As I started my fourth semester of university, I began to think about summer jobs. During my search, I found an application for an internship.
“Basecamp is looking for interns for summer 2017”
Being so early in my degree, I definitely didn’t think I was qualified, so I sent it along to some friends who I thought were great candidates. I didn’t intend to apply, but eventually gave in to a friend who told me that I should. I was hopeful, but I wasn’t really expecting it to go any further than the application.
Two interviews and several weeks later, I somehow landed the internship.
. . .
I’m Megan and for the past twelve weeks, I have been the customer support intern at Basecamp.
Basecamp interns don’t fetch coffee. Being in a remote position would make that task pretty difficult. 😄
Instead, we work on projects that matter to us. We get to contribute real improvements to the company with guidance from our trusty mentors.
So what did I do for twelve weeks?
I worked on coming up with ways to improve the Basecamp social media presence — specifically on Instagram. Outside of Twitter, Basecamp’s social media platforms (Instagram and Facebook) lacked in content and consistency.
I decided to diverge from the traditional marketing and advertising approach that most companies use on Instagram. Instead, my main focus was on customer education. I wanted customers to look at our social media and to be able to learn things, talk to us, and to ask questions. I also wanted to make sure that Basecamp customers felt like they were talking to someone in customer support, and not to an advertising team.
How did I create a learning environment out of a platform meant for marketing?
I didn’t immediately know how I was going to approach the project. It took some trial and error before we arrived at the idea to create an educational space out of Instagram. I started out with the intention of doing the high-quality photos we typically see on Instagram, along with a few educational Instagram stories. These stories were only up for a 24 hour time period. After a few weeks of this, I began to realize the value of customer education.
With guidance from my mentors Chase and Merissa, I decided to move the educational Instagram stories to permanent posts. I also replaced my higher-end photography posts with educational posts and useful tips to help our customers get the most out of Basecamp. Instead of just liking our posts, Customers began to comment and thank us for sharing these tips. People mentioned that these posts were teaching them new things, and helping them with their work flow.
The customer education approach became the core of my internship. I thoroughly enjoyed using Instagram differently than most other companies, and it was rewarding to know that our customers were levelling up their Basecamp skills because of it.
With my internship wrapping up, my mentors and I have been preparing for my departure. I’m passing on what I’ve learned during the past few months to other team members that will be taking over Basecamp’s social media sphere. I love that the team is taking my work and applying it to how they’ll use social media in the future. It’s a reminder that my work here matters. Even though I’m only an intern, I can still make my mark on the company.
Basecamp has created an excellent program for their interns. Not once did I ever feel helpless. My mentors were readily available to answer my questions, to share ideas, and to point me in the right direction. When it was after my mentors’ work hours, I always had the option of reaching out to dozens of other team members who were always more than happy to help.
The best part of this whole experience was being able to work on a project that actually meant something to me. My project was by my design, and I was in charge of the direction it went. The company could have so easily laid out a schedule of meticulous tasks and projects for the interns to do. But instead, our mentors created a space where we could actually share our ideas and make our mark on the company. They really make you feel like you’re an important part of the team.
I have learned a lot from this experience. This internship has provided me with the tools to be confident in myself and my abilities to work in a professional environment. I’m grateful that I got to be a part of this awesome remote team. It’s been interesting to test out different social media approaches and to arrive at the educational niche that fits Basecamp so well. I’m also excited to carry on all of the things I’ve learned from this internship to my career in the years to come.
I want to thank everyone here at Basecamp, and all of the customers who I talked to along the way, for making this internship an unforgettable experience.
Basecamp’s “team data” recently doubled in size with Justin White joining us full-time as a programmer. We’ve been in the data business at Basecamp for over six years, but the occasion of hiring a second team member caused me to reflect on why Team Data exists, what it does, and how we work.
A simple objective: make Basecamp better
We’re basically interested in three things on Team Data:
Make Basecamp-the-product better to help our customers achieve their goals.
Make Basecamp-the-company a great place to work.
Make Basecamp-the-business successful.
These are really the same fundamental objectives every team at Basecamp is working towards, and each team has their own specific angle on this. The support team focuses on how their interactions with customers can achieve these goals, the design and development teams focus on how the functionality of Basecamp itself can achieve these goals, etc.
On the data team, we primarily attempt to use quantitative information to achieve these goals. Our approach isn’t necessarily the best approach for every problem, but it’s the angle we take on things. If we can’t address a specific question or problem with some sort of number, we probably aren’t the best team to answer it, and we’ll gladly defer to the perspective others can bring to bear.
What we do
Pretty much everything we do on Team Data falls into one of two categories:
We answer questions about Basecamp using data and make recommendations. The questions we tackle span a wide range: from specific questions about how a feature is used, to understanding how a change we made impacted signups, to open questions about how we can improve some aspect of business performance.
We build infrastructure and tools to a) support our ability to answer the questions above, and b) help others at Basecamp accomplish their work more effectively.
We occasionally do things that don’t fall into either of those categories, but the core of what we do falls into either analysis or infrastructure.
A sampling of our work over the past few months includes:
Analyzing the performance of a new marketing site and account setup process.
Improving the internal dashboard app that powers many of our internal tools by removing thousands of lines of dead code and upgrading to a modern version of Rails.
Helped design, implement, and analyze a dozen A/B tests.
Migrating our data infrastructure from on-premise hardware to cloud-based services.
Analyzed the sequencing of notifications sent by Basecamp and recommended ways to adjust timing.
Things we believe about ourselves
Every team at every company has a set of beliefs about how they work, whether they are aware of them, acknowledge them, or codify them. Here on team data, there are a few tenets that we try to embody that we’ve taken the time to write down:
We are scientists. Wherever possible, we apply the scientific method to solving problems, whether through analysis or engineering.
We are objective. There’s no agenda on team data other than seeking the truth; we report the facts whether we like them or not.
We try for simple. We don’t use a machine learning model when a heuristic will do, and we don’t write complicated programs when a simple `awk` one liner will work.
