The first lockdown internship at Cambridge Intelligence – Alice

PhD student Alice started her internship in July 2020 while the UK was in lockdown. She joined us all the way from Cupar, a quiet Scottish market town near St. Andrews. With no way for her to join the development team in person, we faced the challenge of having our very first fully-remote intern.

So now the internship is over, how well does she think we did? I caught up with her (remotely, of course) to find out.

PhD student Alice joined us for our first remote internship
PhD student Alice joined us for our first remote internship

Can you tell us about your university background?

I took my first degree in chemistry, but during the computational chemistry classes I discovered that I really enjoy computer modeling and programming. So I decided to switch to computer science for my master’s degree to pursue this interest – and now I’m doing a PhD in computer science and I’m really enjoying it.

How did you first find out about Cambridge Intelligence?

I was researching data visualization libraries for one of my projects and came across KeyLines. I spotted the Careers page advertising internships and thought it’d be cool to learn more and play with the toolkits!

CI has a nice representation of women in technical positions, which is good to see and very encouraging.

What convinced you to apply for an internship?

The blog posts describing experiences of past interns sounded really positive. I also had a look on the team page and noticed that CI has a nice representation of women in technical positions, which is good to see and very encouraging.

How did this internship compare with previous experiences?

This was my first internship in industry, previously I’d only worked in academia. Compared with that, I found it a lot more focused and structured. There are more regular meetings and development processes – a structure that’s definitely useful for home office!

What did you get up to during your internship?

So many things! My tasks were really varied and all equally interesting.

I was part of the ReGraph team, which is responsible for the React data visualization toolkit. Helping with the demos that showcase ReGraph was great, and I even created a brand new example demo working with their combos feature. I helped to introduce curved links to ReGraph, which is a very cool and sought-after styling feature.

For the first few weeks I was given the time I needed to learn and get up to speed with the product.

Also, I used my previous knowledge of Python and JupyterLab in an integration project with ReGraph and wrote a blog post about it. There were lots of interesting graph visualization product enhancements and smaller projects too.

Alice helped develop a new demo for the ReGraph Storybook which shows how to move nodes between combos

How long before you were trusted with production code?

Not long at all! For the first few weeks I was given the time I needed to learn and get up to speed with the product. But within the first month I was already able to start working on the code – which felt really nice and gave me a lot of confidence. Everyone was so encouraging and supportive, which put me at ease and helped me overcome any nervousness.

I always felt like I could ask for help if I needed it, but at the same time it was nice to work independently and with confidence.

How did you find collaborating with others?

It was easy because there’s a culture of open communication in the team and everyone is very involved, no matter what role they’re in. There are daily standups, regular chats and catch-ups to keep everyone up to speed. There was pair programming, too, which worked really well thanks to useful tools such as Visual Studio Live Share.

How did you integrate with the team remotely?

Everyone was very friendly and ready to lend a helping hand if I needed it. I had a buddy, a person I could always turn to for help or advice, and I got to chat to the rest of the team during virtual coffee breaks. I even attended two social events – virtual escape rooms. We did really well in both and we escaped with lots of time left! They’ll have to try harder if they want to keep us locked up!

Image of the 'Alex's Bathroom' escape room from Know Escape
Alice helped her team escape from ‘Alex’s Bathroom’ with 24 mins and 30 secs remaining. Image: Know Escape

What did you learn, and how will it help your future studies?

During my time with ReGraph I gained more experience in node-link visualization. I’ve extended my knowledge of React and React hooks and will definitely use React more as I’ve grown to like it a lot. My JavaScript has improved too and I discovered Jest, a JavaScript testing library. In general, getting involved in testing was fun as it’s something I haven’t done before.

I will miss ReGraph and especially the sequential layout, which I could really use for some of my PhD work!

Sequential layout representing IT network dependencies
Part of an IT network dependency graph visualized using sequential layout

I’m also glad I can say that I’ve experienced a remote-only internship. I think it might be useful in the future if organizations become geared towards remote working.

I’ve experienced first hand that working remotely at CI is really good.

What are you doing now?

At the moment I’m finishing my PhD and providing teaching support to undergraduate students. I’m doing Intro to Programming this semester and Data Visualization in the next semester – so I’m excited to put some of my experience into tutoring.

Would you recommend an internship at Cambridge Intelligence?

Yes, definitely. I really liked the company culture and working remotely all the time saved having to travel. I’ve experienced first hand that working remotely at CI is really good.

Interested in joining us?

In previous years we’ve loved getting to know our interns in an office-based environment, and giving them experience of working in a busy team of industry specialists. But for Alice, remoting in didn’t mean missing out.

Whatever 2021 brings, we’ll still deliver an internship program that’s challenging, supportive and fun.

If you’re interested in joining us, check out our available roles or apply for a summer 2021 internship.

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