My internship experience at Canva

After graduating from State University of Management and getting a Specialist’s degree in Advertising in 2011, I worked as an account manager in international advertising agencies. I worked as a kind of buffer between clients and the agency, making sure projects ran on time and on budget and building a strong relationship with clients. This […]

At work on Canva's ground floor

After graduating from State University of Management and getting a Specialist’s degree in Advertising in 2011, I worked as an account manager in international advertising agencies. I worked as a kind of buffer between clients and the agency, making sure projects ran on time and on budget and building a strong relationship with clients. This also included coordinating progress across creative and software development teams. I was lucky enough to work in a creative industry and on a broad range of tasks, for example websites, mobile apps and CRM systems.

Yet the more digital projects I worked on, the more I became interested in software development. I started learning programming online, which helped to solidify my desire to make a career change. Eventually last year I enrolled at the University of Technology, Sydney, and moved to Australia to pursue a Master’s degree in IT.

As soon as my second semester began, I started researching job opportunities for the summer break. Canva was always top of my list. I found out about the company when I participated in a #SheHacks hackathon, where Sasha Morrissey, one of Canva’s engineers, happened to be a mentor. She explained to me what Canva as a tool is capable of, and it amazed me how easy it was to use and what possibilities the platform opened for people and businesses to create designs without the need for complicated graphics editors.

I read up online about the company’s values, such as Being a Good Human and Empowering Others, and they resonated with me a lot. I love the current trend of content democratization, for example in film making and song producing, and I see Canva’s mission to ‘democratize design’ as part of this wider movement. I instantly knew I’d like to be part of this, especially since my previous experience managing creative advertising campaigns and developing tools for businesses aligned perfectly.

I applied online and within a month heard back from a recruiter requesting my academic transcripts. I provided the documents, then I was invited for a screening tech interview over the phone. I found out I passed the first round, and the following week I had my second coding interview led by an engineer from my potential team. That interview took around one hour. Within a couple of days I received an email with the offer to become a front-end engineering intern! Needless to say, I didn’t hesitate to accept it. Way before my first working day I was nicely surprised when a parcel from Canva arrived on my doorstep, and I found a greeting card and heaps of branded swag inside.

Tips for getting an internship at Canva

Jessica Beard looks after the internship program at Canva. She shares her top tips on how to stand out from the crowd.

  1. To highlight the commitment you have for your craft, be sure to include any personal projects you’ve worked on in your application. It’s always great to see people expanding their skills outside the boundaries of the classroom. Also, don’t forget to include the tools and languages you’ve used in your projects.
  2. Get out there and meet people! Many of our engineers participate in local dev events and programs, with some of these events being hosted at Canva HQ! We also partner with university societies across Australia, so take a look to see if there is a Canva event being hosted by your uni soon.
  3. Don’t underestimate the power of a good cover letter. Outline what you’re looking to experience in an internship, and how you believe Canva would help you achieve this.

My first week at Canva

My internship cohort

My internship cohort

The first week of my internship was full of onboarding sessions and workshops. Co-founders Melanie, Cliff and Cameron introduced all the new interns to Canva’s vision, values and deeper details about what the company is aiming for in the future. We were all taken through an overview of Canva’s engineering values, teams and ways of working. Both frontend and backend interns found out what debugging and testing tools their teams use on a daily basis. It was a lot to take in within a couple of days, but it all started to make sense as soon as I began working on real problems.

On my very first days I worked on real tasks, which affected real users. They were not huge, but just doing that definitely helped me to start feeling more comfortable with the codebase, tech stack and git workflow. The biggest challenge was the size of the codebase—when you complete assignments for uni or do your own side projects, you build them from scratch and you eventually gain familiarity with that code. At first it was overwhelming to try and figure out which parts of the application depend on one another, and hard to believe that at some point I’d learn to navigate through them. Fortunately I have a mentor, Christian, who is always there to give me context or help to get me unstuck when I encounter a confusing issue. That being said, I tend to do my best to find my own solutions before asking for assistance. Even if I don’t manage to solve the problem, at least I will understand it better and have more context before asking for help. I believe pair programming and mentoring are extremely helpful and effective ways for newbies of any level to skill up quickly in a new role.

