How to Rock Your Internship

3 Tips to Getting the Most Out of Your Summer  

No one wore a suit at Shopify… Even a tie was questionable

No one wore a suit at Shopify… Even a tie was questionable

Two weeks into my summer internship with Shopify, I was feeling lost. After completing the laundry list of tasks my manager had assigned, everything I did felt “day-to-day”, with little purpose behind the projects. I wasn’t learning as much as I wanted to, and even worse, I felt like I was underperforming. 

With many smaller companies, I found this is often the case. Teams are small and move quickly, making it hard to find ways to integrate an intern into long-term projects without hurting overall productivity. I mentioned in my last post that this was the reason a lot of startups aren’t open to taking on interns. 

However, there are steps you can take to ensure you find your groove quickly at your new job, and make the most of the time you have available. 

1. Find work, don’t wait for it 

Coming into my role at Shopify, there were about 10 tasks that were laid out for the sales interns to accomplish. We worked quickly, so within about 3–4 weeks, we had finished all the tasks. Our manager didn’t have the time to create new projects, so most of our work following that was day-to-day and added less value than we wanted. 

I spoke with a few other friends at the company who had been there for a while, and they were not surprised. Shopify did this intentionally. 

There are companies where you get clear work everyday. Then there’s other companies where the problems are clear, but you need to find the solutions. Then there’s Shopify… You have to find the problem and the solution. 

You are able to do your best work when you don’t just know the problem, you fall in love with it. And that’s the approach that Shopify took — if you find the problem yourself, you’ll be dedicated to solving it. 

Squadify: The Shopify Waterloo intern team.

Squadify: The Shopify Waterloo intern team.

So what does this mean for interns? It means you need to dive deep into the company and the work you’re doing. I spent a lot of time digging through sales data and speaking with co-workers before I found key problems that I wanted to tackle. 

At Shopify (and most startups) it’s a meritocracy, so if you present a solid case to solving a problem, you can get the approval to tackle it. I spent the next few weeks working with another intern on a script that did automated lead scraping via Google and LinkedIn, saving each sales hacker around 10 hours per week. I found a problem I was passionate about and delivered a solution I was proud of, making my internship feel a lot more valuable. 

2. Combine what you know with what you don’t 

I came in with the assumption that internships were all about learning, and while that will happen, don’t expect to learn everything. You should have a firm grasp on what you can do, what you know you can do, and what you want to try. Let’s clear things up with an example: your boss wants you to create a whitepaper on the food & beverage industry in New York, and here are your potential responses. 

Category 1: Jobs you can do/have done

I definitely can! I made another whitepaper a few months ago on the taxi industry in New York, so this should be no problem. 

Category 2: Jobs you know how to do

I’ll give it a shot! I haven’t done it before, but I’ve read up on the components of whitepapers and have a good idea of how to approach it. 

Category 3: Jobs you want to try 

No idea what a whitepaper entails, but I’m happy to give it a shot! 

Jobs in #1 are easy to get since you have experience, but jobs in #2 are what you’re really looking for, as it’s where you really learn. At Shopify, I knew how sales pipelines worked, but I never built one. When the project came up, I knew enough to get the responsibility, but still learned from practicing new skills. 

HackDays: Shopify's internal hackathon, where you get to ship a project with a new team. 

HackDays: Shopify's internal hackathon, where you get to ship a project with a new team. 

It’s not that you should avoid jobs in #3, but it’s unlikely you will get them. If your manager wants to get something done and you have no experience or idea how to tackle it, they’re better off doing it themselves. However, if you see jobs in #3, the best thing you can do is practice them on your own time. 

At Shopify, I was curious about lead generation, and started to read up on it. Near the end of my internship, I was able to convince the growth team to involve me in one of their lead generation projects. Had I not read up on the topic area, I would have probably just slowed the team down. 

3. Explore anything that interests you 

During one of my interview rounds with Shopify, I had a challenging chat with one of the sales managers. He asked me why I wanted to work at Shopify, and I jumped into a response about loving sales, and how it both rewards hustle and yields tangible value for my work. His response changed the way I approach the internship. 

You can learn sales anytime in your life, and at any company. The value in this internship is getting the chance to work at a rocketship like Shopify, and the experiences you can have. 

He was right. Sales was great, but the opportunity to be part of the inner workings of an explosive company was even better. I learned a lot about various other departments, like customer success and engineering, and even found a better fit with business operations, where I’m interning this summer. 

I learned a minimal amount of Javascript last summer, but all of it was applicable! 

I learned a minimal amount of Javascript last summer, but all of it was applicable! 

I did this by exploring everything that interested me — if an engineering project sounded intriguing, I’d chat with them about it. Eventually by August I discovered a lead generation project with the Growth team, who worked at a different office, which really exposed my passion for marketing. 

At the end of the day, internships are a 4-mth opportunity to explore your interests, so pigeon-holing yourself in one department limits your experience. Be sure to talk to others and see what interests you, because you never know what you might find. 

Not sure where to start? I’m sharing a sample deck with my email newsletter that I’m presenting to Shopify to make the most of my summer internship. Subscribe below for access!