Design, Technology

“The interview is about showing that you want to develop and learn”: How to land a summer job with Reaktor

Every summer at the Helsinki office, we hire a group of summer interns to join our projects and get some real-life experience in designing and building digital services. We believe that working experience can be a great complement to studies, and at the same time interns bring a wealth of innovative ideas and energy with them. For us, the summer job program is an essential part of fostering new talent.

This year, the group included 22 summer developers and designers. We asked two of them, Minna and Mira, to share their experiences with us, and give some tips if you’re looking to join us next summer.

First off, tell a little bit about yourself: what are you studying and what role did you join Reaktor in? Any specific professional interests you wanted to pursue?

Mira: I’m starting my fourth year at Aalto University this fall, and I’m in the information networks program. I joined Reaktor as a design intern, or as an interface designer if we’re being specific. What I was pleased to learn was that as a designer, you don’t need to just focus on one area; you can and should have an interest in doing multiple things. For me, this meant that I was not only designing user interfaces, but also creating visuals and doing some service design as well. I was pleased with the flexibility of the role, as that is something I’m interested in, and I see that visual and interface design are great complements.

Minna: I’m about to start my third year of computer science at Aalto University, and I joined Reaktor as a software developer. When it comes to professional interests, I’m still searching for a particular field I might want to pursue – I’ve built mobile apps and websites in the past, and I’m happy working on those kinds of things for now, but I’m looking to expand my skills to other areas as well. Although I’m no designer, it would be great if I get a chance to do some design-related stuff too at some point!

Why did you apply for a summer job with Reaktor? What drew you to us?

Minna: One of my friends did the summer internship last year, and from what they shared of the experience, I felt like this could be the kind of company I’d like to work for. The projects seemed interesting, and I had a generally positive image of Reaktor, both from school events and from other developers. I’d never worked as a developer before, so I was really keen to get some real-life experience of working on a team and with clients. I didn’t think I’d actually get picked, but I figured just applying would be good experience and help put myself on Reaktor’s radar.

Mira: I’d also heard that Reaktor is an excellent place to work, and that the company really supports the development of its employees, both as consultants and as individuals – but you never know what a company is really like before you join them. For me, the main draw was similar to Minna’s: I wanted to get a realistic idea of what options a company like this provides, and what potential career paths there are. I was also keen to just get practical experience of working on a team and getting some real-life practice using the tools and processes I’ve been studying.

What expectations did you have of Reaktor? Were they met?

Minna: Although I wasn’t very sure of what to expect from Reaktor prior to coming here, I certainly hoped to be able to work in an interesting project with best developers to learn from – all of which I did. I also hoped to be able to try out different things, be it tech-related or not, and was gladly given the opportunity and freedom. The thing that maybe surprised me the most (in a good way!) was how unstereotypical everyone is. Instead of conforming to the closed-up coder cliché, everyone was really friendly and did everything they could to make us feel welcome and valued.

Mira: I kind of expected all Reaktorians to be these superior beings – extremely talented and dedicated, but also with the time for really cool hobbies. In a way I think I’d glorified both the company and the people, and it felt like a relief to realize that Reaktorians are real people: Very talented, but also approachable, and it felt like everyone genuinely wanted to hear what others have to say.

What was the application process like? Any tips for anyone else who’s thinking of applying next year?

Minna: The entire process went very quickly as it took about three weeks in total. After sending in my application I went through two interviews, after which I got the job – a day after the second interview.

The interviews themselves went alright. Before going to the first interview, I was terrified to the point that I felt I was going to be sick, but the actual interview was nothing like what I had envisioned: The interviewers were very friendly and tried to make me feel as comfortable as a person can be in that situation. I definitely wasn’t able to answer all the questions I was asked, but I managed to bring out pretty much everything I know.

Mira: I agree that the interview process felt different from the norm – in a good way. It felt like the point of the interview wasn’t to make me uncomfortable or catch me out, but rather to get the best out of me. And this same approach continued after I joined the company: It felt like everyone wants to learn from you, hear what you have to say, and then share what they know. This I really appreciated.

Minna: As for tips, as cliché as it may sound, be yourself. Reaktorians want to get to know you as a whole person (not just as a developer/designer/etc.) with whom they might potentially work with – so don’t fake it. Consider the interview to be more like a group discussion where people get to know each other, instead of a situation where questions are thrown one-sidedly.

If they ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, just tell them honestly, and if possible present your views/ideas even if you’re not sure. They will appreciate your effort.

Mira: Absolutely, the most important tip is to come as you are. During the interviews, the Reaktorians talked a lot about how important the chemistry between people is for team success. It’s not about what you do or don’t know, it’s about showing that you want to develop and learn.

