What It’s Like to Intern at PubNub
Hi, I’m Lizzie Siegle, and this was my experience as an intern at PubNub this summer…
Imagine having routine one-on-one’s with engineers, evangelists, and even the CTO and CEO of your company. It’s definitely not the norm, but this summer, I was fortunate to be surrounded by smart, passionate people who were generous with their time, doing just that. This post details my experience over the past three months as a summer intern for PubNub.
I had been interviewing for summer internships since August 2015, but found the PubNub role in late January 2016 when a PubNub evangelist, who I already followed on Twitter, tweeted about the role. I applied online, followed a few other PubNub people on Twitter, and then engaged with them over social media.
@girlie_mac I worked in a Japanese restaurant 2 summers ago and made sandwiches in the dining hall last year 😀
— Lizzie Siegle (@lizziepika) February 3, 2016
My first interview came about a month later. It was a video call with two developer evangelists and was pretty conversational. They asked about myself, past projects, school, why I wanted to be at PubNub, and my thoughts on developer evangelism.
The second one was with Josh, the technical marketing manager. Having watched his video on the history of developer evangelism on YouTube, I remember being nervous about showing off my Computer Science skills. Though it was slightly more technical, it was still very behavioral, and I’m amazed at how much I learned about evangelism just from those interviews!
My third and final interview was with Stephen, PubNub’s co-founder and CTO. I watched most of PubNub’s YouTube videos, particularly ones with him doing demos, to prepare for this one, which was the most technical of the three. I walked him through two hackathon projects on my GitHub, explaining my code, some thought processes, what I learned, what I used, the hard parts, and more. I don’t remember much else about that interview, except that I asked him a lot of questions about himself and PubNub.
Looking back, these interviews were more behavioral than other interviews I have had. Why? Because evangelists need to be able to teach, communicate with, and relate to other developers.
A few months after I applied, Stephen tweeted at me, “yo!,” and he, along with quite a few others from PubNub, had followed me back. One also DM’d me a congratulations, which made it even more official. It became “official official” a few days later, in the form of an email.
— Stephen Blum (@stephenlb) March 25, 2016
My first day was a series of meetings with different managers and executives for all interns and new hires. I went through mine with full-timers like the new Head of DevOps, a core engineer, and another intern (everyone was not in each meeting.) In them, managers went over company values, the office hierarchy, perks, gear, laptops, lockers, sick days/vacations, desks, who to go to with questions or if we needed anything, etc. It was sort of overwhelming, but still very welcoming at the same time.
The Work of an Intern
This, along with the next section, was the best part. I like hackathons because of the freedom to make whatever I want, and that’s what we evangelists did this summer (as long as our projects used PubNub in some way).
Some projects I worked on included:
- A web data visualization of tweets about the Warriors using PubNub’s Project EON.
- An Android app using a Pokemon Go API to show Pokemon around you (using PubNub for Android push notifications).
- An iPhone app that displayed your heart rate on an EON chart (which it got from the accompanying Apple Watch app) and also used the Raspberry Pi as a medium in which LED lights flashed at different speeds based on the heart rate. It also incorporated a login system and means of tweeting out progress with Twitter Fabric.
- A web app that showed how Americans were feeling about candidates in the upcoming presidential election with EON charts and different colors on a map of the US (this was a group project and effort, shoutout to Josh).
It was super neat to work across different platforms and dabble with hardware for the first time. We were encouraged to take ownership of each project, and also to try something new. Engineers and evangelists from in and out of the office provided mentorship, support, and help not just regarding projects, but with pretty much everything and anything!
Everything took longer than I thought it would — making the app, optimizing and cleaning up the code, merging with GitHub (ugh), writing the blog post, getting the post up on WordPress, SEO, making a workshop or talk, practicing the workshop or talk…and yet, it was enjoyable, and normal for developers of all experience levels.
Each project was concluded with a blog post, meant to teach and inspire other developers with a PubNub use case and tutorial. Some projects were tough and annoying to make (though they were all fun), and some bugs actually kept me up until around three in the morning. It was moments like those, ones that made me question if I could be an engineer, that, in the end, made me really want to be an engineer (and evangelist.)
It was those struggles that made me a better developer, and even though they were frustrating (and very, very, face-palm-worthy), they reinvigorated me, reminding me why I started programming. Problems arose from git, IDEs, one small line change… anything. The hunt was a part of the challenge, and this summer, my love of the challenge came back. It was PubNub’s people, the work, the learning, the challenges, the culture — all of these came together to make me satisfied at the end of the day (or at the start of the morning).
Though teaching others how to use PubNub is a part of evangelism, there are other ways to get them excited about the product. We attended local meetups (#SFHTML5, Women who Code, and many more) held at other San Francisco companies (such as Airbnb, Yelp, Slack, Google SF, and more). Attending meetups were not always about networking — for me, they were about learning from the talks, speakers, and other attendees, and getting PubNub’s name out. I found that I enjoy talking about PubNub and what we do here. Also, giving so many elevator pitches improved my communication skills. It made me have to explain technical concepts in multiple ways to ensure comprehension.
