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64. From Internship to Job Placement
Hosted by Charlie Gleason, with guest Luis Alvarez.
Year Up is an organization which unites highly motivated young adults with companies that have job opportunities available. It does so by offering a year-long course for qualified students: six months of training followed by a six month internship placement. Luis Alvarez is a recent graduate who was placed onto Heroku's Branding and Content team. Charlie Gleason interviews him about his experience going through the Year Up program and how he was able to land a contract at Salesforce.
Charlie Gleason, a designer and front end developer at Heroku, interviews Luis Alvarez. Luis is a data analyst intern at Heroku, and he got there through his involvement in Year Up. Year Up is akin to a bootcamp for young adults, divided into two phases. The first six months are a process of learning and development. Year Up pairs your interests with hands-on training in various subjects, such as data analytics, IT, and project management. There's consistent feedback from your classmates and you're constantly being evaluated on your progress. After this assessment, Year Up pairs students with companies. For example, students who excelled in data visualization courses will be matched to a company which requires that work.
Luis carries the discussion by listing out the aspects of Year Up which surprised him. He appreciated the amount of time which his mentors at Heroku allotted for him, and was able to make the commute from San Jose to San Francisco largely because Year Up provides a monthly stipend for all of its students. Learning to anticipate his colleagues' needs was also necessary, as Luis' primary role was collating and representing data as graphs for others to make use of. Through the process, Luis was able to solidify his communication skills.
In the end, Luis offers some advice for listeners who are keen to become future interns. He believes prospective Year Up students network should with as many people as they can, to ask for and suggest projects that coincide with their interests. Next, when it comes time to apply for jobs, he recommends an aggressive approach of applying to no less than three openings a day. As well, if you document the work you've been doing, you will find yourself with a portfolio which you can show to prospective employers.
Links from this episode
- Year Up's mission is to close the Opportunity Divide by ensuring that young adults gain the skills, experiences, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through careers and higher education.
Charlie: Hello and welcome to Code[ish]. My name is Charlie Gleason and I'm a designer and front end developer at Heroku looking after the brand. I'm joined today by Luis Alvarez who's been a data analyst intern with us for the last six months. Luis, do want to introduce yourself?
Luis: Yeah, as you mentioned, I'm a data analyst intern and I've been here for the past six months. A lot of the work I've been doing here revolved around our web analytics data. Specifically, I've been taking a look at the podcast section, the blog section and our customer story sections of the Heroku site. I also did do some work on our third party content as well as our newsletters and I had the chance to take a look at some of the social sentiment analytics and brand awareness data we had.
Charlie: Yeah, I should say we work on the same team so we know each other pretty well, so I did secretly know that. But, it's amazing, you've done an incredible amount of work across a huge number of different aspects of Heroku so it's awesome and thank you. How did you get to be an intern at Heroku?
Luis: I was in a program known as Year Up. A lot of people mistake it for Europe and think I came from Europe and got a degree in some school in Europe, but it's actually Year as in year 2020 and Up as in not down. The Year Up program it's a year long program and just to give a little bit of background on it. It's mission is to create a bridge around what they call the opportunity divide. The idea behind the opportunity divide is that there're millions of young adults in America that are facing social or economic injustice. Despite their talent and their drive, they lack access to higher education and what Year Up does is they try to, as mentioned be that bridge. Provide these young adults with the necessary education, the necessary hard skills and give them a good direction. So, that way that they find a successful, meaningful career track.
Charlie: Yeah. I'm such a big fan of Year Up's work. It's a year long, almost like bootcamp would you say? A year long intensive?
Luis: It's about a year long, it's almost a bootcamp I would say it's pretty similar. There's two phases, the first six months are learning and development in which you are placed in a track. So, to define what track means, there's data analytics, there's IT, there's project management, there's a variety of other job roles or tracks that they offer. But in my case in the San Jose Year Up where I came from, those were the three that were offered. These first six months you are in a classroom and you learn hands on skills, so you do a lot of hands on work based on the track.
Luis: I did things such as learning Python, learning SQL, learning Tableau and the core concepts behind each of these software tools. You do a lot of team collaborative projects and there is a ton of public speaking, which is... That was my biggest fear going into the program was the public speaking, which you do so consistently for the first six months. Regardless of how well you do you know that you'll learn a lot, they give you a lot of feedback based off your performance in front of the group. While I didn't necessarily feel comfortable doing public speaking, I feel like I learned the most from doing that and being in that position. But along with that, we learn how to create a professional resume, we do a lot of practice for our interviews, for professional interviews. There's a lot of networking tips and tricks that go on as well as mentioned, we do a lot of feedback.
