Benchling’s 2021 interns and their creations

Benchling hosted several engineering interns this summer. They were each embedded into a different sprint team working directly alongside our full-time engineers. We’re excited to highlight the contributions of three of them, and talk about what their experience was like! Meet our interns! Our summer interns at a virtual social event. Yun School: MITTeam: Scientific AnalyticsFun fact: I […]

Benchling hosted several engineering interns this summer. They were each embedded into a different sprint team working directly alongside our full-time engineers. We’re excited to highlight the contributions of three of them, and talk about what their experience was like!

Meet our interns!

Our summer interns at a virtual social event.

Yun

School: MIT
Team: Scientific Analytics
Fun fact: I don’t have a last name!

Madi

School: MIT
Team: Molecular Biology
Fun fact: I can play 7 instruments!

Neil

School: UT Austin
Team: Developer Platform
Fun fact: My first interview with Benchling was on my birthday!

Why Benchling?

Yun: I found Benchling at my school’s career fair, and I really liked the mission of accelerating the life sciences. When I interviewed, the process was very fun and smooth; everyone was extremely driven by the impact of Benchling’s work. The people there were very friendly and willing to talk, which really helped convince me that Benchling would be a good place to work!

Madi: I was interested in companies working on compelling problems from a social perspective, so what really motivated to join Benchling in the end was its product and impact on people. I’d done some research in more technical areas and wanted to shift into life sciences or education — both areas that mattered to me personally — so Benchling was a perfect fit!

In the interviews, everyone had so much positive stuff to say about their work at Benchling, and I saw the Glassdoor reviews gave it 5/5 stars! This was my first time at smaller company and I was worried about culture, so it was a great signal to see all of this from the employees. I liked during interview process that people weren’t antagonistic or trying to trip people up — nothing in the Benchling process felt that way. It really felt like everyone I talked with was genuinely motivated for me to do well.

Neil: The interview process really stood out, because everyone I talked to really liked Benchling. My interviewers couldn’t see themselves anywhere else, since they loved the culture and people they worked with so much! The interview process itself also was extremely transparent and flexible: my interviews were during a huge blizzard in Austin, and the recruiter and interviewers were super accommodating and understanding, giving me time on my interview schedule to get things under control.

What did you work on?

Each intern spent most of their summer on a high-impact project within their team. We asked them to dive into what they built, as well as why and how.

Yun
My intern project was building heat maps for Benchling’s Insights analytics product.

Heat maps are essential in analytics, and especially important in biotech, where they’re commonly used to visualize statistics over plates that contain grids of samples being tested in an assay. This is going to be a key part of Benchling’s future Scientific Analytics product, so I was thrilled to be able to contribute in such an important way, and to see my work have a permanent place in Benchling.

To do this, I added a new chart type to the Insights product, and integrated it with Benchling’s backend, which gave me a very full stack experience — from frontend visualizations to backend work with analytics and Benchling’s core systems. This was a fully new tech stack for me, giving me experience with Typescript, SQLAlchemy, React, Visx, Flask, and GraphQL.

I really enjoyed seeing the whole process from start to end, including being involved in early decisions about how to design the product, and was able to work directly with designers and product managers, rather than only talking to other engineers. I also learned a ton about testing, code reviews, and writing production quality code — something hard to get in school — and learned a ton of the science along the way!”

Madi
For my project, I added API endpoints for Benchling’s Molecular Biology suite. Many existing tools in this product are only in the UI — but more and more companies are building out their own systems and want to use APIs. So over the summer, I worked on exposed DNA alignments, feature libraries, enzymes, and codon usage tables for organisms.

These are all extremely valuable to have online as APIs: For something like codon optimization, the workflow is often very iteration-heavy as you figure out the right sequence to use for your experiment. This is tough to do in a UI; it’s much smoother to do it systematically via an API.

While I was working on auto-annotation, we got messages from clients asking for it, which was very exciting! It shows the importance of the work. Afterwards, the clients sent thank you notes once we released it.

I also got a broad variety of technical experience in the process. In my work on enzymes, things took a bit more time because these models weren’t in our ORM, giving me experience working in that space. And when working on feature libraries, I worked through a lot of mechanics behind data migrations and got to dig into integrations with Benchling’s search system for pagination, which helped give me perspective on Benchling’s backend.

Neil
This past summer, I worked through two different projects! My initial project was creating automated validation for our APIs. What this means is that, in our API where we have docs for customers, we now automatically validate the response bodies of our API endpoints against the documentation there to make sure that they stay in sync.

