Six weeks ago, my fellow interns and I walked into the Agileana offices starry eyed yet determined to make an impact and differentiate our summers from that of our peers. All of us were products of the US public education system who knew how to handle well defined tasks in a classroom environment; but this was the “real world” a place our teachers said we would only be ready for after college.
We came in with mixed ideas about what web development and the tech industry was like and certainly no understanding what agile or scrum meant. 42 days later, we have: successfully launched a product (SEO analysis tool), put another one in beta (online community management platform) and gone above what any of us imagined 11 recent high school graduates could achieve. I have tried to be consistent in documenting those milestones as they’ve come but I’d like to take this opportunity to see what we have accomplished and remark on my experience. To do so I’ve put them down as lessons, keep in mind that these did not come chronologically and were only gained with mistakes made along the way.
1. Customers don’t know what they want
And neither do we. From the first presentation by Blake explaining the fundamentals of Agile thinking, we began brainstorming what product to develop with this simple principle.
In effect, this meant that we would not pretend to know what tool or service would have viability in the market place. To find that out we would have to analyze the common themes between all products on the internet. We saw that each successful entity had some variation of: proprietary information, educational component, entertainment outlet, community sharing, e-commerce, software tool. Putting these together we thought how could we get elements of those into our product in the time frame we had. It came down to a vote, and we picked re-making one of the existing Inqbation platforms – SEO Quotient.
2. Egos lead to zeros
While deciding on tasks to take and teams to form we discovered that not every knew how to code or write or design. Some of us where more comfortable behind a monitor while some preferred being on the phone. Regardless with the initial split we had a few bruised egos who thought they were above certain types of work or not cut out for certain elements of the job. Of course in a start up and Agile environment where everyone is supposed to be responsible for everything, there was no backing out from doing certain sort of work. I experienced this first hand as I had to swallow my pride as a coder and work with a language I had very limited knowledge.
Similarly I am sure my friends also faced dilemmas when working with areas of the stack they weren’t fully comfortable in and then making mistakes which ended up in mockery at the lunch table. Realizing that the ship would sink if not everyone rowed in sync we were able to fast track though such hazardous feelings.
3. Tag teaming issues
The next step after getting rid of egos is to move to a level where your team acts like a single entity. The foundation of that is formed by coordinating your workflows so that you are all putting your best work and being held accountable to the projects progress. The other benefit which came in even more handy was the ability to confront issues which you might be weak in and give them to someone who has better experience so that you can resolve them together. Time saved = Up, Stress = Down.
4. Haters gonna hate
Hate. Plain and simple. That’s what they are going to do. When you start reaching out to other inevitably you’ll find people who wish you ill for reasons you cannot grasp and shouldn’t care about. Strangers on the internet are the basic target audience for any platform but they can also be vicious if they don’t like your product. It can be productive to engage these people once or twice to see if they have any valid reason to dislike you but, as my team found out, they can just be jealous and trying to instigate you to stop or slow down your development. Ctrl-Delete that conversation ASAP.
5. Staying on task
Productivity in the workplace as opposed to a classroom was very hard to gauge. Of course everyone had stuff to do and things to accomplish but were we really using our time to the maximum? This was always a question on my mind especially since some people would leave earlier than others. This is where the morning Stand up meetings and end of week demos came in handy. By doing stuff you always had something unique to tell during the morning meetings and some developments to show during the presentations. We could see and hear for real who had done what and which obstacles were getting in the way of peak performance. A pro tip I learnt was to use a variation of the Pomodoro technique – working in 25 minute intervals with 5 minute breaks.
6. Biting off too much
The flip side to staying productive is taking on too much. I learnt that lesson midway when I’d look at my to do list and see several things to do while still in the middle of the week. I also learnt through this the importance of clearly defining tasks. The “definition of done” in agile helps a lot with this but it needs to be apparent down to minutiae how something will look like when classified as “done”. Otherwise one could keep working for hours on something that doesn’t even matter a lot in the grand scheme of the product.
This also helps when you have to deliver stuff at the end of the week and show your teammates how you are performing. This is why I never commented on anyone’s workload or ability as we all work at different speeds but our overall idea of quality remained the same.
The lessons I’ve gleaned from the short time of our internship has really revealed to me my strengths and weaknesses. I am confident that I have found that I will be better prepared than most college students and even some employees as I go into future workplaces. I’d like to give a special thanks to Blake, Luis, Andres, Jenny and everyone at Agileana and InQbation who made it such a powerful and life-changing experience for me. I strongly recommend that if you are a high school student reading this and want to jump start your career and become a better programmer / designer / coder you should definitely apply.
Check out our end product here – www.seoq.com
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