The value of interns when involved in real product development

In December 2017 and January 2018, Polymorph was joined by new interns; Tatenda Muvhu and Mustafa Rashid. We met Tatenda and Mustafa while attending Break the Rules as part of the Alphawave group.

As a product development company working in South Africa, we believe it is essential to create learning experiences for the future of the country and continent. In light of understanding how to better facilitate our interns learning, we sat together to and discussed their experience as interns in Polymorph.

Tatenda and Mustafa joined us at the end of the third year of their Electrical and Computer Engineering degrees at UCT.

What did you build?

Both Tatenda and Mustafa were put onto active projects so that what they developed would be used. Often interns are given dummy projects, but this isn’t as valuable as taking ownership of a piece of software to be delivered to a client. To have them fully engaged in the Polymorph processes during product development, we wanted them to understand a real world client with real world challenges. Focusing on an IoT solution that retrieved data from an inverted pendulum made them part of a team and created an on the ground, coalface learning experience.

Working within a product development company

It was important to me that they actively engage with the company as a whole. Tatenda and Mustafa attended company stand-ups and spoke to all the members of the company (collocated and remote) to update them on the progress. This was a great way to give them an understanding on how we work together during product development, we speak to each other and advise on each other’s projects, as well as, importantly congratulate and support each other.

What did you learn?

This for me was the most interesting part in two ways. Firstly, did this experience differ greatly from university and how did they experience our culture. Both Tatenda and Mustafa expressed their excitement about how they had not experienced software solving real world problems. That this was different to university where problems felt abstract.

Secondly, culture is often spoken about within tech as a culture which excludes. At Polymorph, we work towards an inclusive culture. This means that we work to allow each employee to focus on what is most important to them, for some this is a career that has space for more active family lives, or to be able to volunteer more often on important projects.

How do you feel about remote work?

Being a remote first product development company means we have challenges that collocated companies do not experience and those challenges have become ways to be innovative and strengthen us. As Tatenda and Mustafa had not worked before and needed the use of computers in the office, they worked from Polymorph. However, much of the team is remote first and as such they spent much of their time alone. It was interesting to learn how much this taught them about their own abilities as one expressed that remote work required great discipline and he would have to learn this skill so preferred working in an office where he could focus on the job at hand and not be distracted (We have written a few blogs on remote work, please see them listed below).

At Polymorph,  one of our most important values is placing the client at the heart of product development. There are two clients; the client who commissions the work and the client who we create the mobile app for. I felt our job was done when I heard this value expressed in both conversations. Working towards creating a human focused future within product development starts when we create human focused technology. To know that two bright minds experienced not just building a product that a client will used, but took the human centred approach to heart, makes me excited about the future of product development in this country and beyond

Mustafa sent me his thoughts after the interview and I think it expresses the excitement of being an intern in a dynamic space well. I hope the below convinces you to bring in the bright young men and women studying at our universities. As we know studying is lifelong requirement in our industry and we have as much to learn from them as they do from us.

Thank you Tatenda and Mustafa

During the short time that I spent at Polymorph, I got an opportunity to be around talented people in such an enthusiastic environment. I definitely felt part of the team, and got an opportunity to work on a client project which involved close interactions with the clients themselves while practicing the customer-centric nature of this company. I was exposed to a lot of new technologies that I had not used before, but thanks to the awesome team I got comfortable using them by the end of the internship. So it was a jam-packed 6 weeks which gave me a real-feel of industry

The effective and unique approach of Lean Product development that Polymorph uses to satisfy client need taught me what matters more is not what you do but rather how you do it. An important aspect of this is always putting the client at the forefront and working backwards from there. And that every tiny detail counts in terms of good user experience, which again emphasized that behind every  great product at Polymorph lies the hard work of a team of dedicated people who have the values of the company instilled in them. Polymorph is a company that can conceptualize any problem given to them and build and app out of it.

After this internship, I have never been so sure that Software Development is the path I want to take. In reality, relying on formal education on its own does not give you the realization that software is used to solve daily problems and make things more efficient. So spending my time here gave me the motivation to make a commitment to acquire and brush up on specific skill-sets that I have not been exposed to at University level. A good example of this is Mobile App development which I experienced at Polymorph.

I not at all expected leaving the company with building a product and developing brand new skills from technologies that I was not  familiar with before to what it takes to building a complete product as well as learning the importance and effectiveness of teamwork which is demonstrated well in Polymorph’s Agile environment.

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