This is tremendously valuable for customers since it helps improve the API reliability, and makes it easier for Benchling engineers to develop our APIs, since now we have better testing and error handling to avoid documentation drift. As part of this I also created a new decorator interface for endpoints to make this as easy as possible, and worked on rolling this out to all 300 endpoints across the teams.

My second project was for Benchling Apps, which are Benchling’s managed integrations with external software. I was responsible for the frontend work of migrating the authentication model for Benchling Apps to OAuth 2.0, a highly secure and popular protocol for authorization. This involved building a new UI component for users to manage the OAuth 2.0 credentials for their Benchling Apps, defining new GraphQL nodes for the OAuth 2.0 credential data, and implementing internal API endpoints to recycle the OAuth 2.0 credentials.

Since this project involves a UI component in the app where Benchling Apps are managed, I got frontend experience in React and GraphQL in addition to my work in Flask on API validation. I felt like I learned so much in such a short time by doing both backend and frontend projects!

What was the internship like?

Yun: Even though the internship was virtual due to COVID, Benchling did a great job keeping people connected. I had lots of 1:1 meetings, intern events that were fun, and spent plenty of time with other interns. I really enjoyed that I felt like I could talk to anyone in Benchling, whether in sales, other engineering teams, on the product management team, and so on.

Benchling also hosted a bunch of events for us! There was a pasta-making event that was a ton of fun, and a tie-dye event that was great too. I also liked participating in the company all-hands and town halls, which really helped me feel like I was part of the team. These meetings helped illustrate how focused Benchling is on its mission — it’s repeated so much and so clearly, that now I know the leadership principles of Benchling by heart! It makes it really hard to ever think about working at companies now without considering the importance of their mission first.

And throughout the internship, my teammates were so helpful, especially my mentor who did an amazing job of guiding me through the work and how best to navigate Benchling. It really felt like I could ask anyone anything I didn’t know, and even if they didn’t know the answer themselves, they’d help me find out.

Madi: I really enjoyed my internship! The previous summer I’d had a virtual internship that felt much more disjointed, and I had felt disconnected from the other interns. But at Benchling everything went so much more smoothly and felt so integrated. The small intern group helped, so I got to talk 1:1 with all of my peers, and Benchling’s Donut tool helped automatically set up meet-and-greet meetings for me with the rest of the company.

The events were really fun, and very creative — when I told my parents about the pasta making we did, they said “props to Benchling for not just giving swag!” We also did a murder mystery and trivia night that were a bunch of fun. Even things like icebreakers in the engineering all-hands were a great way to see lots of faces and talk to people.

I also participated in Benchling’s polish bash (a period focused on exclusively polishing the app) and Hackathon, which helped me meet a ton more people. It all felt so fully integrated; I didn’t just do a single intern project all summer. As my Hackathon project, I worked on creating an online swag store for Benchling!

Overall, I liked how engaging the internship was and how integrated it was into the team’s real work/shipping schedule. Sometimes intern projects are cordoned off, or are separate things from the team’s main work to make them digestible for interns; here, I was treated like I was a true full time engineer actually on the team.

Neil: Although the internship was virtual, Benching was super inclusive for interns and new hires, all of whom were very tightly integrated into the daily life of the company. I never felt out of the loop, or had no one to talk to or reach out to with questions. People were very willing to jump on a call to help and treated me like a full time employee, so I really felt like part of the team, and got to connect with a lot of people this way. Benchling was also very flexible and gave me the opportunity to work for a longer schedule, lasting 15 weeks instead of 12. This helped give me the option to explore Benchling as much as I wanted.

The highlight of the program for me was all the different events set up for us. There were way more than I expected — Benchling put in a ton of work and tried hard here. It gave all of the interns a chance to talk and hang out. This is a very good replacement for social connection, since there was no in-person time due to COVID, and it helped me avoid getting siloed in the team. Overall, very well done!

I really liked the trivia event in particular. We formed a small team in a breakout room, and I got to know the 3–4 people I was working with well, which helped things to not feel awkward. It was also helpful that the events rotated between being intern-only and being for all of Benchling, including full-time employees, allowing for casual connection with the other Benchlings while also being a ton of fun.

If you’re interested in interning or working full-time at Benchling, we’re hiring!


Benchling’s 2021 interns and their creations was originally published in Benchling Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: Benchling