Clever Engineering Blog — Always a Student

Working at Clever: a perspective from a former intern turned full time engineer

By Vijay Bharadwaj on

During my final search for an internship, I had an idea of where I wanted to work: a place with a friendly culture and strong engineering practices – something in between a startup and a big company. To my luck, I interned at Clever – an organization that surpassed those expectations in the span of two months as I dove deep into an impactful project. Even after I transitioned into a full time engineer, the high standards continue to be upheld through a unique culture and resilient software architecture. Day by day, I am more certain of my decision to join Clever as an intern: Here’s why.

Discovering a company that fit my criteria

Searching for an internship in the fall semester 2020 was unusual. COVID had yet to peak, university had gone fully online, and companies had transitioned to a fully remote environment. A complete return to the office seemed pretty much impossible.

Like most others, I underwent the painstaking internship hunt every year in college. After filling out textboxes with the same information as my resume, for more than 100 different companies, I was fortunate enough to have some breadth of experience. Usually, I would answer every open-position application that I came across. This time around, my process was more selective, prioritizing culture in my search since it was my last internship before finding a full time role after graduation. Though I didn’t know it, the criteria I set out fit companies that still had a start-up feel but had defined processes for professional and technical growth.

Interviewing for a company like Clever

Of the many companies that I applied to, and the responses I received, hearing back from Clever was a unique experience. Clever’s interview process also took longer than other companies, but it was worth the wait.

Learning about Clever from my recruiter really piqued my interest. As someone who had a passion for teaching, working for an edtech company really seemed like an ideal fit. More to my excitement, I discovered that the company comprised of approximately 200 individuals and had an excellent work culture. My curiosity grew further as I read through about engineering at Clever – blog posts like Evolving Systems for New Products and Wag: a go Web API generator demonstrated strong commitment of engineers to the wellbeing of the Clever’s systems.

The interview process consisted of behavioral portions that assessed my background and fit for an edtech company, as well as technical parts that tested my communication, ability to decompose problems, debugging skills, and code proficiency. Two months eventually paved the way to an offer for summer 2021. The choice was very clear for me, as this was a company with established practices and brilliant-minded, friendly engineers.

My first days at Clever and defining a project

Before my internship started, I was greeted by nearly 40 excited replies to a thread announcing the acceptance of my offer. After experiencing a mixture of surprise and sheepishness, I was ultimately reassured by these messages that I made the right choice to intern here. Unlike my prior internships, I was offered a preference for any of the teams that I could join, as well as potential projects that I would work on within each. As I gained more insight on my summer, it was clear that Clever cared about the intern experience. Interns would not be siloed on a project away from teammates that might get thrown away (more common than what you think!), but one that would have a meaningful impact for engineers and end users.

With the opportunity to narrow down my project, I landed my ideal balance between frontend and backend work. After two weeks of ramping up, I was already fully in charge of my intern project – building an internal dashboard with React and Golang for the product team to directly manipulate a database (a task that normally took bandwidth from engineers and was prone to error). From the speccing phase to the implementation, interns are responsible for reaching out to the right people, making architecture and design choices, and of course, coding the solution.

The Clever experience as an intern

Unlike other companies, Clever places a good amount of trust in their interns. Sure, interns are prone to making mistakes, like the HBO Max email incident. Yet, a strong internal infrastructure combined with good code review practices creates an environment that fosters bold movements. I’m not suggesting interns should have full control over a codebase – even a new hire wouldn’t have that ability. But interns will do their best work when they have confidence and trust placed in them. 

Speaking of Clever’s unique sentiment towards the interns, what impressed me most was the biweekly intern seminars. My intern manager, Vynnie Kong, would schedule one hour every two weeks for the interns to learn relevant topics from full time engineers. Some of the subjects included The role of a manager and product manager in relation to an IC, The Art of Estimation, Former Intern Q&A, and an unforgettable scavenger hunt over zoom at the end of our internship. Clever clearly demonstrated interest in encouraging personal development amongst its interns.

Especially helpful for interns’ development is Clever’s culture tenets. In particular, Always a Student promotes a strong learning and teaching environment. Whenever I had questions, team members were always willing to help. I remember my intern mentor, Mike Ward, was ready to pair with me to solve a bug, or direct me to resources within minutes of messaging him.

On the topic of employees, everyone that I interacted with echoed the helpful and welcoming culture of Clever. This was evident through numerous Zoom 1:1s, occasional in-person office lunches, and social events scheduled by my intern manager. Altogether these connections made me feel like a meaningful part of the bigger picture.

By August, the end of my internship, I couldn’t have been more satisfied with my decision to intern at Clever, and I eventually accepted the return offer.

Intern social activity
Intern social activity

Returning to Clever as a Full Time Engineer

A short six months had passed before I rejoined the company as a full time employee. The most unexpected for me was the reorganization that occurred in my absence. Teams had merged together, split apart, disappeared, and some even created. As I came to learn, reorganizations can be a regular part of growth at a company the size of Clever, ideally each one for the better. Regardless, I was greeted by most of the familiar faces I encountered during my internship. It felt great to embrace the welcoming culture again, and I was ready to go above intern responsibilities.

When I onboarded as a full time engineer, one unique aspect of Clever culture I noticed is the honor of work-life balance. It’s a common assumption that employees are overworked at relatively small companies. From my experience so far at Clever, life outside of work is well respected through unlimited PTO. While Clever sets stretch goals and provides the best experiences for its users, employees also make time for life. If you aren’t taking time off on a regular basis, either your teammates or your manager will encourage you to do so.

Over the next two months, I gained a better understanding of what a full time engineer’s responsibilities were at Clever. There were few teams to pick from, by the nature of Clever’s size, but I had the luxury of rotating on three teams of my choice for two weeks each.

Within these rotations, I had the chance to better understand the complexity of Clever’s seemingly simple processes. I paired with a member of each team whom I could bounce questions off and gain context on assigned tasks. My assimilation as a Clever engineer was strongly reinforced during knowledge share sessions, where engineers would guide me through the intricate architecture managed by each team. These rotations were instrumental in allowing me to settle in on a team that delved into topics that I enjoy the most.

My Takeaways as a Clever Engineer

In a way, I still feel like an intern. Everyday, there are new challenges and learning opportunities that I encounter. As my responsibilities grow, so do the chances to gain more skills and become a better software engineer.

On the other hand, I’m slowly gaining mastery of the environment, including internal development tools, the codebase, and best engineering practices. The trust is even greater than it was when I was an intern, enabling me to do even better work and explore the complex systems further.

As I wrapped up my rotations, I settled into a team that resonated most with my long term goals. Right off the bat, I was given the opportunity to assist work on a pivotal project for end users. The opportunities to deliver high impact work are numerous at a company of this size, another strong motivator for my decision that I’m glad remains to hold true.

Advice for Aspiring Interns

If you’re interested in finding an ideal internship, here are my suggestions. First, define the ideal company where you’d like to work. This can come through experience or by asking friends and colleagues about theirs. Second, demonstrate interest with the companies that you interview with during behavioral rounds. Ask meaningful questions that determine if the company is up to your standard –  it’s as much of an interview for them as it is for you. Finally, if your goal is to receive a return offer, aim to work like a full time engineer by the end of your program (don’t shy away from asking questions and learning!)

I am confident that other companies like Clever can echo the culture of startups, while also having the experience of scale. But unique to Clever will always be the ever-evolving culture tenets that promote growth professionally and personally. So apply to Clever if you like learning – intern or not, you’ll always be a student.