Startup Life

Engineering My Internship For Career Success

As a junior studying math and computer science at Stanford, I am constantly surrounded by news of the next big artificial intelligence and machine learning projects and startups on campus. This past autumn, I had the incredible opportunity to work at such a company that was revolutionizing the field of business intelligence with search and AI, ThoughtSpot. 

ThoughtSpot is a company centered around using search and AI to enable fast, iterative analytics at enterprise scale and complexity, changing the field of business intelligence and AI the same way that Google changed the way we look for trivia, Yelp has changed the way we look for restaurants, and travel websites have transformed how we go about making vacation plans.  I joined ThoughtSpot at a particularly exciting time, just after the launch of ThoughtSpot 4.4, which included SpotIQ, artificial intelligence-driven automated insight engine helping users uncover anomalies and trends they may not have even suspected.

From the first day I stepped into the orange-dotted ThoughtSpot office just a 15-minute bike ride from Stanford’s campus, I knew I was in for an incredible adventure. I couldn’t wait to get to work building out the already amazing ThoughtSpot search product. At most companies, the dream of writing production-level code for critical features of a platform remains an illusory goal for interns; at ThoughtSpot, that was just the nature of being a software engineering intern.

As an engineering intern working on the search engine, Sage, I had the chance to work on a natural language processing and machine-learning based search project still under wraps. While working on sub-projects,  I learned a dizzying amount about all things software engineering, artificial intelligence, and BI. However, I learned far more than the skills that helped me with my project. ThoughtSpot provided an unparalleled community of engineers excited about every aspect of their product, the kind of enthusiasm you rarely see outside of an amusement park. I found two aspects of ThoughtSpot’s culture particularly noteworthy:

Everyone’s ideas matter

Halfway through my second day as an intern, I had barely finished watching an orientation video about the ThoughtSpot product, and didn’t even know the name of the team I was on. Yet I found on my calendar an invite to a status meeting and showed up a little bemused, perching myself in a back corner, wondering what I would be able to understand. From that first conversation where I was introduced as a member of the team, I was treated as an equal to the other five engineers in the meeting, each of whom had been  tackling search and database questions for longer than I had known how to walk. Ten minutes into that first meeting, I was asked what I thought of the current web layout of the product, and twenty minutes in when I cautiously ventured a question,  I was not only thoughtfully answered, but two engineers made a note to write in a heuristic to resolve one of my concerns.

That meeting was only a small sample of how deeply I was included in a project that had been in the works for over 6 months by an incredibly senior team of engineers. By the second status meeting, I was giving updates about my work, being consulted with design questions, sharing thoughts about potential changes, and asked to help prioritize various features and bug fixes for the team as a whole. Three months later, and it still feels surreal how natural it is for me to put in feature requests, make substantial suggestions about the UI and direction of the project, and have these ideas not only be listened to, but treated as important inputs.

A culture of selfless excellence pervades

It’s rare when you see a company match its description on paper, but each and every interaction I have had while at ThoughtSpot has exemplified the ThoughtSpot goal of selfless excellence. By my first week in the office, I became accustomed to my Slack #selfless-excellence channel being populated with applause for the team members who went the extra mile to help someone else out or help ThoughtSpot ship the best possible product. 

I experienced this culture of selfless excellence firsthand; within 5 or 10 minutes of being stuck setting up a workstation, resolving a confusing git rebasing situation, or being blocked in the process of integrating code, I would find a senior engineer perched next to me on the couch I informally took over, willing to sit with me for as long as it took to not only resolve that specific issue, but for me to be empowered to solve the next series of similar problems. No matter when I had a question about a project I was working on, whether at 2AM, 7AM, 12PM, or 7PM, I could easily find someone not only available, but enthusiastic about helping me out. 

Overall it has been a one of a kind experience working at an incredible company and having the opportunity to see an unbelievable product go from a hacked together collection of hundreds of heuristics, algorithms, and brilliant ideas to a polished alpha product that will undoubtedly revolutionize the way people use ThoughtSpot and think about data in the BI space. I am incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity to join the ThoughtSpot ride, and I can’t wait for what the coming months and years will bring for ThoughtSpot. 

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