A conversation with our interns

October 30, 2020
Helen and Oscar

Over the summer PlayerData grew. We grew and grew until we were almost double. Starting out as four, by the end of summer we had grown arms and legs (well, one leg.) Our two wonderful interns joined us in July, and then we hired a full-time Sports Analyst to make us 7 - more on him later. 

This post will be dedicated to those hard-working and truly invaluable interns. The guys who showed us how quickly they could take on projects, and how well they could work together with very little supervision. Who designed and built what is now our new docking station. Who showed us the true value of interns. 

Now before we go right on in to their take on things, I would like to talk a little bit about the process of hiring interns, particularly as a pre-revenue startup. Firstly, it is important to note that we needed the help. We were bogged under, everyone working three different jobs, our two software engineers trying to build an entirely new system on their own, our hardware engineer forking out his evenings and weekends as his main role is CEO. It got so busy that I was offered the soldering iron at one point - not something we would like to revisit. That isn’t to say we weren’t going anywhere, quite the opposite actually. But there is only so much time in the day, and even a startup has to make sure its employees are happy and well rested!

Our first answer was - we need to hire more people. But even when justified, wages and perfect candidates don’t just appear. We had already had a few requests for internships and work experience which we hadn’t quite felt ready for but now seemed like the time. 

So let’s meet them! Our knights in shining armour, our saviours, our multi-talented workers. Our interns turned employees. Meet Helen and Oscar. Both 3rd year students at Edinburgh University, Helen studies Physics while Oscar studies Electrical Engineering with Renewable Energy. Here's what they had to say:

So, how did you hear about PlayerData? We didn’t advertise for our intern positions so tell us how you got them.

Helen: I actually met Roy at my Japanese class’s lunch event. He came with his girlfriend, Fiona, who had previously told me he was Thai (and she was trying to make him go to the Amazing Thailand event I was helping to organise). I just asked him what he did...

Oscar: One of my lecturers (shoutouts to prof. Ian Underwood) liked to break up lectures by taking a small break to give a short talk or tell a story. One of his talks was about a former student, Roy, who created a tech start-up and secured funding. As I was a committee member on the Edinburgh University Electronics and Electrical Engineering Society, we decided to get in contact with him to give an academic talk to interested society members. It was following this event I got the internship

And why PlayerData? What drew you to a tech startup?

Helen: Okay, this is going to be a bit of a long story. I had actually applied to another internship and narrowly missed out in the position. Feeling somewhat gutted I decided to ask Roy about possibly doing an internship. I’ve never used personal contacts before and thought there was nothing to lose. That being said, I had researched the company beforehand (on top of the things Roy told me) and was pretty interested in what they did. I’m sporty and like using technology, and I want to work in new technology/smart technology R&D in the future. I guess I could say it ticked a lot of boxes. 

The fact that it was a tech startup part was actually a bonus for me. Since startup companies are usually small, it would give me the chance to see more of the development process, which I find very cool.

Oscar: My original plan at the start of last year was to intern at an energy company, because I thought it would be most relevant toward my degree. When that didn’t really materialize, I looked for anything where I could do actual engineering work. To be honest, I had my doubts about working at a startup because I didn’t know if it would be “real” engineering, but I love sports and thought the idea behind PlayerData was really cool so I reached out to Roy. Once I started working here, it didn’t take long for me to feel like I made the right decision, as the work turned out to be more interesting and engaging than I had expected, probably even more so than if I had worked at a big company.

Tell us about your first day here. How did it feel and was it what you expected?

Helen: I can’t really remember the first day to be honest… Though I do remember being chucked into the deep end of electronics design. That was pretty daunting since my electronics knowledge went as far as LCR -circuits. Good thing I had Oscar to help me through!

Oscar: I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I started working at PlayerData; I guess  I expected the first week to be slow and somewhat boring (like the first week typically is at uni), but it proved to be all but that. Helen and I got a short building tour and safety lecture and then immediately started learning how to set up the pick and place machine and working with hardware. By the end of my first week I could barely keep track of all the things I had done for the first time.

We do tend to throw people in at the deep end… It is fast becoming our signature move. Tell us about your overall experience then. What else did you get up to?

Helen: In general, we got up to a lot of things. Some field trips, some meetings, some hardware making/destroying, some programming. It really was a bit of everything (except making coffee for everyone). The main things we focused on though were designing a usb-c docking station for the new EDGE’s, as well as making a computer visualisation of someone’s back posture using information from sensors stuck onto a back garment top. To my amazement, we actually managed to complete both things, and well! 

