How to Build a Startup Over the Summer - Internships at Cogo Labs
Now that summer is over and the semester has begun, we're about to embark on our fall campus recruiting tour. We'll be looking for engineers, data analysts, and designers, not just for full-time roles, but for summer internships as well.
We've written a few times before about our summer internship program - it's a pretty unique experience where rising seniors work in cross-functional teams to build a web-based startup company on their own, taking their ideas from inception to launch and beyond, using our data and technology platform. We've been running this program for four years now and the interns never cease to amaze us with their creativity, their entrepreneurial drive, and their ability to accomplish amazing things if we just stay out of their way.
We had an amazing group of interns this past summer, so we asked them to describe in their own words the experiences they had in the Cogo internship program - the successes, the struggles, the fun, and the never-ending seltzer - so that next year's interns can get a sense of what to expect.
How would you describe your experience in the Cogo internship program?
Vincent (Tufts, Computer Science) - The Cogo Labs internship offers an opportunity to simulate an actual startup environment. You start with an idea and spend the entire summer turning the idea into a concrete product.
Suruchi (Tufts, Computer Science) - A whirlwind adventure of creating your own startup from scratch, eating a lot of food, and meeting inspiring people that will help you grow as a person.
Arianna (Wentworth Institute of Technology, Math & Computer Science) - You get to create your own internet startup from the ground - concept, design, databases, marketing, and analytics. The summer is what you make of it, so make use of all of Cogo's awesome tools, and build something amazing!
How was your experience at Cogo different from what you expected?
Julia (Emmanuel College, (Math & Graphic Design) - This isn't a place where you're doing busy work or making pamphlets, which is what other places I interviewed at entailed. This internship gave me full freedom to utilize my design skills as well as learn anything I wanted. Styling React JS code was scary at first and I wouldn't have been as comfortable diving into it at another internship, but everyone at Cogo focuses on learning and helping each other succeed.
Charlotte (Yale, Applied Mathematics) - There was more trial and error than I expected. We were set free and allowed to make mistakes, which created a very steep learning curve. Some things we did, no one at Cogo had done before, so we were writing the manual along the way.
Lea (McGill, Computer Science & Biology) - It was way more fun than I thought it was going to be! This internship was such a unique experience and I met some really great people, in the internship program and in the company.
Suruchi - We made something way more complex than I could have ever imagined before the start of the internship. I gained a lot of self confidence in myself and I met some awesome people that I hope to continue being friends with in the future.
What skills did you develop over the summer here?
Claudia (Tufts, Computer Science & Child Development) - So many! Mostly web development skills, but I also had never really participated in the before and after parts of the process -- brainstorming, wire framing, marketing and adjusting to users. I also gained a lot of soft skills, in terms of collaborating on teams and articulating ideas.
Arianna - I built my skills in Python, SQL, design, marketing, data analytics, online/market research, presentation skills, interpersonal skills (working in a team), and workplace etiquette.
Charlotte - I went from writing basic to relatively advanced SQL queries faster than I thought possible. My whole team learned what it's like to build a website starting at its conception, from design to infrastructure to features. I got better at python and learned a little Django along the way.
What was the most challenging part of the internship?
Charlotte - The first few weeks, when we were brainstorming and doing market research (before being very good at SQL) was probably the hardest. Thinking of a really good idea for a website is more difficult than I thought it would be.
Lea - Realizing that we had bitten off more than we could chew in terms of what we wanted to do with our site. We constantly had to scale down the features we wanted to implement because everything just ended up being so time-consuming.
Suruchi - Coming up with our idea took us a really long time because we wanted to go with an idea that we’d be interested in working on for the entire internship. But I will say, those initial team meetings made me really get to know my team and it was a quick way to become friends.
What was your relationship with your Cogo mentors like?
Julia - Super positive! They are all very friendly and approachable. Liz (Senior UI Designer) was always very welcoming of my numerous questions and encouraged me to ask her questions even though it seemed incessant at times. I felt super comfortable coming to them for feedback as well as help.
Lea - My relationship with the mentors was great, especially Anders (Senior Analyst) who was specifically my mentor. He was always willing to help me whenever I had a question. He also seemed to really care about us learning and not just doing well in the competition. Also he always had tons of feedback after our mini-board presentations which was helpful, especially when we were presenting to Mira.
Suruchi - They were really open to questions, discussions, joking around and they made me feel like I was genuinely part of the company. I’d definitely say we became friends at the end of it all.
