rainier ababao reads and writes

The Silicon Valley Internship

Clover

I interned at Clover. Facts about them:

  • Point-of-sales (POS) platform startup that launched in 2012 and was acquired later that year by First Data, the world’s largest credit card processing company.
  • First Data is in charge of sales and support, and Clover engineers the hardware and software for new POS devices.
  • There’s a “Founder’s Clause” in the acquisition contract that would make First Data pay a large fine if they interfered with Clover’s operations. So it still operates and feels like a startup.
  • Their devices run a custom fork of Android. They provide an app store and ecosystem with a public API and SDK for developers to build business-related apps (e.g. for tabling, employee/inventory management, etc.).
  • Over 100 people work in the Sunnyvale HQ as of this writing. However, I saw new engineers and business people get hired every week.
  • 11 engineering interns at Clover HQ this summer (8 from UT Austin due to some early employees being alum).

It went for 13 weeks, from May 23rd to August 19th, 2016.

I was on the server team. My project initially involved integrating a time-series database and fixing a metrics collection service written in Python and a tiny bit of Go. Later on, I helped redesign and rewrite it completely in Go, both experiences from which I learned immensely from. Also, I was assigned bugs and performance issues related to the main server codebase like any other full-time engineer on the team. This allowed me to dust off my Java, learn Netty, pick up a large codebase, understand architectural concepts like the difference between monolith and microservices, and get better at switching tasks quickly.

My favorite part about the server team was how talented everybody had to be. To be a successful server engineer at Clover, you have to be a full-stack generalist. I’m not talking about being able to tie together web app frontends and backends with React, Node.js and MongoDB, although that’s still a marketable skill on its own. You have to pick up parts of the Android and Web ecosystems to see how your changes will affect those end-users, know database query optimizations, know where it’s smart to introduce caches and fiddle with the JVM, account security compliance into your implementations (it is a payments company, after all), and apply statistics for performance anomaly detection. If a critical part of server goes down or experiences significant latency, lots of businesses are potentially affected - the code at Clover matters. But on top of the engineering culture, there are friendly and approachable people everywhere. I didn’t feel discouraged from asking anyone questions.

The food and perks were nice. We had swanky corporate housing, free Uber for commuting to work and back, highly-customizable lunch from Forkable and catered dinner, daily. Yummy snacks and drinks like harmless coconut water and matcha green tea Kit Kats. Open bar and weekly happy hours if you’re 21+.

Clover was a very good place to intern - I had fun, felt that I had provided tangible value to the company, and learned a ton, which should be the goal of an internship. They are growing and hiring rapidly, and their internship program can only get better every year. I recommend it.

Why you should try a smaller company at least once

I’m a strong believer that software engineering internships should be about trying as many experiences as you can, and growing. Especially at small-to-midsize startups, there’s the unique possibility of witnessing the extremely fast growth of a company. Then you’ll get to watch (or help 😀) engineers wrestle with scaling issues, listen to product design meetings, overhear business people who aren’t on a different floor yet perform pitches, participate in a company’s early all-hands meetings, and so much more.

I’ve been privileged to intern at two differently-sized startups: a 10-person one and a 110-person one. I’ve had the chance to report to and get my code reviewed by very senior engineers at each one and push features to production that had a much likely higher relative impact (or as my friends in management consulting would call it, “value add”) than if I had worked at a larger corporation. Finally, I’ve gained experience with technologies that are easy to scale, iterate with, and will build the future, including Go, Python, and JavaScript. When I asked some engineers at Clover why they prefer working there over bigger shops, it’s because of huge technical growth, the available bandwidth to take ownership of, and impact.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t work at a larger company - I hope I’ll get to try it out one day and see which experiences optimize for my growth and personal happiness at whatever stage of life I’m in. But a smaller company is something, I believe, you should try at least once.

Silicon Valley

I went to a few networking events. I couldn’t intern in Silicon Valley and not network - it’s Silicon Valley. Tweet or DM @rainieratx if you missed me at one of them!

  • KPCB Diversity Mixer
  • Accel Backyard Bash
  • Keen IO Party
  • HackCon IV (in Colorado)
  • FutureForce Friendfest
  • Google SF Insider Night
  • Medallia Game Night
  • Explore Pinterest
  • Uber Open House

I also visited some friends at Facebook and Twitch HQ. I was surrounded by brilliant engineers, product designers, and thought leaders of the entrepreneurial spirit everywhere. Lots of people were passionate about stuff outside of work or school, and I loved the culture of building the future.

The areas surrounding Sunnyvale were nice. I hung around Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Santa Clara whenever I chilled in South Bay. Visited Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, and Yosemite. Went to San Francisco nearly every weekend via Caltrain. Asian food, including sushi and bubble tea, was 10x better there than in Austin. Iced mint mojitos from Philz were amazing but California hasn’t seemed to figure out breakfast burritos or queso yet 😬.

I’m glad I tried it out, and I wouldn’t mind coming back to the Bay Area next summer.

What did you like about your summer? Questions about my internship?
Tweet or DM @rainieratx!