Joining Eskwelabs as an intern was one of the best decisions I made during this ECQ.
When I was applying, I initially was not sure of what I was doing (as with most of my life). All I knew was that I wanted an internship with some structure to keep me busy during the ECQ (during which days seemed to collapse into infinity). I also knew that in the long-run I wanted to work in technology and in startups. Finally, I wanted to explore this field of Data Science as a possible extension to some of the skills I had as an Economics student.
I chose Eskwelabs because it fit all three criteria. Fortunately, I made a sound decision and ended up learning a lot of small, unexpected yet important things which I’d like to share below.
People and Problem First
Reading books like the Lean Startup and watching movies like the Social Network led me to think that building startups was about technology and maybe new business models. I understood solving problems came first, but it never really occurred to me to focus on actually solving the problem for a few people with the available tools.
What’s unique about Eskwelabs as a startup is that it uses a fairly simple and understandable approach to solving the problem of Filipinos not having access to Data Science training: holding physical or online learning bootcamps. One might think that websites like Codecademy and Datacamp already solve this problem, and yet the success of Eskwelabs’ approach shows that these sites are not enough to guide Filipinos to upskill and even change careers.
Reading through the feedback of the students and watching their engagement in Zoom classes, I saw firsthand just how effective the bootcamps were in not only teaching them content, but also engaging with them as humans and providing career guidance. Students would frequently write long paragraphs of feedback to thank the team for adjusting to their needs and optimizing their learning experience week-to-week amidst the ECQ.
This people-centered approach seeped into my work as well. While I initially had a hard time coming up with new ideas to improve the main service of Eskwelabs, I learned to focus on the needs of the bootcamp students and visualize what improvements they might want. Combining this student-centered focus with my research on User Stories, Kanban Boards, and Agile (which Eskwelabs CTO Caleb Tutty suggested for me), I was able to come up with new suggestions for tracking students’ progress and frame it in a way that was easy for the whole team to understand. These suggestions are currently in the process of being implemented by the team.
Interconnected Workflow and Culture
I initially assumed that the majority of startup work would either be in coding and maintaining the technology or in pitching the startup to investors to raise capital. I was wrong. It functions very much like your typical organization with the typical work-divisions. However, what’s unique about Eskwelabs is the workflow and culture between these different roles. The workflow is very interconnected and centered again on providing the best education experience for students.
I’d often find myself looped into a Google Hangouts meeting with people from different teams to share ideas on how the students' learning experience could be improved. I’d also often find that any improvements implemented in the Data Science Bootcamp would also be applied to the other bootcamps.
The work culture is also very fun, but at the same time professional. It was easy for me to ask for help from the team as everyone was accessible and willing to lend a hand. At the same time, there was also an unspoken standard to the quality of the lectures in the bootcamp which prompted everyone to optimize even the smallest details with how the Zoom lectures and take-home exercises would flow. I learned to balance being light and having fun during social sessions, while also being very task-focused and prioritizing work that would be critical for the night-time lectures.
Some of my favorite moments with the team would be during our online-social Zoom sessions, where we would have to share a meme that personified our week. I found myself unexpectedly laughing at 10 in the morning thanks to the memes and stories of our team. My only regret is that I did not get to join the online Zumba sessions.
Independence and Task Prioritization
Perhaps the biggest thing I learned in Eskwelabs is how to be independent and prioritize tasks appropriately. This was the direct consequence of the internship being more flexible.
As an intern in any startup, I have learned that you must always ask the following questions:
How can I best help the team with my limited experience and skills? What would be the most impactful thing for an intern like me to do?
You must take these questions a step further and consider the circumstances such as time-constraints and most importantly, the team you are working with:
Given the expertise of my team members and their roles, what should I dedicate my time on to prevent overlap and provide the greatest benefit?
I often asked myself these questions whenever there was an idea I had for the learning bootcamp that involved some technical knowledge (coding). I had the option to try coding these technical features myself, though it would take a very long time and a lot of trial and error. Alternatively, I could have also worked on what the software team could not.
But instead, I chose to take my experience and help out with the bootcamps, specifically interacting with the students and translating any ideas I had for improving the product into User Stories that Caleb and the software team could then work on. Given that several of the team members had more experience interacting with the students than I did, I focused on refining their suggestions into User Stories and working on “hacks” to reproduce the desired experience for students with pre-existing tools.
While I do wish that I got more opportunities to focus on honing specific hard and soft skills, I think of myself as fortunate to have worked for a startup like Eskwelabs. I say this not simply because I got to learn a bit of Data Science and work on interesting projects, but mainly because I believe in its advocacy of changing the lives of Filipinos through the power of education.
I think Eskwelabs is here to stay and prosper as a startup, and I’m lucky I got to work and learn from the team that started it all.