Interns and mentors: a cross section view of company culture

Interns seem to be a bit of a craze at the moment. From the popularity of last years hit film The Intern, taking a fun look at the concept of a “senior intern”, through to all the online hullabaloo caused by the recent story of an entire class of interns fired for petitioning for a change in dress code.

What’s the best way to run an internship program? What do the different parties involved get out of it? We decided that as part of our ongoing effort to encourage a culture of learning and self improvement both within our company and in our local IT community, it was time we started an internship program of our own and started providing some answers to these questions ourselves.

Interns and Mentors

This summer ekreative has 6 student interns in the office. Places on the 2 month internship program were highly sought after. To get a place students first competed in a student hackathon event after which a number were invited back for the interview stage. Those that won a place are smart, highly motivated, active young people who are keen to add practical experience to their resumes alongside the studies they’re in the process of completing.

Each intern is assigned a mentor; an experienced ekreative developer with the same speciality as them who can guide their learning and set tasks that help them to realise their potential. At the student hackathon we got a feel for how helpful and transformative the role of mentor can be, for both parties, so we’re excited to see how this will develop over the course of a longer period.

Insight into company culture

I decided to have a chat with some of the interns and their mentors and find out a bit more about their experience here and to gain some insight into our company culture by examining the contrast between the way it’s viewed by experienced hands and newcomers with a fresh perspective.

First up it’s 2nd year programming student Sergey and his mentor, Ekreative JavaScript programmer and advanced Ionic developerKirill, I’m speaking to them on day 2 of the internship:

The Interns

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The internship’s just beginning, what are you hoping to get out of your time here Sergey?
My main aim while here is to learn JavaScript. I’m actually quite surprised that I was invited to take part, I saw the high level of talent at the hackathon and thought that given my own more basic level as a programmer I was unlikely to get a spot. I’d started making other plans for the summer, but once I found out I’d got a place on the internship that became my priority.

What initial observations do you have about the Ekreative office?
I like it. A lively atmosphere, interesting people, comfortable to work and food provided!

At the moment you’re focussed on learning Javascript, what materials has your mentor encouraged you to use to guide your learning?
We’re using several different sets of materials, this book on ‘Learning JavaScript design patterns’ by Addy Osmani, guides and tutorials on Mozilla Developer Network, and even Also Kirill has encouraged me to look for answers in stackoverflow and in a locally based co-learning community.

The Mentors

rsz 1img 0115Kiril, how did you learn JavaScript yourself and how do you keep up to date with the latest developments?
I learned a lot of basic programming principles at school (I attended a specialist physics, maths and technology school), but for JavaScript specifically I attended an evening course run by a local IT skills and community building organisation called ‘GeekHub’. To keep up to date, I keep track of a range of relevant newsletters, blogs and online courses, but I find webinars an especially helpful resource and like to build experimental projects to play with newer technologies.

What are some of the best things about working at Ekreative?
I really like the culture here, it’s so supportive. That comes across at the company level, with team times and encouragement to attend training events and conferences, but it also comes across at a personal level; people help each other to solve problems and are actively involved in encouraging the development of relevant skills. A lot of the developers here are involved with Geekhub, our local GDG and other IT community organisations and projects.

The Boss

I’ll be talking to some of the other mentors and interns over the next few weeks, but as the project is still very young I decided to have a word with our CEO Viktor to find out where he envisions it going and what he’s expecting from it:

13566945 10153540963487657 8072727082177057242 nViktor, what are the aims of the intern project?
We’re a dynamic, growing company and are always on the lookout for talented new hires. Ultimately running an internship program is about taking young people with plenty of raw talent and guiding them into becoming the best specialists they can be, ideally with a view to hiring them full time once the internship is complete.

Of course we could participate in an aggressive headhunting strategy to increase our talent pool and the results would probably come about faster, but in a small city like ours this would create unhelpful tension within a growing tech scene which thrives on cooperation, mutual encouragement and community building. In addition, the headhunting approach would be detrimental to our internal company culture.

In the same way that the Silicon Valley giants look to take advantage of and develop the talent coming out of Stanford and MIT, we look at the universities local to us, examine what they’re offering their students and try to create a program which fills in some of the gaps between the world of formal education and the reality of the workplace.

Actually the majority of our workforce is made up of people who’ve come to us as junior developers, QA’s, designers and project managers and who have grown into mid and senior level workers here at ekreative. We’re big fans of this long-term approach to developing talent from within as we love investing in people, value having workers who share our company’s values (which grow alongside their technical skills) and see that in the end we reap back what we sow and more with much better, more sustainable results than we would have gotten via headhunting.

How did you choose the mentors?
Actually the mentors practically chose themselves! The guys doing the mentoring are all people with a real passion for teaching and seeing others grow. They were mentors at the student hackathon too, got a lot out of that and when it came to the internship project they came to me saying they wanted to be involved. Each of them is a great reflection of the company culture we’re building here, in which sharing our knowledge and helping build others up is a fundamental element.

What will the interns be getting up to?
Most of the interns have already attained a certain proficiency as programmers and are working on some of our internal projects under the oversight of their mentors. By facing these real life workplace scenarios complete with deadlines and co-workers they move beyond the more static education environment and begin to develop the skills that will make them valuable programming hires.

Sergey, (who you spoke to today) is an exception in that his technical level is lower than the other interns, but I see in him a lot of potential, a fast learner and a great thirst for knowledge. We’ve got him learning JavaScript under Kirill’s mentorship at the moment, but I’m confident that he’ll be contributing to internal projects too within a few weeks. As well as his potential as a developer I was keen to include him in the scheme because I feel his attitude and character fit in well with the Ekreative corporate culture.