Tell us a bit more about what you did during the summer. What kinds of projects did you work on?

Minna: I worked on one project for the whole summer. The team was made up of very experienced developers and the codebase was huge. At the beginning, I spent a lot of time getting to know the domain and the technologies. After a while, I realized that I didn’t need to know everything about every single technology we were using; I just had to learn to ask for advice from my teammates. It was intimidating at first, but became easier once I got to know everyone.

There was also another summer developer on the project, and I found that to be very helpful. We could ask each other for advice on the smaller, more routine questions, and discuss with each other first before asking for advice from the more experienced developers.

Mira: I was really glad to see that summer interns get to work on projects doing actual design and development – that we weren’t here to just make the coffee. I was working as a designer on two separate projects, with teams that were very different from one another. On the first project, I worked with another designer, which gave me a more focused, steady start. It took me a while to build up my confidence and share ideas that weren’t “ready” – and this was easier when my immediate team consisted of just one other person.

On my second project, the team was much larger and I was able to practice my cross-competence communication skills. I had to start thinking about how I could best discuss design choices with another designer versus a developer or the client.

What was the most important thing you learned this summer? Was there a specific area in which you developed the most?

Minna: I honestly learnt so many things that it is not possible to sum it up in a single sentence. All in all, my experience here has been very satisfying, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better way to spend my summer. Now I have a better picture of myself as a software developer, a broader and deeper understanding of commonly used technologies that aren’t really taught at university, and more confidence in general. I also feel like I have a clearer vision of what I want to do or study more in the future, contrary to the blurry, uncertain picture I had before coming here.

Mira: Like Minna, the biggest take-away for me is the confidence I gained from working on real projects in the field. This lead to both feeling more confident in expressing my ideas and views, as well as in asking for help. At the beginning of the summer, I felt unsure about voicing any opinions or asking any questions, no matter how small; I felt like I had to have a fully-formed and researched idea before it was worth sharing. But slowly I started sharing more, and the experience was a real confidence boost: It felt like my ideas were listened to and acted on, and my colleagues considered them just as valid as anyone else’s. It was a relief when I understood that the best outcomes often come from sharing early and often, and working together to improve the initial idea. I realized that it’s also the most efficient way to work.

Was there anything about Reaktor that surprised you?

Minna: The coffee culture 🙂 The Reaktorian dedication to the art of extraction is simply mind-boggling.

On a more serious note, I was honestly very surprised by the amount of attention and care that was given to us interns. I was also surprised by the process of matching people to projects. People here strive to place you in a project that suits your interests and wishes, and it can sometimes take weeks or even months to find a good fit. During this time, you will mostly spend your days at the HQ either working on some internal project or studying a new tech that you find either interesting or good to know. At first, this felt quite uncomfortable to me – I spend a lot of my free time studying new technologies anyway, so it felt weird getting paid for it. However, I learned that in the long run this is often beneficial, and have come to appreciate the degree of trust Reaktor places on its people to use their time in a way that benefits the company.

Mira: Yes, the time it took to find a project was surprising! My colleagues had warned me that getting into a project might be hard, and you would probably need to be very active despite our super talented and hardworking business development team. But still it came as a surprise for me how hard it can be in an organization this flat: The responsibility really is yours. You have to really put in the work even before you get into a project, and get to know the right people who can point you in the right direction. Luckily I realised this early enough and was able to work with incredibly talented people in two fascinating projects.

Another thing that I was pleasantly surprised by is that people here are extremely willing to not only share what they know, but also learn from others. There was a constant supply of workshops, designer breakfasts and meetups, different kinds of trainings and opportunities to casually meet colleagues. Most of these were arranged and hosted by Reaktorians for other Reaktorians, and everyone, including interns, is welcome to join in.

Looking back, did the summer internship meet your expectations?

Minna: Although I didn’t originally have a clear picture of what I expected from this summer, I’m really glad I took the chance and joined the internship. There were times when I felt uncomfortable with how little I know, sure, but also thanks to these uncertainties, I worked harder to become a better developer, which in turn gave me a certain degree of confidence I feel I lacked before the summer. All in all, I’m very happy with my well-spent summer.

Mira: Yes it did. I feel like I gained understanding of what I’d like to do in the future. I was also lucky to get to work on two such different projects, with two very differently sized teams. This meant that I was able to do loads of different things: not only did I get to use my core skills of UX design, I also got to try my hand at concept design, service design, visual design, and working on offers for future projects. I feel like I’m now more aware of the things I’m already good at, and where I want to develop in the future.

Are you a student looking for a summer internship for 2019? Our internships are now open for applications – check out the details and this year’s application tasks at reaktor.com/summer2019.

 

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