We are rigorous. When a problem demands a nuanced understanding or when data needs to be high quality, we stick to those requirements. We’d rather over-explain a complicated situation than over-simplify it.
We are technology and tool agnostic. Ruby, Go, Scala, R, Python — whatever the best tool for the job is. When possible, we use open-source or third-party tools, but we’ll build what’s needed that isn’t otherwise available.
We collaborate, engaging in peer review of analysis and code.
We don’t hit all of these points on every day, but they’re the aspiration we’re working towards.
How we work
Unlike the core product teams at Basecamp, we don’t explicitly work in six week cycles, and we tend to each have multiple projects under way at any given time. Many of our projects are a couple days or weeks, and some stretch over six months or a year. We might do some instrumentation today and then back burner that for 30 days while we wait for data to collect, or a thorny problem might wait until we figure out how to solve it.
Generally, Justin spends about 80% of his time working on infrastructure and the remainder on analysis, and I spend about 80% of my time on analysis and the remainder on infrastructure. This is mostly about specialization — Justin is a far better programmer than I am, and I have more experience and background with analytics than he has. We don’t hit this split exactly, but it’s our general goal.
We get lots of specific requests from others at Basecamp: questions they’d like answered, tools that would help them do their work, etc., and we also have a long list of bigger projects that we’d like to achieve. We explicitly reserve 20% of our time to devote to responding directly to requests, and we both try to set aside Fridays to do just that.
Anyone can add a request to a todolist in our primary Basecamp project, and we’ll triage it, figure out who is best equipped to fulfill it, and try to answer it. Some requests get fulfilled in 20 minutes; we have other requests that have been around for months. That’s ok — we embrace the constraint of not having unlimited time, and we admit that we can’t answer every question that comes up.
Outside of requests, we collaborate with and lean on lots of other teams at Basecamp. We build some of the tooling that the operations team uses for monitoring and operating our applications, and they provide the baseline infrastructure we build our data systems on. We collaborate with developers and designers to figure out how what data or analysis is helpful as they design and evaluate new features. We work closely with people working on improving basecamp.com and the onboarding experience through A/B testing, providing advice on experimental design, analysis, etc.
One of the most visible things our team does is put out a chart-of-the-day; some piece of what we’re working on, shared daily with the whole company.
Like the rest of Basecamp, we don’t do daily stand-ups or formal status meetings. Justin and I hop on a Google Hangout once a week to review results, help each other get unstuck on problems, and — since Justin is still relatively new to team data — walk through one piece of how our data infrastructure works and discuss areas for improvement each week. Other than that, all of our collaboration happens via Basecamp itself, through pings, messages, comments, etc.
Sound like fun?
Here’s the shameless plug: If you read the above and it sounds like your cup of tea, and you’re a student or aspiring data analyst, I hope you’ll consider joining us this summer as an intern. You’ll work mostly on the analysis side of things: you’ll take requests off our main request list and projects from our backlog, structure the question into something that can be answered quantitatively, figure out what data you need to answer that question, figure out how to get the data, perform analysis, write up results, and make recommendations.
Back in May, when I started my internship at Basecamp — the company known for creating Rails and very popular project management apps — I was nervous, intimidated, and self-doubting: What did I know about tech and about coding?
I questioned if I belonged, whether I misrepresented myself and my emerging programming skills on my application, and if I could hack (pun sort of intended?) this new environment and expectations.
Early on during the internship, I was asked to code an announcements feature in Rails. I felt daunted and out of my league and frantically started learning Rails. Gradually though, I made progress and learned a lot (and started to understand why people fall in love with Rails!).
The internship sparked my introduction to a larger community of mentors and inspiring folks in tech. I began to meet Rails developers and designers — at Basecamp, as well as in Atlanta where I live and elsewhere — and loved meeting kind folks who were eager to share their knowledge and time.
A few weeks later, Basecamp flew all the interns to Chicago so we could meet each other and our respective mentors, and we had the chance to experience Basecamp culture first-hand. They put us up in cozy hotel rooms, fed us many delectable meals, and took us out for a lovely outing. We also shared meals, interns shared what they’re working on and, in turn, Basecamp veterans shared their work too.
The company’s generosity also extended to how and when we worked too: each of us worked remotely from anywhere in the world, received healthy compensation, and came to the ‘office’ four days a week (their usual schedule during the summer).
It became pretty clear that Basecamp was truly invested in mentoring and offering resources to interns (with no pre-conceived notions or strings attached), and that they looked forward to the possibility of interns serving as Basecamp ambassadors in the future.
Well, by day two of the meetup, my concerns totally dissipated.
Some background info I should share is that, several months prior to the internship, I made a hard decision to resign as an assistant professor in poetry to seek a healthier work-life balance, one that involved way less bureaucracy, strict hierarchies, “committee fatigue,” insane work hours, etc.
I realized, thankfully, that Basecamp was very different. Likewise, the internship was a rare opportunity offering lots of flexibility, and I could actively shape my experience.
While a part of me wanted to hunker down and learn nothing but Rails, I also felt compelled by the opportunity to work with multiple folks, to try on different hats. As a relative newbie to tech, I wanted to gain a better sense of where my strengths could lie in this new arena, so I decided to aim for breadth of experience and to explore wildly.
This was such a gift — to have room to play and follow my desire path of learning.
So I learned about Rails, user experience, web accessibility standards, QA testing, Turbolinks, customer support approaches, and helped coordinate a podcast episode, “Grateful Heads,” for The Distance, which involved learning how to use audio equipment and recording interviews at Langford’s Barber Shop, a black-owned business and landmark in Atlanta since 1964.
And, as importantly, the internship offered the chance to see how a relatively small team at a very successful tech company continues to foster their own path.
As someone who grew up in a teeny Florida town with few Asian Americans and as a first-generation college student (my mother didn’t have the opportunity to finish middle school and my father had to leave college for the military), I’m used to feeling a little out of place at times or understanding what it’s like to have assumptions made based on difference, but that experience gets very old.