Which aspects of Cogo’s culture did you like the best?
Vinay (Boston University, Computer Engineering) - The work-life balance really set the bar high for any jobs I may have in the future. All the interns were treated like full-time employees and it made us feel like we were really here to learn and improve.
Vincent - The people are very welcoming and open to helping people. There is very little ego and people are very approachable and friendly.
Suruchi - I loved the open discussions, the fun loving vibe, the friendly people and the diversity of opinions. Mostly, I like that everyone hangs out with everyone.
Favorite snack in the kitchen?
Arianna - Fruit snacks, fresh blackberries, and seltzer!
Vinay - Instant Ramen! Yogurts! Unhealthy Cereals! Not seltzer!
Lea - Major tie between the Ben and Jerry's pint slices and the cold brew.
Shemona - Fruits and avocados!
Anna - I love the peanut butter filled pretzels and the cereal, and also the fruit and yogurt.
Suruchi - Coconut chocolate chip Clif Bars and Pizza squeeze (not together)
Favorite event this summer?
Vinay - Cogo Cruise! Bodaborg! Red Sox game!
Arianna - I loved kayaking in the Charles River for a Women's Night, and the Red Sox game.
Anna - Paint Night was fun! Also, when the interns went to Boda Borg we got stuck in a huge rainstorm after which was a great bonding experience.
Lea - Cogolympics all the way.
Favorite thing that you learned this summer?
Vinay - How to analyze data from your website to find friction points.
Shemona - Being more confident in standing up for my design decisions and gaining an overall understanding of front-end development from start to finish.
Charlotte - I loved being surprised by results of our A/B tests.
Anna - In general, I am really happy that I acquired some skills with SQL and git and also parsing information from the web, because I think that these skills will be really useful in the future.
Suruchi - I learned that I really enjoy being involved in both frontend and backend development. I also learned that sometimes engineering roles are more fluid and you do what needs to be done rather than placing yourself in a box.
Did your experience at Cogo affect your plans for the future?
Heson (Hamilton, Economics) - I wasn't sure if I wanted to go into tech, but now I know that technology could very well be in my future. More specifically, I really enjoyed working with the data that Cogo has access to, so I could definitely see myself working with 'big data' in the future.
Vincent - Cogo provided great insight into what it feels like to work in a startup. I enjoyed the experience and the internship inspires me attempt a venture sometime in my life.
Lea - I was pretty sure I wanted to go to grad school right after undergrad and now I'm not so sure. I definitely think I'll look for job in a startup environment after I graduate because I was able to learn so much more.
Vinay - It definitely confirmed that I'd want to work in a startup environment and that I enjoy working on smaller, self-directed teams.
What advice would you give to next summer’s interns?
Anna - Try to launch a simple site early on, and then spend the summer optimizing. Our teams took a while to deploy the sites, but once they were deployed they were really good sites! We probably could have deployed a simpler product to start, and had more time to figure out advertising and stuff as additional features got built.
Lea - Make sure you are properly tracking users from the start or you will have no idea what people who are going onto your site are doing.
Heson - Cherish it. I don't think that you will have as much fun interning for any other company. Take advantage of the resources that Cogo has and utilize them to their full potential. Don't be afraid to reach out to all the different people in the company for help.
Claudia - Meet everyone you can at Cogo -- there are so many cool people coming from cool walks of life. Everyone I met was really willing to share their experiences and knowledge, or just hang out.
What was the most memorable part of your summer at Cogo?
Vincent - I enjoyed the experience of working with a team to build a product from the ground up. Throughout the process I learned a lot about software development, team dynamics, and the effectiveness of properly delegating tasks.
Charlotte - Having a team meeting in the morning, hearing everyone's opinions and coming to a decision about the direction of our website, and seeing results of that group decision go live on the internet for the whole world to see. Or maybe running from Boda Borg to the T stop in the torrential downpour with a fabulous group of fellow interns. Or maybe just Friday afternoons post-miniboard sitting and laughing with the team because it had always been a long week and every single person on my team is wonderful and fun to work with.
Lea - The friendships I made! 💜 I loved working on a team with intelligent people that also ended up becoming my friends outside of work.
Sounds pretty great, right? If you want to spend next summer with us, click here to learn more about our internship opportunities, or apply on our careers page. Or visit us on campus! Here's where we'll be: