How to Make the Most of Your Engineering Internship — Advice From Alto's First Interns
Erik Gregorio Cruz, Micaela Moss, and Jordane Thomas joined Alto this summer as the company’s first engineering interns! In their three months with us they blazed the trail for future Alto interns while adjusting to a new norm of fully remote work during the global pandemic. Here they share their learnings, accomplishments, and advice for future Alto interns.
So, why Alto?
Coming out of a bootcamp program rather than a traditional Computer Science degree program, Micaela hoped to find a company open to non-traditional educational paths. “I know that a company that is welcoming of bootcamp grads values diversity, inclusivity, and mentorship.”
For Erik, it came down to his interview experience: “Everyone seemed to really enjoy their experience and really believed in the mission they were working on.” Micaela agreed, adding that it also ultimately came down to the people for her. “You can tell a lot about a company’s culture based on what the people who interview you are like,” she said. “From the recruiter to the engineers, everyone was incredibly friendly and a joy to interact with.”
What was the most fun moment of your internship? (That is, assuming you had fun!)
Virtual team lunches were a highlight for all 3 interns. However, one special moment during Micaela’s internship actually came from resolving a ticket that involved writing an end-to-end (E2E) test—something she was not looking forward to. “I was dreading it for two reasons: First, I do not particularly enjoy writing tests—I’d rather write the code that passes them—and second, I had never worked with Cypress before. Several hours later, after reading lots of documentation, studying previously written E2E tests, and getting stumped by a hidden selector, I managed to write the test. When I finally ran it and got to watch the video as it clicked on buttons and filled out inputs, I became instantly enchanted. I may have run it several more times just to watch it, smiling like a goofball, knowing that this test that I had created would be run every time code was pushed and merged.”
Did you have a mentor?
In addition to their respective engineering managers, whom the interns had weekly 1:1s with, each intern was also assigned a dedicated mentor, who committed at least 5 hours a week of dedicated support to their interns over Slack and Zoom. Mentors were able to provide historical and business context, help interns get ramped up on Alto’s tech stack, codebase, and tools, and pair program as needed. “Working with my mentor definitely made me more productive,” said Jordane.
The mentors added that working with the interns actually helped them improve their ability to articulate technical concepts, as well as their ability to talk through technical challenges with others more effectively in their day to day work.
What was it like interning during the pandemic and being fully remote?
“I found myself setting up ‘Hey, there’s a pandemic, and this is crazy, so let’s get introduced virtually, maybe?’ meetings,” said Micaela. “Although, as someone who is horrible with names, it is worth noting that a silver lining to being entirely remote is having everyone’s name in the corner of their zoom video. That, and sweatpants everyday!”
Erik and Jordane agreed that being remote required a little extra effort. Alto’s engineering office is based in SF, and since they weren’t required to be physically in-office this summer due to the pandemic, both Erik and Jordane were based in other time zones. “In the beginning I was starting my day at 9am EST/6am PST, but if I got stuck I would have to wait until West Coast working hours before I could reach out,” explained Jordane. With time, “I picked up a different working rhythm that worked better for everyone.”
What surprised you about the experience?
While Jordane was surprised by just “how friendly and accessible everyone was,” Erik was surprised by how quickly he was able to actually deploy code.
Acknowledging that her chosen career path has a history of gender imbalance, Micaela shared that she “was pleasantly surprised” to have both a female manager and a female mentor. “It was a great experience getting to have two strong female role models to learn from during my internship.”
What teams were you on?
Micaela and Jordane were both on the Pharmacy Platform team, which defines best practices and processes that promote a future-forward and scalable way of development. The platform team provides tools, libraries, and services that make development work at Alto and enable all of Alto's engineers to write performant code. Erik was on the Pharmacy Supply Chain team, which enables a better, faster experience for patients by ensuring the right medications get out the door, on time, and at the lowest cost possible.
What projects did you work on?
Erik’s mentor, Eric Leite, helped us understand what Erik contributed to the Pharmacy Supply Chain team: “Sometimes our operations workflow requires manual intervention to resolve issues. We use an extendable admin interface to help us navigate the more complex issues. Erik created an add-on to this application that helped our on-call team work more efficiently. We can now resolve a specific kind of complex insurance claim issue by using his add-on to guide us through the multi-day resolution process. Erik learned about our supply chain operations workflow, how insurance claims are processed, how to model out a problem using Ruby on Rails, and how to write effective tests using RSpec.”
Micaela and Jordane, both on the Pharmacy Platform team, worked on optimizing performance and cleaning up legacy code. For instance, Jordane helped standardize Alto’s frontend by increasing adoption of our component library. “Although this was a relatively straight-forward task that didn’t require much problem solving, it did require a lot of endurance,” said Jordane. “I had to edit and test changes to over 300 files by hand. There were many times I could have broken [the platform], and changes needed to be made very carefully.”
What is the biggest learning you are taking away from this experience?
“The biggest learning I am taking away from this experience is nicely summed up by the grail knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: ‘You have chosen...wisely.’” said Micaela. “I knew I enjoyed software engineering when I was learning it, or when I was working on my personal projects, but that can change when it becomes a job. After spending the summer as a software engineering intern at Alto, I can say with confidence that I have chosen...wisely.”
Jordane discovered that “engineering isn’t just innovation,” as he came into the experience believing; “it’s also investigation.” When we asked the interns’ mentors and managers what they had learned from the interns, they all recognized the genuine curiosity the interns brought into their respective teams and projects, which helped them to see Alto’s codebase through new eyes. They also gushed about the excitement the interns had when pushing to production for the first time.
What words of wisdom would you give to future Alto interns?
All three agreed: ask as many questions as you need to! “Over communicate, and just relax & enjoy the process!” offered Jordane. Erik agreed sharing, “Do not be afraid to reach out when you get stuck. Reaching out for help is essential.”
“An internship is all about learning and growing,” said Micaela, “so take advantage of the wisdom and experience of your peers. They have a lot to offer!”
Ashley Qian, the Senior Engineer who mentored Micaela, advised, “Know your limits! Take breaks! Find something else to enjoy other than software engineering because your work is not your life, and your life is not work. Surround yourself with people who are your advocates and go to bat for you, and if you find yourself in a system or an environment that does not support you, try to understand what your boundaries are, and leave if you can. You always have a shoulder to lean on if that's the case, here, with the friends you've made at Alto!
Interested in being an intern at Alto? Check out our careers page HERE.