For instance (have to laugh sometimes), I’ve had well-meaning strangers ask me for miso recommendations, wonder if I worked at a nearby massage parlor, or mistake my quietness for a lack of ideas or confidence.
While giving feedback about the internship, I mentioned how seeing other women and people of color on Basecamp’s team made a big difference as to whether I would apply or not, and I can honestly say, I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
I gradually understood how much Basecamp truly wanted all of us to succeed and how they were essentially giving us a big field to play in, to explore, make mistakes, collaborate, build, and forge our individual paths of learning. To be welcomed in such a way and to feel validated at Basecamp was a turning point for seeking out this new path.
This generosity was pivotal for me and a gift larger than its box, so to speak, and way more impactful than what I had expected.
While I still feel those pangs of “imposter syndrome” now and again (just completed my third month on Basecamp’s support team!), they have gradually quieted down, from a fury to occasional blips as I learn more and more to trust myself, my instincts, my developing skills, and what unique things I hope to contribute for our team.
And I’m continuing to learn at Basecamp — about coding and visual design, for starters, and about innovate ways to approach customer support!
So when the gift is larger than the box, all you can do — should do — is take it humbly and lumber home with it in your grateful arms.
It all started in September 2015. I had recently graduated from DePaul University in Chicago, where I had studied Information Technology, and I was flying out to San Francisco to join the ranks of Silicon Valley — the promised land for any twenty something tech hopeful. “All the biggest and best companies are out there. That’s where I want to be,” I told myself.
I always knew I’d be working in tech. I had my first computer when I was about four years old, and I vividly remember the look of MS-DOS as I watched my father install a Star Wars X-Wing simulator on it. I’d always been fascinated by computers, and finding out how they worked. It only made sense that I’d make that my life profession and move out to Silicon Valley.
I planned on being in the Bay Area for two weeks. After my first week, I knew it wasn’t for me. I went to countless Ruby, Rails, and other tech oriented networking events, talked to some founders, and set up some interviews. None of it felt right. I felt like a number, a cog in the tech machine. It was all about making it big and getting that next round of VC funding. That’s not what I envisioned it to be like. On top of that, I felt hostility when telling people at the coffee shops that I was there to get a job in tech. It was as if people wanted nothing to do with me once they found out I was trying to implant myself there and contribute to the decline in culture and rise in tech that has proliferated throughout the Bay Area. I wanted out.
I stayed for part of the trip with a friend who worked at Google. I used to dream of working at a company like Google when I was in school… but seeing the reality of it made me question that dream. At Google, my friend said he’d routinely put in 80-hour work weeks. That’s insane! It was like a badge of honor to people out there. Granted, part of that was his two hour bus ride to and from Mountain View, but still, there was no way I was going to be doing that, even if that’s what it took to be a Googler.
I no longer wanted to be a cog in the Silicon Valley machine. I wanted to be a human, working for a company that valued me, and enabled me to do meaningful work that would help me make my small dent in the universe. I went home to Chicago and refocused. I started to think about what type of company I wanted to work at. I wanted to work somewhere that would care about me as a person, enable me to positively impact other people’s lives, and preferably do some sort of work with Ruby on Rails.
One morning in January, while doing my usual job-hunting, I saw DHH tweeting about an internship program for the Summer of 2016. This was my shot. I’d dreamed of working at Basecamp, and maybe the internship program would give me that edge I needed to get started with my career in Ruby on Rails. It wasn’t the full time job I was looking for at the time, but after reading the internship description, I was in love. I knew this was for me. It was everything Silicon Valley wasn’t. Basecamp was hosting an internship program that treated their employees like humans, and like real professionals. This was a far cry from the traditional “go get me coffee” or “file my papers” internships you hear about. We’d be solving real problems the business faced, given a foundation to learn and grow, and be treated like the managers-of-one they were looking to bring on board.
I finally heard back about a month after I had applied, and to my excitement, they wanted to interview me! I prepared for the interview by going over my Ruby on Rails knowledge, practiced the FizzBuzz test, and went over past interview questions I’d gotten with other companies while out in California. None of that was needed. That’s not the Basecamp way… I should have known. I’d read REWORK and REMOTE after all — we don’t hire programmers based on parlor tricks, so why I thought their internship interviews would be any different is beyond me. Perhaps I was still stuck under the delusions of Silicon Valley — I forgot this doesn’t have to be the norm.
Instead of whiteboard problems and FizzBuzz tests, I had a very human talk with two different Basecampers. We talked about why I wanted to be an intern at Basecamp, what projects I’d done in the past, and even got nerdy and did a deep dive into how I did geolocation for a weather website I’d made. I left the interviews thinking, “That felt like talking to a friend, not like an interrogation.” That’s how an interview should feel.
During my internship, I was given complete freedom to work on my own while helping build out internal tools that helped make fellow Basecampers jobs a bit easier. I remember my first day, I asked, “Where do I start?” and my mentor looked at me and said, “Wherever you want.” It was on me to find a problem, set my own direction, and build out a solution. The type of work I was doing wasn’t meaningless grunt work like most internships I hear about, but instead I was doing work that impacted people every day. Feedback like, “This is such a wonderful feature that will get a ton of usage. Your work will have a meaningful and positive impact on our day to day work lives for a long time,” was the norm here.
As my internship came to an end, I looked back on the work I had done and realized I was beginning to make my small dent in the universe. I’d had the opportunity to work on all of our internal tools, and even got to make a few entirely new ones myself. The things I made are being used every day, and they solved real problems we faced as a business. I was able to do meaningful and rewarding work during my internship. I was treated with respect, given autonomy, and in return, I was able to put my best work forward to make Basecamp the best company and product that I knew how to make.
At Basecamp, I was treated as a thoughtful tech professional. They believe in a 40-hour work week, so that I could enjoy my time outside of work just as much as I love sitting down at my computer to write code. It’s that type of culture that has made Basecamp such a great company, and that same ethos oozes into every part of the product. I found myself at a place that cared much more about the customers than the bottom line. It’s incredibly inspiring and refreshing to see that. I’m now working at Basecamp on Team Data, and I’m looking forward to making my dent, on my own terms. Being at Basecamp is the anti-Silicon Valley, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Interested in becoming an intern at Basecamp during the Summer of 2017? We’re looking for brilliant managers-of-one who are interested in making a difference while working on real business problems, with a passion to make Basecamp a better place. If that sounds like you, head over to our internship page and apply!
