I worked for a few startups in the past but my whole perspective towards a startup was changed after I joined Shunya as an Android Engineer Intern.
Let's talk from the very start!
During the pandemic vacations I opted for Udacity’s Android Developer Nanodegree. I made a community (whatsapp/telegram group) of people who were doing the same for collaborative learning. I believe in connections and communities.
Your network is your net worth.
In the same community, Aayush (Founding Engineer, Android Dev @Shunya) posted that Shunya is hiring for an Android Engineer Intern position. When I had a conversation with him, the first thing he told me was about the culture at Shunya and the self directed autonomous learning experience - one which took him through the low-lows :) I got intrigued about how someone could admit this. We don’t like admitting - but actual work in companies is very different from competitive programming.
He also sent me a few videos of the product and write-ups that described the vision of the product, the machine learning and artificial intelligence behind it that we would build from scratch over a period of time.
The lead product of Shunya is an intelligent classroom management app designed to make teaching aspirational, power better student parent engagement and long term student learning outcomes at scale. On all the vectors I was sold - since here I was a young guy - getting to experiment from scratch on a very ambitious product.
The Screening and Onboarding
I went through three rounds of interviews in which the team assessed my coding, logical, problem solving abilities and I actually enjoyed that part. Later, I got an offer call from Ekta to join the team.
In the whole process one thing was very clear to me that Shunya was not like any other startups but their soul of the vision was very pure (What does it mean? You’ll know it very soon in the blog) and therefore I was very excited to be a part of Shunya’s culture.
The virtual onboarding in an entirely new culture can be really difficult, but in my case the onboarding was very smooth. I attended my first virtual standup and soon I was in my comfort zone with everything crystal clear.
My biggest nightmare
I was overwhelmed when I saw the whole codebase of Shunya App for the first time. I thought I won’t be able to survive the internship for long and have to learn a lot of things to work upon this project.
The senior developers (Aayush and Hitesh) were great mentors to me, they gave me several walkthroughs, shared resources to refer and thus in just one week I was comfortable with the code structure and started working on tracks independently.
Quick peek at my day and the tracks I work on
Everyday we have a quick standup and a lot of internal meetings, design discussions, where we work as one team, discuss corner cases that could break any feature and distribute tasks. As Shunya was in the early phase of development, we used to do a lot of research and experiments which was difficult to manage and thus I used to list every task that was on me. Below is the screenshot :)
(This is what my laptop's home screen used to look like! White flags indicate tasks are completed and red shows priority tasks)
Design docs & rapid experimentation at Shunya
Even for a very young company we do not start coding till we have a design review in place. At first it felt to me like a documentation friction, but after failing miserably at what we thought was a simple “Lock/Unlock class” feature - I personally learnt the importance of the rigor it brings in my thinking.
Later we started making thorough design docs that prevented a lot of corner cases to break any feature. Below are some screenshots of design docs that I made.
After a few sprints, finally came the most awaited track - “The auto-grade feature”. It was our first Machine learning feature. We did a lot of brainstorming, design and experimentation to achieve the goal with maximum accuracy. During the sprint I also made a prototype app that fetches all the possible mobile screen info and also returns the touched screen points and compared with different sizes of mobile phones.
PS: We failed terribly in this method due to different calibration of different mobile phones. Below are the screenshots of the design doc and the demo app I made in the sprint.
Unlike a lot of companies, where you are assigned features to design, here we get to experiment safely, build small & lean prototypes and discard all bad hypotheses. We also get to see the big picture a lot, and this personally helps us keep the momentum going, but also helps me understand what it is really that we are working towards.
Learning through mistakes
This led to the market release getting rejected with a standard text - and only later did I realize that we had to add this. This experience made me realize how Business and Engineering go hand in hand, rather than Engineering only.
Life at Shunya, overall
-- Shunya is not just a company, it is a family.
In Shunya we get to work independently, self learn a lot of things, there is no blame game and everyone is responsible for everything just like family. We set our own deadlines - and that brings in freedom with responsibility. You are not restricted to a single technology but jump on several tracks very frequently and thus experience a full fledged entrepreneurial culture.
The culture motivated me to push myself to the limits which I could barely ever touch before this!
I never felt any boredom in my internship period because we had so many open ended problems of several tracks in which we brainstormed and brought some out of the box solutions. These open ended problems resulted in Shunya’s Winter Intern program, Shunya’s Teachers Community, Shunya’s Hackathon, etc.
I was hired as an Android developer intern but I also worked closely with the graphics team for making creatives , sales and marketing team for building market plans, automation tools, hiring interns, etc. In just a span of 2 months I gained a lot of new skills plus goddamn confidence!!!
Folks who seek a kick a$$ learning experience should always choose startups over well established companies/MNCs.
Wednesday's chai par Charcha
Shunya was not just all about work, we also had frequent chai par Charcha where our whole team used to meet over video calls, engage in fun activities and learn something new about each other.
(This pic is from last chai par charcha where we were divided into teams and were given a task to make graphics for guerilla marketing of Shunya)
Shunya’s internship is not an orthodox internship for me but an internship MAX PRO :P I am really excited for the future of Shunya as we came so far so early and we have barely even scratched the surface.