4 things I learnt as an intern, or how to avoid fetching Tim’s coffee

My last day at Codethink was on Friday, August 30th. It was the last day I hammered away at the keyboard of a Thinkpad, on a table covered in the dozens of yellow Metrolink tram tickets I’d collected over my 3 months in Manchester.

That was a week ago. I swapped 7.30AM alarms and brisk walks to Cornbrook Tram Station for 12PM wake-ups and bleary-eyed trips to the fridge for the glass of milk I call breakfast. Not that I’m complaining — I was never fond of wrestling with my umbrella on the cold, damp walks to the tram — but sitting in bed with nothing to do while the hours tick-tock by has filled me with boredom.

Rather than queue up the umpteenth episode of Supernatural, then, I’ve decided to use one of my few marketable skills and write about my time at Codethink. Here are the things I learnt there.

You might get used to 7.30AM alarms, but you’ll never get used to 5 hours of sleep

Late sleepers take note: it’s possible to get up early. But it’s impossible to make it through an 8-hour work day, 5 times a week, on under 6 hours of pillow-time.

This was my first wake-up call, and yes, that pun was absolutely intentional. Part of the shift from a student life to a -slaving- working life is learning from your parents; that means going to bed early and getting up early, just like mom and dad.

Coffee will become an indispensable ally. That’s assuming you haven’t already developed a caffeine addiction during exam season.

Things are usually the way they are because reasons

By the end of my very first week, I had already developed a laundry list of complaints about the way things were done at my new workplace. My supervisor, Tim Pockney, had to listen to me rant and rave about all of them. Why does the website look like *that?* Why do we not have a Facebook page? Why, in the name of all that is holy, *do we have to use GitLab to upload new blog posts instead of a tool like WordPress?*

That last one still grinds my gears. But now I know the reasons why all of those things are the way they are, and it’s not due to incompetency. It’s usually the case that:

A) there are more pressing issues that take priority, or
B) people have a set of reasons for doing things (or using certain tools) the way they do.


Poor Tim was keenly aware of each issue I raised; but one has to weigh the benefit of pulling a programmer off a client’s project for the sake of updating the website, whether the time invested in setting up a Facebook page will lead to acquiring new clients, or, and I say this through gritted teeth, whether the convenience of using WordPress is worth dealing with its many security vulnerabilities.

In the eyes of people far more experienced, far more business-savvy, and in far higher positions in the company, these trade-offs were simply not worth it. That’s not to say that the feedback was not appreciated — in fact, most of them agreed to some extent with the problems I raised, even if they did not agree with the solutions — but it’s important to recognise that things are usually the way they are for a number of very good reasons.

Bring more than just your ass to work

Chances are, unless you work a job straight out of Dirty Jobs, you were employed not just for the sake of filling a role but to also provide value to the company in question.

Pumping out text, code, or numbers is just one of the ways you provide value to your employer, and more often than not it’s not a particularly effective way of doing so. /That’s not to say you should stop doing your job,/ but you are far more valuable as an employee that contributes to and builds upon the way the company conducts its business. This could be as simple as giving your superiors ideas that could increase productivity, efficiency, or income, even if these improvements are marginal.

My ‘big brain’ idea was to post the articles I wrote for Codethink on Reddit, which resulted in the number of average monthly unique visitors to Codethink’s blog growing over twofold in respect to the prior 5 months of 2019. Before patting myself on the back too hard, I must give other factors their due credit; Tim’s expertise with LinkedIn and Twitter was one contributor to those figures, and the inroads he’d made with the company blog in early 2019 certainly helped grow the website’s traffic.

I will say, though, that something as simple as posting articles on Reddit provided a noticeable boost to traffic — and it is thanks to ideas like these that Tim grew to see me as more than just a whiny, snotty, know-it-all intern.

Bigger isn’t always better (or Micro =/= soft 😉)

I’ll preface this by saying that Codethink is not a small company. By the time I had left it employed over 100 people.

But some of the other companies I’d applied to intern for had employee counts in the hundreds of thousands. That’s a lot. One of them had almost as many employees as my hometown, and I’ll let you figure out which company this is by yourself.

Sure, those names would look very impressive on your CV. Trying to be heard at such a company, however, is like trying to make small talk with someone at a Metallica concert. The chances of you making any significant contribution as an intern are very, very small.

When I got plopped into the Sales office at 35 Dale Street, that was because there wasn’t such a thing as a Marketing department — me and Tim were pretty much it. That’s scary as hell, and rewarding as hell, for pretty much the same reason: your work is much more visible. The good thing is if you do it well, the compliments, job opportunities, and recognition start to pile up in your inbox.

At least that’s what I’ve been told. My mom says my work is very good anyway.

One last thing

I’ve cracked a lot of genuinely unfunny jokes over the last couple of paragraphs, and I apologise for wasting your time. But I must also extend my apologies to everyone in Codethink’s Manchester offices, and especially to the Sales office, my fellow interns, and Tim, who had to endure me the most. I’ll miss bothering you very much, and I’ll miss the tea and biscuits in the break room even more.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Thanks for the internship! ❤