Basecamp is looking for talented interns to join our team this summer. We’re excited to work with you, and the things you work on will impact millions of users at the world’s leading online project management tool.
The deadline for applying for a summer internship at Basecamp is February 10, 2017.
About the Basecamp summer internship program
Interns at Basecamp don’t fetch coffee. They don’t file papers or book meeting rooms. They work on real projects that have a real impact on our company, our products, and our customers. You’ll leave Basecamp with new technical, creative, and business skills and having accomplished something significant.
As an intern, you’ll work with a mentor in the company. That person will be your go-to for questions and guidance about your project, about Basecamp, and about the industry in general. You’ll participate in our Campfire rooms with the entire company. You’ll say “good morning” in All Talk, discuss ideas in Building Basecamp, and post pet pics in All Pets.
Internships at Basecamp are remote — you can work from anywhere you want, provided there’s some overlap in time zones with your assigned mentor. We’ll fly you to the Chicago office once during the summer to get together with your mentor and the rest of the intern class, and you’ll talk regularly with your mentor via phone, Skype, or Google Hangouts.
All internships are paid and require a commitment of 8–12 weeks of full time work between May and August 2017 (we’re flexible on start/end dates, planned vacations, etc.).
We’re hiring interns across the company — we have openings in programming, product design, operations, support, and data. Regardless of role, there are a few key things we’re looking for in interns:
You are independent and self-driven. Basecamp is built on the concept of being a team of “managers of one”, and that applies to interns as well. You’ll get plenty of support and guidance from your mentor and the rest of the team, but no one will be telling you how to spend each minute of your day, so it’ll be up to you to make sure you’re making forward progress.
You are an excellent communicator. We write a lot at Basecamp — we write for our products, we write for our marketing sites and initiatives, we write to our customers, and most importantly, we write as our primary way of communicating internally (using Basecamp, of course). Clear and effective communication is essential to being successful at Basecamp.
You have fresh ideas and you’re willing to share them. We don’t know it all, and we actively want to hear fresh ideas and perspectives that we haven’t considered.
You’re eager to learn. You’ll dive right in to new technologies, new approaches, and new concepts and apply them to your work.
You’re not a computer science or design student? That’s not a problem. Past interns have been philosophy majors, poets, improv comic performers, and gelato makers, as well as computer science and design students. We’re not sticklers for traditional education.
How to apply
We’ve deliberately kept the application simple so you can tell us about yourself the way you want to. We want to know why you want to be an intern at Basecamp, what you’re interested in working on, what work you’ve done in the past, and why we should hire you. Give us the URL to your portfolio, blog, GitHub site, etc. Add a resume if you want, but remember, we’re always impressed by a great cover letter.
Oh, and while we love Basecamp, inviting us to a Basecamp project isn’t a great way to apply for a spot here. So please don’t do that.
You’ll be working on a real project that matters to the company and the team that you’re working with, and you’ll be expected to own and contribute to the project. You’ll have the opportunity to shape the project with your mentor to meet the needs of the company and the things you’re interested in working on. We’re looking for interns on the following teams:
Data: We’re looking for someone who loves data. Someone who gets a CSV file of new data and can’t wait to dig in and start exploring. Someone who is excited to write great SQL queries and discover new R packages. We believe that data science is mostly about basic arithmetic, business judgement, and problem solving, so we value foundational skills more than machine learning experience.
You’ll spend your summer conducting independent analyses to answer important questions we have. Recent questions you might have answered have been about customer demographics, usage of Basecamp on mobile phones, conversion rates over time, or A/B test results. You’ll identify the data you need to answer the question, perform analysis, create visualizations, and write up a compelling story. You’ll also participate in peer review of other analyses, weigh in on other team data projects, and contribute to our daily chart habit.
iOS: Have you created an app that runs on your phone? We’re looking for a programmer who displays ingenuity and the skill to create software for iOS that considers the user as well as the code. If you have a product in the App Store, we’d love to see it! We’re also impressed with projects built for personal curiosity or coursework. We’re more interested in seeing that you have the aptitude to make something real than seeing what classes you’ve taken.
Examples of the kind of work you’d be doing include: Create a media viewer with gesture based controls and the ability to browse uploads of different types; Provide a way to quickly add To-do items from the home screen or a Today widget; Examine analytics data and use it to inform improvements that can be made in the app; Create a presentation mode that shows an alternate view over AirPlay for in-person meetings.
Ops: We’re less concerned with how much ops-specific knowledge you have and more interested in your ability to problem-solve and adapt, and most critically, learn. Familiarity with the command line and bash/zsh/git etc is a big plus, as is an interest in the Ops arena of problems and how systems are put together.
We’re in the middle of a huge transition from on-premises to cloud-based infrastructure, and we’ve always got something that we are interested in exploring, whether that’s alternate container runtimes, better blue/green deploy methods, better access-control and authen/authz systems (LDAP?), smaller, more efficient container strategies, or better local development methodologies.
Product design: Projects at Basecamp always start with design first, so you’ll have a unique opportunity to learn how we turn nascent ideas into real, working software that’s used by hundreds of thousands of people. We value experimentation, good writing, rapid iteration, and getting real. Our designers are a talented bunch — they’re responsible for everything from concepts to copywriting, prototypes, visual design, and production-quality code.
We’ll work on a handful of projects intended to give you a wide range of experience with our design process at Basecamp, including exploring a new idea from scratch, learning how to manage and scope work, and building a product feature all the way to production.
Past intern projects have included the implementation of a strong password check across all apps, adding endpoints to the Basecamp API, and helping launch an update to the Basecamp files section.
