September 22, 2017
Summer: hot sun, sand, pools and vacation… Also known around PointSource as “internship season.” Each Summer, PointSource brings on interns for a new project. We put them through a hazing ritual, of course, complete with fire and hoops. Assuming they come out unharmed, they begin a 3 month project working onsite with minimal preconceived requirements. The resulting creation is intended to be something for us to continue using here at PointSource after their internship ends.
What goals define the PointSource internship program?
Any program or project should start with clear goals in mind in order to be successful. Our internship program is no different; leadership and managers have laid out goals to define and direct the way internships at PointSource can prove mutually beneficial to all parties. The goals surrounding the internship program are:
- To evaluate and develop future talent
- Pursue investment of emerging tech areas
- Gain a fresh perspective on problem-solving in tech trends
- Make connections and increase visibility on campuses
- Share lessons learned across the company
So how does PointSource choose a project for our interns?
In an industry like ours, there are infinite numbers of possible short-term projects for interns to work on, but to narrow that expanse, we need to set certain parameters. At PointSource streamlining the possibilities means that the project must meet these criteria:
- It must be broadly relatable across industries. For example, last year our interns created “Snack Tracker” to keep inventory of snacks both remaining and consumed for reordering purposes. This type of project is easily relatable to supply chain type industries (office supply, food supply, etc.)
- It should focus on emerging tech areas; new and exciting concepts in the tech market create interesting opportunities for exploration and innovation for our interns.
- The end result should immediately benefit PointSource and its employees.
Who is PointSource looking for?
The ideal intern would be one that bakes cookies each night and brings them into our office each morning. They would occasionally alternate with other sweets and sundries, taking into account all employee dietary restrictions. Other than that, applicants should be a rising college Junior or Senior and have some/all of the following skills:
- Mobile development experience
- Web development experience beyond traditional
- Relevant side project participation
- Team project work
- Good communication skills
Enter Shane, Sarah and Fiona – our 2017 interns!
After looking at concepts around Alexa, Chatbots and Amazon services, Alexa was ultimately picked as the technology that would be workable, relatable and innovative to our interns and our office. The team used their first sprint to brainstorm features that could be worked into Alexa and learn what that would entail. Designing a front desk experience seemed to be something that would meet all previously established goals and parameters. Let’s hear more about this interjected with some of the interns’ own words…
Describe the project:
The summer intern project was dedicated to learning how to design and develop an Alexa skill. The skill we were focusing on was specifically to help visitors get checked into the front desk at PointSource. [One of the priorities was making Alexa seem more human by including such things as randomizing what she says and using more casual language.]
What role did you each play?
We each had our own strong suits, but we needed to use our abilities together to best solve the problems in front of us. It wasn’t a matter of divide and conquer, but rather, spending time on each aspect of the design process and development process together. In that way, the designer learned more about the technical aspects and functionality, and the developers learned more about using empathy and making something with the user in mind.
What issues came up?
We leaned into it with determination and willingness to be flexible. In the words of writer Annie Lamott, we took things “bird by bird.” Since the technology is so new there is no current research out there that tells you how to specifically design for an Alexa skill and Amazon doesn’t update their documentation as frequently as the software. The functionality of Alexa is very limited, so we had to adjust to the parameters of the actual Amazon rules while designing.
What went better than expected?
We always reached the goals that we set for ourselves- maybe even exceeded goals without realizing it. We always pushed the project further. Each sprint, we were able to do something new and work with new technology. [Our mentors were invested in the project and rather than just creating busywork for learning purposes, they let us run a viable project that continues to be used.]
Was the end result what you had hoped?
Going into this internship as a team, we were all on the same side of not really having any preconceived expectations. We went into the experience with an open mindset of being okay with the unknown. We put our game faces on, failed fast and pushed forward with the project development. Our biggest goal was to learn something new in a forward-thinking environment.
What did you think of being here at PointSource?
Everyone is really personable and wanted to see if they could help in any way. Although we had complete creative freedom with the project, we felt as if we were still cared for and guided and given amazing expertise. We were really pleased with the authentic company culture that’s derived from everyone’s laid back yet hard-working personalities. We feel as if everyone here lives by the company motto ‘listen to your weird’. It’s not just a front-facing motto that sounds cool to say; PointSource seems to thrive on the diversity and differences between everyone.
Where are they now?
Since finishing their internships at PointSource, Fiona, Shane and Sarah have gone on to work with Amazon to produce the next generation of Alexa… Ok, not yet… BUT… While both Fiona and Shane returned to Virginia to complete their college degrees, Sarah has accepted a position here at PointSource as an Associate UX Designer! We are so happy to have added such new and awesome talent to the staff. We have a gold-plated Echo Dot waiting at her desk… still lying.
Interested in interning with us? Let us know!