecamp 3! 💚 
I often share my latest adventures in design and gelato-making on Twitter.


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