Support: We’d like to see an intern who can help out in our social media sphere. We’ve tried to get more active on Instagram, we answer questions through Twitter, and we answer a small amount of questions from users on Facebook. How can we get better at those social media channels, and are there other social media channels we’re missing out on?
Tell us about a great social media experience you were part of. What was your role in it? What was the goal, and what was the outcome? Can you give us an example of a company that uses social media exceptionally well? What makes it so great? If you’ve worked with customers anywhere (doesn’t have to be in tech — could be in fast food or retail), we’d love to hear about it. Tell us about your experience working with people who had problems that you helped solve.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I found out about Basecamp’s internship program during the winter break completely on accident. Burned out from the fall semester and unmotivated to get any work done, I gave “data science internship” a cursory Google search and happened to find Basecamp had just posted about looking for summer interns.
After reading through the description and learning about Basecamp’s kill on the cover letter mantra, I knew this application wouldn’t be like others. I meticulously combed over my resume and cover letter to make sure I was making my reviewers’ job as easy as possible. It isn’t just about checking off each requested application component: your application materials should speak to your personality, experiences, and really show the reviewer that you can deliver. Basecamp’s application reviewers had to put in tons of work, and to quote Ann:
Tell us your qualifications Demonstrate why you’re qualified. Sounds like a no brainer, right? People applied for programming internships without showing us any projects they worked on, or even describing their experience in any depth. We’re not looking for fully formed apps — these are interns after all. Projects for classes are great. Bootcamp projects are great. Simple design portfolios are all we’re looking for.
Lesson learned: don’t give application reviewers even the slightest room to reject you — their review of your materials should be as straight-forward and applicable as it should be, and no more.
(A short aside: I decided to have some fun with my cover letter by including my attempt at digitally sketching Basecamp 3’s Happy Camper mascot. Nobody has said anything to me about it, but I’m convinced this gave me a competitive edge.)
True to his word, Noah reached out to me on March 1st asking me to set up a quick phone interview with someone on the Basecamp team. I was thrilled, excited to reignite my skills, and mostly worried.
My first call was with Eron, one of Basecamp’s Ops extraordinaire (Fun fact: Eron once informed me that I tried querying our internal timeseries database with a start time of 70 seconds after January 1, 1970, which broke a thing or two. We don’t talk about that.). We had a cool discussion around the problems Basecamp had faced in the past with respect to load balancing, and the architectural challenges therein. Whereas Eron had worked on an in-house system for load balancing in the event of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), I hadn’t ever really considered the load balancing problem. The conversation was really cool, though, because the problem domain presented interesting avenues for solutions and got us talking. No useless technical screen asking me to implement a Hash-map, no quiz on the internals of Python’s GIL. Lesson learned: few companies know how to properly evaluate prospective interns — Basecamp is one of them.
Around two weeks later, Noah got in touch asking for another phone interview. Okay, I thought, now we’re in the big leagues.
It was interview time. For the past two weeks I had been preparing myself for anything Noah might throw at me that was fair game — SQL queries, Postgres internals, Python trivia, etc. Imagine my surprise when we talked about my personal projects, my interests, having to context switch between MySQL and Postgres queries, and how I’d be able to contribute to Basecamp’s data infrastructure. I remember ending the call thinking I was a bit too casual — after all, not one line of code was written during a startup’s interview process? I must have been funneled into the “call, but don’t bother asking to code” subset. I sent Noah a thank-you email and figured that was the end of that — after all, there was only room for one data science intern.
Three weeks later, I was at the library studying for midterms. Ding. I checked my phone. “Join us at Basecamp this summer!” Lesson learned: don’t let your dreams be dreams. (Actual lesson learned: the logo worked!)
So what did I actually do at Basecamp? With Noah’s frequent guidance I built Thermometer, which is our embarrassingly-parallel aberration detection system designed to autonomously report any aberrations across our 10,000+ internal metrics in real-time. Thermometer was both an engineering and data science challenge — I constantly thought about the trade-offs between performance and statistical rigor, and with Noah’s help quickly settled a great equilibrium.
Alongside Thermometer I also developed and internally released Thermos, an R package designed to keep Thermometer’s logic straightforward and abstract away the nitty-gritty bits of anomaly detection. I learned a ton about package development and came to truly dedicate my allegiance to the Hadley-verse.
Towards the end of my time here, Noah and I have been pairing up and walking through a few different A/B tests. Each time I get to pair up with Noah on a task, it’s really humbling to see how much I can improve as a data scientist. Things that would take me at least an hour or two to recognize, diagnose, and implement is a casual 1-line fix for him. Lesson learned (in the best way possible): you don’t know anything — yet.
Give back and have an impact on the community Challenge ourselves to grow Improve Basecamp (the product and company)
I like to think that as a data science intern, I was able to consistently experience the intent behind all three everyday.
Problem-solving, meet the real world
When building Thermometer there were times where I lost sight of what to do next — there was so much! On top of having to deal with real world edge cases and meet certain features, I had never worked on something this conceptually large before. Not to mention I owned 100% of all the commits to Thermometer and Thermos — I should be Noah’s go-to for questions on Thermometer, not the other way around. Time and time again, however, I would ping Noah about a function I had written and ask about code quality, logic integrity, and more.
This isn’t to say I was struggling for air — I also got to propose solutions, discuss trade-offs of pursuing potential solutions, defend certain design decisions, and really feel like a full-time member of the data team. Treating interns as employees was without a doubt the norm at Basecamp, and it reinforces the people-first culture of betterment and transparency at all levels.
The Boy Scout Rule
Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it.
Working on Thermometer and Thermos gave me the opportunity to impact a real-world system at scale. Sharing my achievements with the company was a total confidence-booster, and as a builder it’s awesome when people use something you’ve made. I’ve left Basecamp in better shape to handle data problems in the future than how it was before — and in many ways that has made all the difference.
Basecamp surrounds its interns with so many opportunities to grow, collaborate, learn, and contribute. I’ve been fortunate to gain a crazy amount of both technical and domain knowledge, and it’s in large part thanks to the two-fold effort from the culture’s emphasis on communication and transparency and Noah’s exceptional skills as a data scientist, multi-tasker, and mentor.
