I secretly like seeing people’s surprise when I told them that I chose to intern at Etsy because it was the only company that asked for a cover letter. I enjoyed every second of filling out my Etsy software engineering internship application because I felt like I was really telling my story to a company that cared about my whole self. I interned at Etsy during summer 2016 and started working full-time after I graduated from college in 2017. The human touch embedded in Etsy’s engineering culture, business strategy and company vision is still the number one thing I am proud of.
Over the past three years, I have gotten many questions about what it’s like to intern and have my first job out of college at Etsy. It always gives me a warm feeling when students are curious and excited about careers at Etsy, and I think it’s time we give this question answers that will live on the interweb.
This past winter, I met five interns that Etsy hosted for WiTNY (Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York)’s Winternship program. At the end of their three-week internships, they were super excited to share their experiences. One of the winterns, Nia Laureano, wrote a fantastic recap of her time at Etsy, and I thought it would be a great way to start sharing the Etsy internship experience!
Inventing a Process: Five Interns Navigate a Complex Problem Thanks to Etsy’s Relentlessly Human Touch
by Nia Laureano
Interning at Etsy is a unique experience because so much about Etsy’s identity has to be understood in order to move forward with any sort of work. For three weeks in January, a team of four girls and I joined the Etsy family as interns and were tasked with solving an issue being faced by a product team that helps the buyers.
Coming into our first day, the details of our task were overwhelmingly foreign to us. The subject we were dealing with was Etsy’s listing page. It’s a complicated page, due to the fact that 60 million listings exist on Etsy and they are all vastly different. When engineers make changes to the listing page, it is difficult to test their code against every possible variation of the page that exists. Sometimes, a variation slips from their mind — they forget to account for it, which could potentially cause the page to break when they push code. This is what engineers call an edge case, and our job was to create a tool that allows Etsy engineers to test for edge cases more thoroughly. Specifically, we were asked to create a reference for them to easily find listings that match different criteria and variations to test code against. But solving a project that we barely understood ourselves seemed daunting, if not impossible.
The entirety of our first week was spent immersing ourselves in the context of this world we were working in. We strolled through the typical workflow of an Etsy engineer, trying to imagine where our solution would fit neatly into the puzzle. We spoke to engineers about their frustrations to get to the root of their needs. We became engineers by being thrusted into the process of pushing code to Etsy’s repository. We couldn’t commit to our craft without first understanding how these employees live and work; then we had to imagine what we could do to make their world better.
After interviewing several engineers, we realized that they each had their own ways of testing for edge cases. “I just have two folders of bookmarks that have some links in them,” said one engineer. “But I’m not sure what other people use.” It was surprising to hear that engineers weren’t sure what other people on their team were doing. We realized, at this point, that the problem wasn’t a faulty process — there was no process to begin with. It was up to us to invent a process, or at least establish a basic standard when it comes to testing for edge cases.
In ideation, the solutions we envisioned ranged dramatically. Something as basic as a spreadsheet would have been helpful, but we also dreamed bigger. We thought about creating an automated Etsy shop that auto-generates listings that represent the edge cases that needed to be tested. We wanted to create something ambitious, but it also had to be something we could attain in three weeks. Ultimately, we focused on creating a solution that would deliver on three crucial needs of our engineers: structure, convenience and confidence.
Structure. While some engineers relied on their own bookmarks or spreadsheets to keep track of edge cases, some relied on sheer memory, or asking their coworkers via Slack. Testing for something that could potentially break the listing page, we realized, shouldn’t be such a structureless process. Our solution needed to provide an element of uniformity; it needed to eliminate that glaring unawareness about what other teammates were doing. It needed to be a unifier.
Convenience. In order to make a tool that was accessible and easy to use, we needed to identify and understand the environment in which engineers complete the bulk of their work, because that’s where we would want our tool to live. We quickly noticed one common thread woven through the workflow of not only Etsy’s engineers, but the company as a whole: our messaging platform, Slack. We observed that so much important work at Etsy is already accomplished via Slack; it’s where employees collaborate and even push code. It made perfect sense for our solution to be integrated within the environment that was already so lived-in.
Confidence. Bugs are inevitable, but our engineers deserve to feel confident that the code they are pushing is as clean as it can be. The more edge cases they can test for, the more certain they can feel that their code is quality and fully functional. Therefore, our solution had to be thorough and reliable; it had to be something engineers could trust.
After three weeks, our project was completed in two phases. Our first phase was focused on creating a spreadsheet. This was the skeleton of our final product, which mirrored the anatomy of the listing page itself. To build this, we broke down the different components of the listing page and identified all of the variations that could occur within those components. Then, we spent several days creating almost one hundred of our own listings on Etsy that represented each of those variations. We ended up with a thorough, intuitively structured catalog of edge cases which can now be accessed by anyone at Etsy who needs it.
The second phase of our project was a Slack-integrated bot. Using our spreadsheet as a backbone, we aimed to design a bot that can retrieve edge cases on command via Slack. Engineers can input commands that return single, multiple, or all edge cases they may be looking for. Due to our time constraint, we were only able to create a bot that utilizes test data, but we hope to see a future iteration that fully integrated with our spreadsheet.
A universe of terminology and culture had to be packed into our brains in order to accomplish what we did in three weeks. Yet, we somehow felt so seamlessly integrated into Etsy’s ecosystem from day one, thanks to the friendly and enthusiastic nature of everyone around us. We were never afraid to ask questions, because no one ever talked down to us or made us feel inferior. There are no mechanisms in place at Etsy that make power dynamics apparent, not even from the perspective of an intern.
Our project was completed not because of crash courses in PHP or because we overloaded on cold brew; it was thanks to the people who nurtured us along the way. It was the prospect of creating something that could make a lasting impact on a company we loved that motivated us. Etsy’s relentlessly human touch makes even the smallest of projects feel meaningful, and it can turn three weeks into an unforgettable experience that I will never stop feeling passionate about.
A note about our internship & our organization:
WiTNY (Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York) is a collaborative initiative between Cornell Tech x CUNY designed to inspire young women to pursue careers in technology. WiTNY offers workshops and program that teach important skills and provide real work experience.
The Winternship program is a paid, three-week, mini-internship for first and second-year undergraduate students at CUNY schools, during their January academic recess. Etsy is one of many companies who participated in the Winternship program this year, taking a team of five young women and giving them a challenging project to complete while also teaching them about the different roles within a tech company.