Voices of Gatsby: An Intern Among Senior Developers

Kyle Gill
October 9th, 2020

I’ve worked for Gatsby in various capacities since it formally became a company in 2018, my longest tenure being an intern on the Learning Team. You’re probably wondering how I got here…record scratch & freeze frame

Getting started

While I was finishing school, I was desperately trying to find an internship, a job, or anything that someone would pay me for so long as it meant I’d be typing on a computer. However, I was starting to lose hope that my search would succeed. I failed all sorts of interviews and got ignored by a lot of companies because my degree wasn’t in Computer Science. I had studied Information Systems, which covers a broader, surface-level introduction to technologies across both Computer Science and Information Technology. The imposter syndrome was kicking in; I started thinking maybe I should just get a paper route.

Taking a problem solving approach to my dilemma, I realized that I could look at how things were stacking up against me — or I could flip that on its head and outline all the things that I had going for me. I was attending a great school that dropped all sorts of opportunities on me, and I had friends and family members who were willing to help me find jobs and support my ongoing learning. Through a unique combination of privilege (my background making my pursuit of software as a career easier), learning outside of class (building a lot of Gatsby projects while living on money I’d made as a janitor), and luck (Gatsby raising money and looking to hire at the exact time I was seeking an internship) the planets aligned and I arrived at Gatsby as a contractor!

I was thrilled to be there but starting on the job was not without its difficulties. I recall how, on my first project, I was asked to rebase or cherry-pick commits into my branch. Had I heard of either of those git commands? No. Was I going to try to do it anyway? Also no — not after reading the warnings on stackoverflow about rebasing. Eventually though, I stumbled through some of those projects and Gatsby offered me an official internship. I was ecstatic.

The need for all levels of developers

Even so, I still kept struggling with my imposter syndrome — the internal voice telling me I wouldn’t really be valuable in a tech company until I had the experience of a Senior Developer. 

This took a long time to overcome, but I finally came to a realization that helped me quiet that voice: Turns out, developers of all skill levels often solved problems the same way I did — guessing and checking until things worked with code they’d found on the internet. They were just better at the guessing part. I finally came to understand that if someone could pay me a little less to guess a little longer and still eventually get to the answer, I could be valuable too.

As an intern I volunteered as much time as I could to solve the smaller problems that my coworkers at Gatsby would rather not have to bother solving. This was both helpful to my team and also a great way to learn new skills. One of my first projects was picking through all the code of the website in order to fix all sorts of SEO problems. It wasn’t the funnest project, but it was useful, and it meant I learned our own Gatsby site inside and out. 

It often took initiative as an intern to get unblocked, especially working remote. My friends working at large scale companies had all sorts of mentors and internship activities organized by HR, with perks like free pizza at trampoline parks. Starting at Gatsby I was told to expense whatever laptop I wanted and then message my manager for work to start making moves. I actually preferred this independent approach, though there were drawbacks. If I didn’t make an effort to reach out to someone about a problem I faced, I could sit at home alone staring at my screen for days without any progress. Ultimately, though, it felt great that everyone I worked with trusted me to make the right decisions and find ways to unblock myself.

I saw Gatsby believe in me, and believe in all sorts of other individuals in the community who didn’t necessarily think like me, look like me, or come from where I did. I found myself believing more in myself and also in others. It was a virtuous cycle.

What I wish I knew

I wish I wouldn’t have been as afraid to ask questions!  When I was unsure about how to get something done, or what something meant, I would try to figure it out myself first and that could waste a lot of time. Having a reputation as someone who is willing to learn pays off a lot more than a reputation of someone who thinks they know it all.

What I learned

I’ve learned many things working as an intern amidst a lot of very smart engineers. Investing effort into things I could control was always more valuable than making excuses. Self-fulfilling prophecy worked in my favor when I was optimistic about my ability to figure something out — when I thought in terms of “can” instead of “can’t.”

I was dealt a good hand to find a good job that believed in me, and I don’t need to hoard all the best cards from the deck. In the metaphorical deck of life, I don’t think there are a limited number of aces, and if you are lucky enough to get one it’s fun to share.

Sort of like how a venture capitalist might value a startup, the value of a developer doesn’t come from the skill they’ve obtained, but the growth they’re exhibiting. To me, pursuing a career in technology feels mainly like a commitment to perpetual learning. Possessing that curiosity and passion to never stop learning: that should be the only requirement for entry.

Kyle Gill
Written by
Kyle Gill

Software engineer and fan of learning cool things, building cool things, and listening to cool music.

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