Each day presented another challenge, and I got to learn from and face each one with a wide smile. There’s no better feeling than solving a problem you’ve been stuck on for days and knowing that your work is going to be used to support an entire organization, and I’ve grown to appreciate those hair-pulling moments of frustration as learning experiences.
We recently had a problem with our interns. Now, in terms of problems, it was a good one to have. I noticed some of them working on their days off or very late/early hours. That’s not how we roll here, so I had to issue a smack down.
Peer pressure is a real thing
It’s not overt, mind you. Our interns weren’t doing keg stands and listening to Dave Matthews and streaking across the quad. One person notices another working on a day off and feels pressured to do the same. The pressure is subtle, and it’s generated internally. Am I Interning enough? Is she Interning more than me? By not stopping it, we give it our tacit approval.
This sort of thing erupted on our Support team a while back. People felt they couldn’t take a sick day without letting the team down. So other people who were sick also didn’t take a day off to rest. Soon we were calling ourselves Team Tiny Tim. And that’s not good for anyone.
Taking days off sets healthy boundaries and expectations
It’s hard to walk away from the computers at the end of a work day. And on a day off, while looking at Facebook (or Tumblr? I don’t know what the kids look at these days), why not peek at Basecamp too? Oh, might as well respond to that message! Or post in Campfire! Or look at those to-dos that are still open…
Part of the goal with these internships is to teach folks how to navigate a professional job, beyond the job duties themselves. This summer, they’re peeking at Basecamp out of enthusiasm. In the future, they may be at a job where they feel pressured to work after hours simply because they have more to do than they can accomplish in a regular work week. Sound familiar to anyone?
Remember what I said about our Support team not taking sick days? They felt guilty about the increased workload on their coworkers. But because no one was taking a sick day, we weren’t able to identify a problem: the Support team was understaffed. We needed to hire people to reduce that workload and allow for days off, both planned and unexpected. And that didn’t become apparent until people started actually taking a day off.
We have a very talented group of interns this summer, and because of that, it would be easy for us to forget that they’re *interns*. It’s possible that we’ve under-estimated how long it will take for folks to accomplish the tasks we’ve given them. They may need more guidance on something than we thought. They’re learning, and we shouldn’t forget that. So I encouraged our interns to pay attention to their hours this summer and to get a sense of what they can reasonably accomplish in an 8 hour work day. That’s a skill that will serve them well.
We mean it, but we set a terrible example
A look through our Latest Activity feed reveals that full-time Basecampers log work after-hours or on our days off. We’ll post in Campfire rooms. We’ll complete to-dos and upload files. I’m totally guilty of looking through Basecamp on my phone while I’m sitting on my couch watching terrible tv shows. I need to put down the phone and pick up my knitting instead. Or maybe go outside. Baby steps.
I think part of why we write so much about work-life balance is to remind ourselves it’s ok to walk away from Basecamp. These posts create a different kind of peer-pressure: my gentle, polite smack-down encouraged not only the interns to take their days off, but also some full-time coworkers.
It’s hard work not working. It takes a lot of practice to build healthy boundaries, and a lot of practice to sustain them. Natalie Keshlear, from our support team, thinks a lot about work-life balance, and started a basecamp to help the rest of us disconnect from work. It’s called Carecamp. I asked her to write up a SvN post about it, and she told me she’d love to, but she was starting her sabbatical the next day and would do it when she got back.
Thanks for setting a good example, Natalie! Enjoy your month of healthy boundaries!
We’re excited to be running our largest summer internship program ever at Basecamp. We have an exceptional and diverse class of eleven interns who will be joining us for the summer, and couldn’t be more thrilled to have them.
The process of hiring our interns ended up being one of the hardest and most enjoyable experiences of my professional career. I want to share a little bit about how we approached it, what we learned, and some advice for future interns candidates and internship coordinators.
Why even have an intern program?
There are three compelling reasons for Basecamp to offer internships:
Give back and have an impact on the community — We all started somewhere, and for many of us, internship or early employment opportunities dramatically impacted the course of our careers. This is our chance to give that opportunity to the next generation of developers, designers, etc., just like someone did for us all those years ago. In addition, the Basecamp perspective on product development, programming, and even data science is no doubt quite a bit different from what is commonly taught in schools. Internships give students an opportunity to see how things are done in the “real world,” and for us to impact the way future industry leaders think about problems at a formative point in their development.
Challenge ourselves to grow — As a company, we have limited experience bringing people up to speed quickly, particularly at the entry level; most of the people we hire are mid-career, and we screen heavily for managers of one. Internships present a unique challenge for us: How do you take someone with little or no industry experience, teach them practical and critical thinking skills, and help them get to a completed project in two or three months? I think there are real opportunities to learn from that experience in terms of how we onboard, communicate values and approaches, structure projects, share feedback, etc., and we’ll see those benefits pay back long after the interns have left us.
Improve Basecamp (the product and company) — We’ve had past interns have an incredible impact on Basecamp, both in terms of bringing new ideas and doing high-quality, important work on the product. While I personally think an internship program would be a success and worth doing even if we only hit reasons #1 and #2, the icing on the cake is the great impact that interns can end up having in their actual work.
What were we looking for?
We structured our internship program a little differently than most do, in a couple of important ways:
Rather than hire interns generically for a department, we chose to structure the program around concrete projects with a specific mentor. These projects were all real projects that we want done at Basecamp, and they’re the interns to own for the summer.
We’re a remote company, so we hired remote interns. While we’ve had interns in the past, they’ve actually always been in Chicago — this is our first time running a remote internship program.
We were looking for interns in programming, design, operations, marketing, and data, so there’s no technical skills profile common to all of the positions. What was common was our desire to have an impact on interns at an early moment in their career and to see them go on to great things in the future. Here’s what I wrote to the team as we started evaluating intern candidates:
The biggest thing we’re looking for in interns is potential. We don’t expect interns to be as capable as a full time employee, and we expect that they’ll learn things along the way, so what we’re really looking for is someone who we think will develop into a great programmer, designer, marketeer, analyst, etc. with some guidance and support.
