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Summer interns thrive at Brightspot

Brightspot 2018 Intern Bowling

The Brightspot summer intern program was created in 2014 with the goal of providing a unique and valuable learning experience to college students. We aim to expose our interns to challenging projects that enhance their textbook learning and prepare them for future careers at Brightspot or elsewhere.

To gain more insight into the program, we sat down with Parker Ramsdell, who has overseen the intern program since its inception; Kevin Amrein, software engineer and intern mentor; Nick Halvorsen, a senior at James Madison University and software development intern; and Patrick Hawkes, a sophomore at George Mason University and content and product intern.

How did you hear about Brightspot? And why did you choose to intern here over other places?

Halvorsen: I discovered Brightspot at the JMU CISE Career Fair. Of all the companies I spoke with at the career fair, Brightspot took the most interest in fully understanding my passions and interests. I could tell that Brightspot was invested in who I was as a developer.

Hawkes: I learned about Brightspot from my mom who has worked here as a Quality Assurance Engineer since 2011. I have always been interested in the projects she has worked on, from her first project with Vetstreet, to her work on Coca-Cola Journey and Johnson & Johnson. I was also interested in understanding how exactly a content managment system worked, and more importantly how Brightspot’s CMS, Brightspot, is unique from competitors.

What do you think separates the intern program at Brightspot from the intern programs at other companies?

Ramsdell: The biggest differentiator is our desire to provide meaningful opportunities for learning and growth through real-world exposure to challenging problems. Our interns work alongside our developers and product managers to provide critical support on a wide-range of client projects. Over the course of the summer, interns becomes valuable members of our team and make significant contributions to our projects.

What do you want interns to get out of their experience at Brightspot?

Ramsdell: First, I want them to learn about all of the different roles at Brightspot. As an intern, it is so easy to get siloed in your role and never interact with anybody outside of your team. Through weekly Q&A sessions, we make sure that interns learn about all of the different aspects of Brightspot, so they can better understand how their work fits into the overarching objective of the entire company. This summer these sessions covered topics such as user experience and visual design, the quality assurance process, how we pitch Brightspot to prospective clients, and content strategy.

Second, the purpose of any internship is to help students inform their future career decisions. I want the Brightspot internship to add value to the interns, and for their work to provide value back to our company. It's my hope that the Brightspot internships helps enrich every intern's career opportunities, whether they stay at Brightspot or wind up elsewhere.

What kind of expectations did you have heading into the internship program at Brightspot?

Halvorsen: Prior to this summer, I didn’t have any internship experience, so my primary goal was just to gain confidence by working in a real environment. Additionally, I was struggling to apply the skills I was learning at school in a real-world setting and was hoping an internship would help bridge that gap. Lastly, from a development stand point, I wanted to improve my code quality and pick up other skills that aren’t possible to learn in school.

Hawkes: I was really interested in having a professional experience where I could learn about the stages of web development -- from how a company markets its product to how it actually goes about implementing and launching a site.

What kind of work did you assign to your interns over the course of the summer?

Amrein: We had two software development interns working with us on the platform team this summer. We started them off slowly with some straightforward tickets that allowed them to get a better understanding of the ins and outs of Brightspot. Once they were comfortable, we began assigning them important tickets requested by clients. By the end of the summer each intern had made significant contributions to the platform code including two new features, federated searches for Vimeo and Giphy. Over the course of the summer the two platform interns completed 41 tickets in total.

How do you measure the success of the intern program?

Ramsdell: My goal is to build a pipeline from our internship program to full-time employment at Brightspot and we are continuing to improve in this area. Since 2014, we have hired 10 former interns to join us full-time. This past summer was our most successful, with 4 interns joining the Brightspot family, so we are definitely going in the right direction.

What has been your favorite part or most memorable experience of Brightspot thus far?

Hawkes: My favorite part of the internship at Brightspot is definitely the culture. At lunch, everyone gathers and talks about their day or upcoming plans for the weekend, all while enjoying delicious -- and free -- food. If there’s still time, some of us like to head to the game room for some friendly -- but competitive -- table tennis. On Thursday mornings, a group of guys meets at the gym for a few games of pick-up basketball.

How did you feel the internship helped you grow as a developer? What do you feel you were able to take back with you to school this fall to help you in your courses?

Halvorsen: My experience helped me greatly improve my efficiency as a developer. I learned how to get things right the first time, instead of sending code back and forth through multiple review cycles. I also learned how to code in a way that others could read. My code style greatly improved from the sloppy habits I had developed at school.

How did you see the interns' skills develop over the course of their summer internship?

Amrein: For both platform interns this was their first internship experience and first time working in a corporate environment. Over the course of the summer they not only grew significantly as software engineers but also in their ability to present, interact with management, and give accurate estimates as to what work they could do and how quickly they could do it. Throughout the internship they learned from peer reviews of their code and worked hard not to make the same mistakes twice. They also got extremely fast at tracking down issues and connecting the different pieces of the system in order to resolve bugs. They were also responsible for peer reviewing each other’s code before sending it to another developer. This gave them the opportunity to practice looking at someone else’s code to find potential issues, and later, compare what they found to the issues that experienced developers found. By the end of the internship they were proficient in all of these areas with real world experience.

How do you keep the program fresh so that it does not feel repetitive? What kinds of things are you incorporating to keep interns on their toes at all times?

Ramsdell: “Every group of summer interns has is a unique set of personalities that always keeps the program fresh. Additionally, intern projects never repeat, which helps us keep everybody—both interns and mentors—on their toes. Additionally, the Q&A sessions that I mentioned earlier are dictated by the interns' interests. We let them tell us what they want to learn more about and set up the sessions accordingly.

Would you recommend this internship to others?

Halvorsen: Yes, absolutely! The internship was phenomenal and I came out 10 times the developer than I started. It was a really fun group of people and an excellent learning experience. I’m looking forward to starting at Brightspot full-time after I graduate next May.

Hawkes: Absolutely! Everybody at the company will move heaven and earth to help you succeed. You can go to anyone and they will find time in their day to give you a hand. We also learn a ton about the projects we work on, and sometimes I even find myself bragging to friends and families about the projects I’ve contributed to like the Coleman Get Outdoors app and SpecialOlympics.org.

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