Summer 2018 High School SPARKSIP Interns

August 13, 2018

Blog, Resources

This summer we have been pleased to welcome five high school interns from Redmond, Wash. School district.

The SPARKSIP intern program

Cartogram welcomed five interns for the summer program. Four of them will be seniors this coming year, and one is going on to college.

The four students attend the Tesla STEM high school, and our returning intern Rohin recently graduated from Redmond High School (congrats Rohin!) These interns have participated in an 8-week long program organized through the Spark Summer Internship Program (SPARKSIP).

This internship program requires students to undergo a rigorous application process. In addition, they’ve done a fantastic job preparing the students for life in a professional office. As a group the interns were at their desks in the morning before our regular employees, had great attitudes, and were polite and ready to buckle down.

From the SPARKSIP website:

Mission: To provide opportunities for motivated high school students in the Greater Seattle area hands-on, in-depth learning by connecting them with industry experts, educators and mentors from various organizations

Vision: Our vision is to act as a liaison and bring to the interested high school students in the Greater Seattle area, appropriate opportunities to interact with industry experts, professors in well-established institutions, community leaders, to experience working in a professional environment and prepare them intellectually and emotionally for the road ahead of them.

Each student is assigned a staff mentor. This regular full-time employee meets with the intern one-on-one to ensure they are settling in. In addition to the mentor, our interns regularly meet with technical resources to go over their work and any roadblocks.

What do they work on?

Our SPARKSIP interns have been working on a variety of different projects over the summer. Each project directly impacts Cartogram, from designing an updated sales tool in a specialized graphic design program, to creating new features in our mobile app. And each intern has a specialized area. For instance, incoming senior Alexia has been working to improve our content management tools on the Cartogram webapp – very helpful for us and something she’ll be able to cite in future job applications.

Intern project have run the gamut from software testing, hardware preparation, and content management, to software development. Each student had the chance to work on a project that is customer-facing or part of an essential business tool for Cartogram.

Here’s Rohin Meduri on his intern experience:

“This is my second summer with Cartogram and I have learned so much through both my internships. Last year, I created Cartogram’s web implementation of its wayfinding technology. This year, I got to create Cartogram’s integration with the nation’s leading healthcare IT company to provide patients with directions to their appointments in hospitals. Working at Cartogram has been incredibly rewarding because it has given me the opportunity to contribute code that will be used by actual clients.”

What do the SPARKSIP Interns learn?

While all the SPARKSIP interns went through a rigorous application process to join the program, there has been lots of learning “on the job”. From learning to work in new programming languages, to learning about our business processes so that they could support them, they’ve had that classic first job experience of “drinking from the firehose”.

Another classic first job experience that they’ve had is to be assigned work they don’t know how to complete. At Cartogram they’ve had time to sit quietly with their assignments and think them through. It’s gratifying for us to see one sitting still and staring into space. When asked how they’re doing, they might say, “I’m stumped” and then that afternoon or the next day they report that they’ve solved it! Staff meetings with the students have had several rounds of high-fives for problems overcome. Rock on!

All software engineers have experienced this ramp-up time in a new position, where they had to spend time learning the specific programming languages in use as well as the stack of tools specific to each job. The SPARKSIP interns are no different.

Here’s Martin Shi on his intern experience:

“The amount I’ve learned at Cartogram far surpassed my expectations coming into the internship. I loved getting to know how all the components of Cartogram’s software work together, and I truly enjoyed delving into the code and solving interesting problems over the course of my project. The people here are great; they form a welcoming community that make you feel at home from the start.”

The interns have been using strong math, study, and coding skills to solve problems independently. They’ve worked for multiple departments at Cartogram including engineering, marketing, and sales.

Life in the Cartogram offices

For the eight weeks of the SPARKSIP program, these students participate like regular full-time employees. They have assignments, attend team meetings, and take advantage of the office’s free coffee and Ping-Pong table.

There is a weekly team meeting. Each intern tells the group what they’ve worked on in the past week, including road blocks/frustrations and obstacles overcome. They also have the opportunity to hear from different departments at Cartogram and learn how the different elements of the team fit together. They listen as sales talks about how their projects influence a major customer decision, or how marketing will share their work with prospective buyers.

Midway through the summer our CEO Will instituted office hours, so that if one of the students had technical questions they had a specific time and place to ask about it from the person who knows the ins and outs of Cartogram’s systems best.

Will also implemented “Beat the CEO!”, a program where everyone could challenge him to a game of their choosing from Street Fighter to checkers.

Working at a startup is different from working at an enterprise company. Here, they’ve been exposed to the inner workings of our company. They’ve been able to meet and work with different departments and have seen the impact of their work in a tangible way.

We believe that their time here, instead of helping to prepare them for their first “real” position, will function as actual work experience. They’ve been held to a high standard and have fulfilled our expectations and then some!

We’re so pleased to have had them on our team this summer and wish them all the best in the future!