What I learnt from my first UI/UX Design internship at MentorMate. |...

What I learnt from my first UI/UX Design internship at MentorMate. | Vedashree Bankar shares her experience.

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This article was first published on Medium by Vedashree Bankar.

Source: http://mcad.edu/sites/default/files/img_1125_0.jpeg
Source: http://mcad.edu/sites/default/files/img_1125_0.jpeg

I’m completing my 6 month internship at MentorMate this week.MentorMate is an award-winning software development firm with permanent offices in Minneapolis, MN and Sofia, Bulgaria. They offer tailored solutions to meet software needs of today and tomorrow. I had an opportunity to intern on their Experience Design Team as a UI/UX Design Intern in Minneapolis. It was an amazing opportunity, and I learned a lot of valuable lessons that I can carry forward with me in my career. I would like to share the experience with all of you, it could be especially helpful if you are early in your career.

I’ve interned at a few places in the past: a fast paced, designstart-up company, non-profit organizations (including the Minnesota Historical Society and Minneapolis Institute of the Arts), but I wanted to expand my skill set into a tech environment. I researched some of the best agency options in Minneapolis, and found the one I really wanted to intern at: MentorMate.

Process: Application and interviewing

MentorMate was my first option because it seemed like the perfect blend of software solutions, design thinking, and a dedicated collaborative team doing great work (it turned out to be all this and a lot more!) Even though they did not have a formal internship program, I sent in my application to the Creative Director anyway. After explaining to her some of the reasons why I would like to be on the team, I heard back from her quickly, ready to set up a phone interview. Phone interviews can be nerve-wracking, especially if it is your first interview as a designer working in tech, but it went great. For phone interviews be ready to talk about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, why you are interested in this particular role/company. It was more of a conversation where Annika, the creative director, explained to me about the company, her team, and their expectations. Right then, I was sure that I would be grateful if I got an opportunity to intern with them!

She called me into the office for a second round of interviewing. The interview was pretty standard, I was told to explain my design decisions and talk about my process while showing some of my work. I received a tour of the office and one thing that particularly stood out to me were their gender neutral restrooms. This might seem like such a small thing but it really shows the company’s sensitivity and thoughtful nature towards their employees.

I finally got an email a week later telling me that I had been accepted on-board as an intern! Who-hoo! It is a paid internship for six months on their Design team. I mention here that it is paid because I think it’s ethically important for companies to pay interns for the work they do.

Takeaways:

  • Apply to places that you really want to work for, even if they don’t have a formal internship program.
  • Research the company before you send your application
  • Be ready to walk through your portfolio and talk about some of your favorite pieces and how you could improve upon them.
  • Interviews are a great way to find out more about thecompany, and see if it is a good fit for you.
  • Ask questions! Ask questions about the next stages of the interview process and what is expected from you. The more you ask questions the better prepared you are going to be.
    late-evening-at-mentormateios-developers

our-blue-piano-always-brings-class-to-the-partyCompany Culture

I hadn’t thought about how important company culture is before I started my internship. One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned through this internship is that the people and culture around you matter as much as the work that you are doing.

MentorMate is a collaborative environment where cross-disciplinary teams work with each other. They have open desks which facilitates a culture of transparency where you can easily interact with others. In the time I was there I got to be a part of some amazing events hosted in the office, including super-delicious Thanksgiving feast and a few MentorShares, which were monthly events in which the employees had opportunities to learn all about MentorMate. They had an open kitchen (which I am going to miss!) with snacks, coffee, and delicious lunches on Wednesdays! There was also a recreational area, including a ping pong table. Even though the office itself was amazing, the people were the best asset. Everyone was friendly, approachable and welcoming.

MobCon events are yearly organized conferences by MentorMate to help businesses remain ahead of the ever-accelerating technology curve. I was grateful to be around MentorMate during a MobCon, which was a very busy time in which everyone was working towards making Mobcon 2015 a success. It is inspiring to me that the company is so driven to build good connections that it is giving back to the community.

MentorMate has international offices in Bulgaria, as well as a design team. I not only had an opportunity to interact with the co-workers around me, but also those in Bulgaria! We would have weekly hangout check-in meetings where we would show and tell about the work, share inspirational links, and talk about team planning and goals.

Takeaways

  • Culture is very important. Most of your time is going to be spent with your co-workers and in a shared space. Take some time to understand the company’s culture, mission and values and make sure they align with your own.
  • Question what cultural values are important to you as you consider applying to internships. Is the office dog-friendly? Are they giving back to the community? Is there a shared space for employees to interact with each other?

Team-MentorMate-1210x423IMG_4382 MentorMate_middleMentorship and Professional Development

Being a student and early in my career, the internship has played an important role in my professional development. My supervisor and creative director Annika would often check in with me to see how I was doing and give me suggestions for improvements. It was inspiring to work closely with her and to see her lead the design team, as well as working with my coworkers to see what their roles looked like. Annika scheduled two informational interviews for me with Craig the VP of Strategic Consulting and Eve a solutions architect. Being new in the software world, these interviews were very insightful to understand more about the tech industry, the company, advice for students, and their career paths. Craig advised me about being a designer working in a software environment and gave me tips for when I look for jobs in the future, while Eve motivated me by sharing the work she was doing to get more young women involved in the tech community.

Takeaways

  • Seek mentorship and learn everything you can from as many people as possible.
  • Professional development is as valuable as improving your skills as a designer.
  • You can learn a lot by getting advice from people outside your field!

Design Experience

I got to work on some really exciting projects! I was a part of the team that designed the MentorMate website. Through this project, I had the opportunity to participate in various tasks: art direction for photo shoots, designing icons, establishing visual styles, and responsive design. I also had the opportunity to attend two full days of rapid ideation sessions where the clients and a multi-disciplinary team of MentorMate employees sat together in a room and ideated possible solutions for the client’s needs. I learned how to think quickly, collaborate with team members and understand the client’s perspective by asking the right questions.

I visited home in India during the middle of the internship period for Christmas break. Annika motivated me to work on a side project during my time home, which is now going to be my senior thesis project as I graduate. The project is about digital indian typefaces, and creating a platform to spread awareness about the lack of indian regional languages on the internet. This project is especially important as India’s internet user base looks set to cross 550 million in 2018, making it the second-largest online population in the world.

Takeaways

  • Set goals in the start of your internship. This helps you to stay on track, and learn everything you wanted to during your internship duration.
  • Ask questions. I learned that being a designer is a lot about asking questions about the problems that you are going to solve.

I am grateful to have this opportunity! Thank you everyone at MentorMate. Specifically Annika, for taking the time to invest in my professional development. Thank you to the rest of the design team — Mike, Jake, Anna, Kate and the Bulgarian design team for sharing your knowledge and insights.

Good luck to you as you apply for your internship! I wish the best to all who are now looking for internships or jobs. There’s a long road ahead of us. I hope my advice will help you!

Whats next for me? I’m currently interviewing with some amazing people in Silicon Valley for summer internships post graduation, as well as looking for full-time design positions on the side.


If you want to share your Internship story with us, mail us at blog@letsintern.com. Every week, we pick the best ones and feature them on our blog.

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