A few weeks ago, we published an open call of a student looking for a summer internship. Marek Dlugoš is a product designer studying in Prague, Czech Republic. One of the most engaging experiences of his life was working in a team of the founder of CreativeMarket in Hawaii and being a design intern at Shopify. Since his Shopify internship was a life-changing experience, we asked him to share it with the world and, thus, inspire young students to do something similar.
Shopify is a Canadian e-commerce platform headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario, designed for small and medium-sized businesses. Founded by Daniel Weinand, Scott Lake, and Tobias Lütke in 2004, it currently powers over 400,000 businesses in approximately 175 countries and is trusted by brands such as Tesla, Red Bull, and Nestle.
Marek talks about what the interview and onboarding processes looked like, how the team treated him, what he gained along with some struggles he went through, and much more.
Please, welcome Marek.
Why I decided to try the internship at Shopify
First of all, I need to start with a short but very inevitable disclaimer: everything written below expresses my personal opinion and experience only and is not affiliated in any way with Shopify, Inc.
During the success of my Take me as an Intern website in 2015, which took me to my Hawaii internship, the recruiters from Shopify also reached out to me and offered me a summer internship. Due to the VISA process that might have taken a long time, we postponed the recruiting process for the next summer, 2016.
My philosophy is as follows: in every company worth working for, the length of employment should not influence career growth, but skills, responsibilities and results should. Opportunities with those kind of companies was what I was searching for. I considered Shopify to offer the right mix of skills and responsibilities, so I decided to give it a shot.
Despite the fact that I had many calls from the Shopify recruiters, I truly enjoyed the whole process. I never got the feeling that I was just one of 500 other interns the company was recruiting. They treated me nicely and in a very personal manner.
I had one or two interviews with the recruiter (Hi, Jenn) followed by a portfolio review with one of the design leads, then again a discussion with a recruiter, followed by a final call with the lead of the team that I was about to join.
The onboarding process, the work, and the team
If you are not from the area, Shopify will offer you accommodation which includes either a shared apartment or one on your own. Based on your choice, they take some money from your payout. The housing was clean, modern, and located only a 5-minute walk from the Shopify HQ.
The first positive experience for all the new geeks are the “toys” they get on the first day. They included a Macbook Pro (which, as an intern, I had to return after my term), my own keyboard, a backpack, and some other Shopify swag.
The first week of the onboarding is exhausting as we all sat a conference room listening to 30 to 60-minute talks by the company‘s employees about different topics from design to development. We got a great overview of every area of the company, which made for a smooth start. Besides, we also gained some other “must-have” mission-critical skills like an 1-hour-long session on how to make a good coffee!
During the second week, everything got moving fast. Though mornings were still full of talks, afternoons were replaced finally with the work in our teams. That means getting familiar with all the tools that your team uses and where all the assets are located, what you will be working on during your term, and much more. I worked in the Partnerships team that is responsible for business development, Shopify Apps, and Shopify Experts.
One thing I really loved, since I have a background in software engineering was that I could control every part of the whole process, from ideation to shipping. I was able to design the idea that would solve a specific problem, write a code for it, upload it to Github and make it live for thousands of people! None of the stuff I worked on was thrown away. It was great to encounter such freedom and opportunity to make my work more colorful and learn something new all the time. (But to be honest, my first shipped thing broke the whole support site a bit. Fortunately, I fixed it very fast, lol.)
Why was the internship so powerful?
I noticed one crucial feature at Shopify that transformed the way I think about internships: all of my colleagues and leads treated me as a full-time employee. I strongly related to that because I can compare it to a job where you are just a student sitting in the corner of a room doing work nobody else wants to do.
In Shopify, you can feel a strong pressure – in the most positive way – to improve yourself. Every member of our team had regular one-on-one meetings with leads who were helping us to grow. For me it meant setting up the goals and expectations in different areas at the beginning of the internship, working on fulfilling them during the internship, and evaluating my success and failures at the end.
Despite all the great benefits like Sportify ($200 for anything that will keep you fit), continuous development perk (any item up to $100 that will help you become a better person), or everyday super delicious meals in the cafeteria (and snack bars in the hallways and corridors), what I appreciated most was that people were willing to spend their time with me – the most valuable perk of all!
I was surrounded by many smart thinkers, and there was no limit placed on gaining as much information as possible about any area that interested me. Currently, I am mainly a designer but in the future, I would love to make a transition more towards product and business. So I scheduled 30-minute chats almost every week with cool project managers like Brandon Chu. Did I want help with a business model for my upcoming project? I talked to the head of business development! This way I learned from the best peers in the field.
Shopify events are great but kind of a double-edged benefit. We had a variety of engaging events every week that could totally fill my whole calendar. Design Reviews, Ask Me Anything, Learn at Lunch, to name some of them. Oh, did I mention that the Canadian Prime Minister visited our HQ? I learned a lot, but found I also needed to be careful about my time so I still had time to get the jobs done.
Where I got challenged
The internship at Shopify was the first in-house job that truly challenged me. And that made it a great experience that moved me forward a lot. But it was not without challenges.
First, this internship braced my communication skills. I realized that while working in such a big team, it‘s important to read twice what you have just written and make sure that every question asked and any statement made is clear to other people. That helps avoid a lot of communication noise and saves other people’s time. If English is your second language, as is the case with me, we should try even harder and constantly improve our skills by reading books and writing. Perfect communication is necessary.
Second, I came to Shopify with the mindset of a young design intern who was seeking knowledge and the best solutions for every design problem. I used to ask the senior designer that I worked with a lot of questions, thinking that she knew the right answers to all the design problems. Not the best approach. One of the key values of Shopify is taking the ownership of the projects you are working on. This is what I was lacking because in the past I had gotten tired for fighting with people for the best design decisions. As a reaction to that, I closed myself and worked on designs on my own. As a result, the collaboration and feedback process with my senior designer were not the best. And that was the other extreme. I figured out the proper balance by the end of my internship where I designed things on my own and collaborated with people outside our team. Just after that, I discussed the best solution that should be implemented with the senior designer‘s backup and with strong statements from other colleagues.
The Shopify internship experience gave me a lot – I can‘t recommend it enough. Let this guestblog be an inspiration for you to go for it too!
If you are considering an internship for your next summer holidays but still have doubts, here are a few interesting Quora links that might help in making the decision:
If you have any questions, ping me at email@example.com.
Good luck to all of you!