What I Learned from Interning at a Startup at 17

When I first got the opportunity to interview for Swarm, I wanted to say “Uhh… are you sure?”

I was seventeen (fresh out of high school!), and I had literally just started out in product design. Meanwhile, I knew that Swarm had an ambitious vision for the future of work, a pretty great founding team, and a high bar for their designers. Um, was I really qualified for this? Was I going to survive?

Fast forward to now, and I’ve spent a whole sixteen months interning at Swarm — enough time for many of my peers to take four or five different internships. I’m alive — in fact, I’m incredibly happy, and I have zero regrets.

In these sixteen short months, I got to collaborate on Swarm’s landing pages, email notifications, and core product, refine the voice of Swarm’s content and copy, host dozens of events for the Swarm community, come up with our one and only Catbee, lead our inaugural hackathon Swarmageddon, and host over fifty game nights for our team.

it’s been a wild ride!

I’ve learned so much, and I can’t believe that most of this happened before I even turned legal. All in all, here are three key things I’m taking away from this incredible experience.

1. Real life isn’t like the case studies.

When I started out as a product designer, I saw tons of case studies that went from exploration and research to design and implementation in a smooth timeline. When I started out at Swarm, I thought things would be similar: I’d get a project, do research, design, iterate, eventually ship it, and be on to the next.

diagrams like this make UX look easy! spoiler: it is so very hard… this is just the beginning…

Design at Swarm ended up being way different. I ended up working on a lot of different projects, collaborating on all sorts of content and events, chipping in at everyone’s design reviews, and hopping between parts of the design process rather than doing all the steps in a straight line.

It was scrappy, I didn’t know half of anything all of the time, and we always ended up jumping into calls to figure things out together. I absolutely loved it.

It wasn’t the “product design” I saw on portfolios and Linkedin because it was real life, with business and engineering problems, dynamic situations, and so many factors to consider. But real life turns out to be the best teacher, because every challenge is an adrenaline rush to figure things out. I had to learn how to teach myself and adapt in real-time.

2. Your team is your superpower.

When I started out as a designer, I would always feel really disappointed when I got stuck, made a mistake, or couldn’t do something on my own. (Cue the panic of: “Omg, do I really suck? Time to move to Tibet??”)

Swarm taught me that I didn’t have to do everything by myself. I was here to learn, not to already know everything. In fact, I was better off asking for help and tapping my teammates for their feedback and expertise, and they were always incredibly happy to help.

Their input didn’t just get me out of my ruts; they helped me see exactly what I was missing so that I could immediately spot it and fix it the next time around. They also made sure that I was never really “working” — I was planning, designing, and writing, yes, but I always laughing, learning, and having an awesome time.

TLDR; the people you’ll work with are the most important thing in a role. Make sure they’re people you admire and want to learn from!

my last game night with this spectacular bunch of people (missing aaron, rafa, and many more!) thank you for everything you’ve taught me ❤

3. New challenges are your #1 source of growth.

I joined Swarm with a few years of graphic design experience and a few months of exposure to UX. I didn’t know anything about making animations, writing effective email copy, working with KPIs, tracking links, and collaborating on big product decisions — but those were all things I ended up doing at Swarm.

if you had told me i was going to make lottie animations at swarm, i would have said: uh what

These challenges weren’t things that I had signed up for in the job description, but they made me an immensely better designer. I was hardly ever prepared for them, and I often had to Google stuff from the ground up (“how 2 responsive design??”), but I always had the trust of my manager and my team, and that gave me the confidence to push forward. With every challenge, I improved not just as a product designer, but as a teammate, a leader, and a whole person.

So don’t fear the scary stuff: embrace it with open arms. Take the leap, and who knows where you’ll be in sixteen months?

With that, thank you to everyone at Swarm: Dexter and Aaron for trusting a very bubbly 17-year-old always roping you into competitive word games, all the Swarmies including #1 design team, Jiggy, Alannah, Rafa, Nicole, Pat, Pia, Isa, Frances, and Quics, who are the most awesome designers and the best friends ever, and everyone else who I’ve met in my journey!!

I owe you all everything I’ve learned from this experience. It might be the end of my role as an intern, but I’ll always bee a Swarmie.

The (bee)st design team ever!! (Missing Jiggy, Isa, Pia, Nate, Frances, & more)

Special thanks to my lifelong mentor Alexis Collado, who saw my potential as a designer way before I did, mentored me every step of the way, and pushed me to my limits while always making sure I was having fun. You’re awesome (but you already know it, lol.)

On to the next great adventure!

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