The process we used
The process of hiring our interns stretched from late December until the end of March, including finalizing projects, advertising the program, screening applications, and a couple rounds of interviews. Here’s how we did it.
Getting the word out
We advertised on our website, We Work Remotely, Signal v. Noise, Twitter, Facebook, and a variety of college and other job boards. The application process for interns was simple: send us an email explaining why you want to be an intern at Basecamp, what projects you’re interested in working on, what work you’ve done in the past, and why we should hire you. Include a resume if you’d like, but it’s not required — we care far more about great cover letters. We set a deadline for application about six weeks after we started advertising the program.
Initial application screening
We received 646 email applications, including over 200 in the final week of the application period. Each application was loaded into a Basecamp project for review by at least two team members, looking for pretty basic stuff — is there any potential that this person could be a viable intern candidate at Basecamp? Are they actually applying for the job? Do they have any relevant background? Can they communicate clearly? Did they follow the basics of the application instructions?
After reviewing an application, each reviewer gave a simple yes or no recommendation on proceeding with their candidacy. One “yes” from a Basecamper got an applicant through to the next round, or two rejections eliminated them from consideration. Eight different Basecamp staff members dedicated time to reviewing applications, ranging from a dozen to hundreds of applications each.
After reviewing all of the applications, we invited 114 candidates (about 18% of the total application pool) to schedule a brief 20-minute phone call with someone at Basecamp, and we were able to successfully connect with 100 people (some had already accepted other internship offers or never replied to our invitation).
These calls were intended to give us an opportunity to get to know candidates, better understand their motivation and skills, and give them a chance to ask us any questions. Several of us conducted these interviews, and while we all asked questions a little differently, the general rubric for these interviews went like:
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Why are you interested in working at Basecamp? Why this project in particular?
What are you hoping to get out of the summer?
Can you tell me about a recent project that you worked on that you’re particularly proud of?
Do you have any concerns about working remotely?
Can you tell me about your experience with <various project specific technologies>?
Do you have any questions for me?
After each interview, the interviewer wrote up notes from the call about what was said, what their impressions were, and whether they’d recommend them for a specific project.
Final interviews with mentors
Following the phone screens, each mentor chose who they wanted to talk to further and set up video or phone interviews to ask project specific questions. I don’t have an exact count of how many of these we did, but we talked to roughly 30 candidates in this final stage. For some projects, candidates also had a further follow-up conversation with the rest of the team they’d be working with.
After interviewing all of the candidates they were interested in, mentors and their teams chose interns to make offers to, which we extended at the end of March. We also notified each candidate that wasn’t selected as quickly as we could.
We ended up hiring 11 interns for the summer: 9 for full summer-long projects and 2 interns who will be working on a handful of smaller projects during the summer.
Tips for prospective interns
After you review hundreds of applications, you start to see a few things that commonly occur in great applications, and a few things that are common in applications that aren’t so great. Ann, who reviewed most of the applications and conducted many of the screening interviews, wrote up a few of the things that stood out to her during the review process:
Follow the directions Following directions is such an important thing & I was amazed by how many people don’t get that. It was really simple for people because we didn’t ask for that much.
We wanted to know which internship people were interested in, along with a cover letter, and some info about their qualifications. You know us — we’re not sticklers for resumes. But we need to know why people think they’re qualified & what they want.
Communicate clearly If I wasn’t on board with the ‘hire good writers’ philosophy before, holy cow am I on board now. I didn’t need people to be funny, or to be super creative, or to have ✨pizzaz✨. I just needed them to articulate who they were, what they were interested in & what their qualifications are.
Tell us your qualifications Demonstrate why you’re qualified. Sounds like a no brainer, right? People applied for programming internships without showing us any projects they worked on, or even describing their experience in any depth. We’re not looking for fully formed apps — these are interns after all. Projects for classes are great. Bootcamp projects are great. Simple design portfolios are all we’re looking for.
Some folks told us about their hobbies. You’re a mountain biker? Great! How is that relevant to the marketing internship? You’re a mountain biker and you helped organize and promote a charity bike race via social media? Let’s talk!
Find the right tone Don’t send us a generic cover letter. “Dear recruiter” is a big tip off that you’re firing off applications without any thought. You want the gig? Make an effort.
We’re not formal by any means. Sending a Ha Ha Business! style cover letter & resume is an indication the applicant doesn’t know our working style.
Some people went the other direction & sent us applications that were really unprofessional. Don’t curse in an application. Yes, we curse on SvN. It’s still not ok to do in an application. Don’t tell us all the things your last employer did wrong & how you told them off for it. It doesn’t make you look edgy; it makes you look like a jerk & a gossip.
Make it easy for us Don’t waste my time. I’m not going to a site & filling out a form to give you more information about who your mentor would be. I’m not impressed by that.
Don’t name your resume file “Resume.pdf”. We’re looking at hundreds of resumes. Make it easy to find.
Spell the company’s name right. I don’t think this is too much to ask.
Tips for intern program coordinators
I’m not a human resources professional — I look at numbers for a living — and this is the first time I’ve organized an internship program. It was a great experience, and I particularly enjoyed the chance to talk to so many passionate people who are just getting started in the industry. It was also, candidly, a ton more work than I thought it would be, and filled with far more gut-wrenching decisions than I expected.
There are a few things I’ll be sure to do in the future:
Use an application management system
When I wrote up the application instructions, I figured we’d be lucky to get 100 applications, and it would be no problem to deal with them manually, so the application instructions were to email an alias that ended up in my inbox.
That was a mistake — we ended up getting nearly 650 applications, and I spent untold time copying-and-pasting applications and attachments into Basecamp to-dos, and later searching through my email to be able to let people know of our decisions. An application management system that is built around a defined workflow (directly receiving applications and from which you can send replies to candidates) would have made a big difference in my personal happiness throughout the process.