Oscar: Our internship consisted of two types of work: project work, and ‘miscellaneous’ work. The project work included a hardware project where we designed and assembled a docking station for PlayerData’s Edge units, and a software project where we used Python to visualize sensor data from IMU sensors along the spine of a back-posture garment. The ‘miscellaneous’ work involved us completing whatever task was more relevant or important at the time. This included (but wasn’t limited to): Taking apart and fixing broken units or assembling new units to fulfill an order, running scripts to generate heatmaps for clients, sitting in on business or design meetings, and making the occasional delivery.

You sure packed a lot in. And for that we are truly grateful. It’s been amazing having you two in the office, and it really is incredible how quickly you both settled in and made a huge impact on the company. If you had to pick though, what would you say was the best bit?

Helen: When the code worked!

That’s always satisfying for sure! And Oscar?

Oscar: The wide range of things we got up to over the course of the internship. I felt like I was doing something completely new almost everyday, especially early on. Whether it was sitting in on business or design meetings, working with new software, playing with hardware I’ve never used, or inspecting code, I was constantly learning something new and noticed my improvement over the course of the internship. I also really enjoyed the occasional field trips out of Edinburgh, as the change of pace and scenery meant whatever we were doing always felt fresh.

We do like to get out of the office when we can! Maybe we’ll send you to our next conference. Ok, and the worst bit? Be honest!

Oscar: We got stuck during both the hardware and software projects. We did eventually figure out a solution, but being stuck was quite frustrating. Since we were at a startup with a small team, Helen and I were the only people working on these projects. This gave us the chance to do meaningful work, but also meant that it was up to us to figure out what to do if we were hitting a dead end and appropriately change our approach. Roy would guide us in the right direction and showed us how to utilize resources we didn’t know existed, but he was sometimes busy or in a meeting so couldn’t always be on hand to help out.

Helen: When the code didn’t work…

I guess that’s the beauty and the beast of a startup. Almost complete autonomy, but also not having that full network of support to look to. It’s definitely something we will consider when we next bring in interns. 
Moving on from us, how has this internship helped shape your decisions? Has it changed the direction you were going in or even confirmation to where you were already headed?

Oscar: For me it’s definitely confirmed that I wanted to be an engineer. Before this internship I had only done academics, and I’m relieved to find out that I enjoy the practical work even more than the academics. It’s good to feel like I’m on the right path.

Helen: Yeah, I definitely know this is the type of job I want a career in. It’s sooo much better than waitressing, and now I can’t wait to finish university so I can do this full time. It’s also got me to consider doing software (something I have a love/hate relationship with) since Roy told me what an average starting salary in it is. But who knows, maybe I’ll embrace the hardware route after I finish my degree.

Any advice for other students who are thinking about interning with a startup?

Helen: I think interning at a start-up is really great if you are thinking of starting your own business, or if you’re just unsure of what type of job you want to go into. Since the team is small, you really do get the chance to try EVERYTHING. My advice would be to go in with an open mind and a willingness to try everything. Oh, and be prepared to do lots of things last minute and enjoy the chaos sometimes.

Oscar: Yes, be prepared to work independently and learn as much as you can while on the job. Since the team is small there may not always be someone looking over your shoulder and telling you what to do so be willing to ask questions and be proactive in asking for advice if you feel like you’re not making progress. 

Some sound advice. Ok, and the big question, what’s next? We heard rumours you would be doing the occasional hours for us - tell us it’s true!

Helen: I think I speak for myself and Oscar here when I say we are both happily going to be working part-time during term time! Obviously it is workload dependent (so don’t get worried if we disappear around exam/deadline time), but I’m excited to continue working at PlayerData for the next while.

Oscar: It’s true, I very much look forward to coming into the office as a change of scene from my studies. 

Yes!! Well we are happy to have you both and welcome you to the team in your new roles! Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Oscar: I had a great time this summer and look forward to staying on board.

Helen: I just want to say thank you to Roy, Hayden, Beth and Donald for the amazing experience. I really enjoyed interning at PlayerData and now I don’t want to go back to university... I would 100/10 recommend other students to intern here in the future!

Thank you both for taking the time to speak to us and answer all of our questions. This was our first go at an internship and I think it’s safe to say it was a resounding success.

Well, you heard it here first - welcome to the team our interns turned part-time employees, Helen and Oscar!

September 2019

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