Experiencing a Season Opener for the first time

Canva sets what we call “Crazy Big Goals”, and one of the most important aspects of this is celebrating when we achieve them.
Every three months we hold an event called the Season Opener – it’s the time when teams share their progress made over past months, and put forward their plans for the next season. The first one I attended was the most recent Summer Season opener, and I have to say it was lots of fun! There were so many new faces and ambitious projects, and just the fact that I was there made me feel like I was already part of the team.

Despite the fact that Canva has over 500 employees across 3 countries, it feels like it still has a startup mindset, and things change rapidly. For some people the pace might not be ideal, but I came from the advertising industry, where ad hoc projects are the norm, and honestly I feel like a fish in water. Since each team at Canva can set its own goals (as long as they align with main direction) everyone plays an active role and creative role in building long term value for users. The lack of a rigid hierarchy is another thing which really appeals to me. It gives me a sense of autonomy, yet responsibility at the same time. With time I’ve learnt who among my engineering colleagues specializes in which areas of the platform. During my internship I’ve never felt that any of my questions was silly or inappropriate, or been told that I was not supposed to know something because of my junior temporary position. I know that I can ask anyone anything, and at the very least I’ll be redirected to someone who can help me.

My internship tips

When I started my search for internships in Sydney, I came up with an action plan. I found this list of ideas really helpful for keeping myself on track. Here are my tips:

  • Check if your uni has a career hub. The range of services they provide might differ, but I’m sure at the very least it’s possible to get your CV reviewed, or get some feedback and recommendations on the cover letter. If you’ve never been interviewed before, it’s definitely worth practicing both technical and non-technical interview scenarios.
  • Keep track of your applications. It’s easy to start feeling like you’re not making any progress if you don’t document it. I kept track of the applications I’d made and kept a running list of friends and academics from uni who I could talk to about opportunities. The wider your perspective, the higher chance you have to find an exciting opportunity.
  • Networking. The majority of job openings are not posted online. Visit careers fairs, meetups organised by companies you are interested in, or industry workshops. These are both social and instructive, though you’re not going to meet the kind of people you’re looking for at every event. I also wouldn’t recommend trying to speak to everyone in the room. It’s important to truly connect with people who you feel comfortable around and you’d like to stay in touch with.
  • Be persistent. No matter how long the search for an internship takes you, the only way to find one is to keep working towards your goal: keep thinking of non-obvious possibilities, make time for social industry events, practise interview questions, etc.

Once all your hard work pays off and you receive that desired offer letter, it’s time to get the most out of your internship!

  • Take the initiative and be enthusiastic. Try to forget that you’re only here for 12 weeks and imagine it’s already your full-time job. Your opinion matters as much as an opinion of someone who has been working there for 2 years. Think beyond the scope of the tasks you work on: what could you improve or change if you had more time?
  • Ask questions. Ask as many questions as you feel like asking. It’s better to clear up your uncertainties as soon as they occur, instead of pretending that you understand everything when you don’t and messing things up later.
  • Meet people from different teams. Get to know people outside of your team. Go out for coffee, find out people’s stories and what they like about the company. Getting to know your colleagues will help you feel more connected to your work, but also gives you an insight into whether you could imagine working with them long term.
  • Help out your peers, even if you think you aren’t competent enough. Just because you’re an intern doesn’t mean you have no good advice to offer. Everyone has a different background: one day you’ll help your mate with something, next day she or he will do the same for you. On top of that, by explaining something to another person you can solidify your own knowledge. The more coherent you are in your words, the clearer the concept is in your own mind.

Want to intern at Canva? Applications are now open for our 2019 summer intake! You’ll find the application links at the bottom of our engineering careers page here. Know someone who would benefit from reading this article? Why don’t you share it with them here:

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My internship experience at Canva was originally published by Canva at Product at Canva on April 04, 2019.

Source: Canva