Do everything on a rolling basis
While our initial intention was to do things on a rolling basis and to start interviewing candidates as soon as applications came in, that isn’t what ended up happening. In part because I was spending so much time on the drudgery of manually processing applications, we didn’t start doing screening interviews until after the application deadline passed, and most mentors didn’t start doing their interviews until all the screening interviews had been completed.
This leads to two problems:
We didn’t get to talk to all of the candidates we wanted to because some of them had already accepted offers before we got around to asking them to interview.
It led to some really draining days of back-to-back-to-back interviews. For example, here’s a couple days of my calendar from the peak of our screening interview season.
While I can confirm that it is physically possible to do that many interviews in a day, I wouldn’t recommend it.
When we started the process, we were pretty set on only hiring interns for specific, full-summer-length projects with dedicated mentors. We care a lot about it being a great experience for interns, and we thought that was the best way to deliver on that goal.
As we went along, however, we met some candidates who were too good to pass up on, and we ended up with more people we wanted to hire than we had specific projects already lined up. We quickly figured out a solution:
It’s always a good reminder… When we set up the rules, we can change the rules. — Jason Fried
So we ended up hiring a couple more interns than we initially planned to, and we’re putting together a series of shorter projects for them that will have them working with a few different people during the summer. It’s a little different than we originally planned, but I have no regrets about being flexible in order to get to work with more great people.
Meet the 2016 Basecamp summer interns
I’m incredibly proud of the class of interns who will be joining us this summer, and I’m excited to work with all of them. There are 11 in total:
Basel Razouk is an engineering student from Strathclyde University in Glasgow and will be working on marketing this summer.
Blake Stoddard comes to us from North Carolina State University. He’ll be working with the operations team this summer.
Dan Scott comes to us from Ireland, where he’s studying with Open University. He’ll be working with the Android team.
Danny Vilela is a student at NYU studying computer science. He’ll be working with me on data this summer.
Drew Rygh joins us from the University of Wisconsin to work on Trix this summer.
Edlyn Yuen is a banker-turned-VC-turned-entrepreneur who will be working on marketing.
Esther Lee is an experienced writer and teacher who will be joining us from Atlanta rotating through a couple of different programming related projects.
Ethan Eirinberg is heading to Stanford in the fall, but will first spend the summer working with us on a design project.
Justin White is a recent graduate from DePaul University (and was previously a student at our former neighbors, Starter League). He’ll be working with us as a programmer working on our internal tooling.
Michelle Harjani hails from Vancouver and will be doing a rotation through a handful of design projects this summer.
Nathan Petts just finished his master’s degree in human-centered design and will be joining us from Chicago to work with us on a project related to how people work with clients in Basecamp.
We’ve asked each of the interns to write up what they did during the summer, so keep your eyes on Signal v. Noise in the future to learn more about their time here.
About a month back, Basecamp put out a call for internship candidates. We’re looking for great people who want to learn about programming, product design, operations, data, or marketing directly from the people who work on Basecamp every day.
But before we went public with it, any interested team had to internally pitch a meaningful project and commit to investing the proper time and energy into teaching, guiding, and helping our interns regularly.
The Android team is made up of three people. And of those three, I was the loudest “no” vote. I think it was something along the lines of, “we don’t have time, it’s not a priority.”
I look back on that now and realize how insanely silly and selfish that was.
At every turn of my 15 year career, people have been helping me. Helping me to learn new skills, advance my career, or just to be a better person. I’ve tried to do the same for others over the years.
And yet when I was given such a clearcut opportunity to help someone else professionally, my first reaction was to punt it away because it wasn’t “a priority.”
At that moment, I had completely forgotten how I got to where I am today— with a lot of help from others. Sure, hard work, persistence, and maybe even some smarts helped pave the way. But I sure as hell didn’t build my career all by myself. I needed to remind myself of that. I needed to remember how I got here.
I have no idea what I’m doing
At my first job out of college, I was thrown onto Java projects. I had no idea what I was doing. For over two years, a bunch of people helped me as I fumbled my way through the basics of programming, business, and being a professional. These years laid the foundation of my career. Without the help, guidance, and friendship of a few key mentors, my career wouldn’t have turned out nearly as well as it did. I’m sure of that.
By 2008 I’d been doing Java for a long while, and it was time for a change. I joined an interactive design agency in Chicago, converted to a project manager, and once again had no idea what I was doing. I was running multiple projects with dozens of people, in an industry I didn’t fully understand. I wasn’t doing any programming, but I sure was making a lot of clients angry.
And once again, so many people helped me through it. Veteran project managers taught me the tactics of project delivery, designers helped me understand the intricacies of their work, and account managers helped me handle, persuade, and sell to clients. By the time I’d left, I was a better balanced, more polished professional in all areas of my work, in large part because of the help of others.
Fast forward to today. I’ve been at Basecamp for almost three years, and have been a professional programmer, consultant, and project manager for over 15 years. And yet part of me still has no idea what I’m doing. I’m still getting help from others on a daily basis, from every part of the company. It doesn’t matter what I’m stuck on, there’s always a friendly teammate to help me with all the things that I don’t understand (which is a lot).
Paying it forward
Hopefully by now it’s crystal clear why I felt like such a fool for saying no to the internship idea. I honestly can’t imagine where I’d be today professionally if it wasn’t for for the selfless, generous help of others. But there’s a happy ending to this story.
About a day after I said no to the internship idea, I realized my madness and jumped on board with the idea. And not only did I vote yes, I wrote the formal pitch for our project and will be the point person for our awesome Android intern.
I know I didn’t say thank you enough to everyone who helped me so much along the way. I can only hope that paying it forward now and in the future serves as a small repayment of that debt.
So the next time you’re given the opportunity to help someone professionally, I’d encourage you to really stop and consider it. I know time is short and life is busy. But try to remember those people who helped pave the way for your successes — think of how proud they’ll be to know they’ve taught you well.
If you’re interested in one of our internship projects, applications close on 2/24/16, so you’ve got less than a week to apply. Get a move on!
We’re hard at work making the Basecamp 3 and its companion Android app the best it can be. Check ’em out!