Hosting a PubNub meetup
PubNub has been growing, and the office space does not reflect that. We used to host meetups every night, and then stopped when it got cramped. The office was very supportive when I wanted to host a small ping pong meetup one night.
I confess, it was stressful when not many people showed up at the start time, but it got better as the night went on. Stephen and other PubNub employees made everyone feel at home, really bringing out the atmosphere and culture that has made PubNub home for me this summer. I expect to see quite a few of those attendees applying for jobs at PubNub in the future!
Workshops & Presentations
I helped lead a workshop on how to build a messaging app at a coding school in Fremont, and then led my own workshop at Spectra Hackathon, the Bay Area’s largest women’s hackathon. It was neat to teach others how to build a web app using PubNub. I also gave tech talks at meetups like #SFHTML5 at Google SF and WomEng Hear and Now at Square, spreading my passion for developer evangelism and using PubNub!
A group from Twitter’s Girls who Code program visited our SoMa headquarters to learn about PubNub. I gave them a tour of the office, gave a brief presentation on developer evangelism, and an overview of PubNub, and answered questions about college, hackathons, my internship, and what my experience has been like as a minority in tech. I remember being worried when I sent out the last-minute email blast that morning telling the office that these girls were coming.
That was silly, because the positive feedback was immediate. These sentiments were especially reflected by Todd, the CEO, who took the time to speak with the group!
Overall, the work was fun, rewarding, and also challenging, and the amount of support and mentorship interns received from everyone, regardless of department, was amazing. I’ve spoken with lots of other interns at hackathons and other meetups, and it seems like my work was some of the most enjoyable. I also loved when a friend told me (excitedly) that she had just emailed the CTO a question, talking to him for the first time. I laughed, thinking of myself talking to PubNub’s CTO everyday!
The People at PubNub
It really was the people that helped make my internship what it was. They are hardworking, passionate, warm, and so, so, so smart. They came from all over the country, all over the world, and all over Silicon Valley. I felt so supported and welcomed, and also empowered. These engineers could have worked at almost any company in “the Valley,” but chose to work at PubNub. That was neat.
Everyone had access to the hierarchy of the company, printed nicely on a piece of paper and given to new hires. It showed the CEO at the top, and branched down. Even though I was an intern at the bottom, I never felt like I was “at the bottom.” My voice mattered. I loved how easily accessible Todd and Stephen were. I loved how easy it was to start something, like a ping pong meetup or a tour for aspiring young programmers. I loved how people across departments at PubNub took the time to talk to an intern about their past experiences, studies, jobs, and more. For people who were so smart, accomplished, and determined, they were generous with their time to me; from them, I learned so much technical know-how, as well as about other companies in Silicon Valley, startups and funding, entrepreneurship, productivity hacks, different software and IDEs and tools different engineers used, post-college life, and more.
I began at the start of summer with only a few hackathons under my belt. I had developed iOS and web apps — but I quickly realized that I still had much to learn. It was overwhelming at times, and I was amazed at the size and complexity of different projects, and at my own lack of knowledge at times. But PubNub gave me confidence.
Although I had told myself I would focus on iOS development this summer, I dabbled across iOS, Android, and web. I do not regret dabbling and exploring, because now I finally understand how what one learns on one platform translates over to other platforms: after you get the core concepts, the rest of development is merely syntax.
Through the people at PubNub, I also realized how working at a tech company like PubNub really differed from having a technical role at a non-tech company, like the one I would have worked at in NYC had I not gotten this offer. Though I have been to numerous tech companies around the Bay Area, I still found the atmosphere of PubNub to be my favorite. I fed off of the passions of everyone, and would not have done everything I did had it not been for that culture.**
**I used the word “inspire” so much this summer, that I feel the need to redefine it as “feed off the passions of others.”
Though I would count the people I got to work with as a perk, there were other, more tangible ones as well. We had the best snacks: different types of chocolate, teas, nut butters, LaCroix, Lara Bars, Clif bars, and so many others. We received three lunches a week, but it was easy to more because the kitchen was always stocked with breakfast and lunch foods. All employees, including interns, got their own MacBook. There were gym and transportation discounts, which I took advantage of, and it was neat to see co-workers working out there, too. There were games galore for when code took way too long to compile, as well!
After a jam-packed summer full of failing, learning, building, and evangelizing, I should be tired. Yet even though I slept about as much as I do during the school year, I’m hungry for more. I’m hungry to continue learning and building, and I intend to keep in touch with everyone. I also plan on continuing to contribute to the PubNub blog, evangelizing at hackathons and meetups, and leading a few workshops on PubNub. I also wholeheartedly plan on visiting when back in the Bay on breaks, and am so grateful for everyone at PubNub for an enlightening and amazing internship experience.