Luis: Every Friday we do feedback Friday and it's your classmates. They say, "Hey, these are some things I noticed. I noticed that you're good at Excel, for example. However, I feel that if you raise your hand and participate more in class that would strengthen you as an individual. Because I know you have a lot of great thoughts and ideas and the class would benefit from you sharing them and whatnot."
Charlie: Well, that's Awesome.
Luis: Things of that nature. There's one really cool thing about Year Up and it's that they actually pay you a stipend, as you are part of the program. You get $600 a month for the first L&D the first six months and it also goes by a point system, so you have not only money coming to you but you have points right?
Luis: I bring this up because the way that it works is, every time you make a mistake or say... They have a strict set of rules so every time you show up to class late, they remove money off your paycheck but they also take points off. You're essentially not making much, $600 a month is not a lot, but it's good to get paid for an education regardless.
Charlie: Yeah. That's awesome.
Luis: It's a really interesting system but say your points dropped to zero because you miss homework or you didn't dress appropriately. We have a strict dress code as well, so once they go to zero you essentially fire yourself from the program and you're removed from the program.
Charlie: Oh, interesting. It's quite strict in terms of what the expectations are for you going in and it feels like feedback. There's this constant loop of feedback both from the people you're collaborating with in your class, but also from Year Up as an institution or as a program?
Luis: Yeah, exactly. I think it's really good because they teach you... This stipend and point system what I found, is it really helps you develop strong habits. In terms of showing up consistently you wouldn't want to get money removed from your paycheck because you make a mistake. Essentially the idea is you're going to show up consistently every time on time. You're going to do your homework, you're going to dress the way that you're supposed to dress and no profanity and stuff like that. Because, if you do any of that you're basically missing out on cash.
Charlie: Sure. That's a really interesting way of approaching it. Because I think as well, when you are first going into the workforce, there are things that you may not necessarily be aware of, are expected or appropriate. I think that takes time to learn, so having something that really gives you a grounding in what those expectations are. Two things struck me, feedback is a really hard thing to give and to receive and so taking that seriously and doing it in a way that's respectful is really important. And it sounds all of this is trying to create an environment that is respectful and appropriate and as close as possible to a workplace right?
Luis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Charlie: Even if it's in these first six months of learning and development, it's like you are in a workplace in a way. That's really interesting. I didn't realize that.
Luis: Yeah. I've never experienced anything like it for sure, it's a great program. Moving on to the next phase, which is the internship phase is what we call it. The first six months, once you get through that you basically earn your internship placement and you don't necessarily know where you're going to go until the last week of the program. So, you can't really prepare in advance, you can't like, "Oh I'm getting Google" or something. You're not going to be able to know where you're going, which is... I'm not really sure why they do that but regardless you're going to get placed at a great company. So, it doesn't really matter I guess you can say, but you're placed based upon your personality. The way that you interact with others, your interests.
Luis: I'll give me as an example, I like brand, I like design, I like things of that nature and I was placed in a brand and content team pretty much. It's really cool that the instructors actually look into that, but you're also placed upon your skillset. So if you're good at Python you're going to be placed in a heavier Python role where you're doing more coding consistently. Or if you're good at visualizations, you'll be placed somewhere where you'll be working more with data visualization software, creating reports. Some advice I would give to individuals that are going through the Year Up program is, I'll say advocate for the company that you want because while you don't get to choose, they will take what you say into consideration.
Luis: Express your interest as well because, I think the only reason I got Salesforce is because I expressed my interest in design and my hobbies outside of the classroom. Regardless of what you get, make the best out of what you have. Every company that we are placed in it's definitely a blessing regardless of where you go, you're going to get placed in a very, very well known company. Like people go to Amazon, people go to LinkedIn so-
Charlie: Wow, that's awesome. We were so lucky to have you placed her on our team so it's awesome that you did that and then ended up working with us, because we're incredibly lucky to have you.
Luis: Thank you.
Charlie: One thing that you talked about that struck me around public speaking, I think that's one of the things they give you that's like, if you haven't done it before. If you're not comfortable with it, it's really hard and then it's just practice and practice that gets you better on it. That idea of it gets you more comfortable at it. That really struck me but were there are other things that you didn't expect or surprised you like that?
Luis: To be honest, I came into internship with an open mind. I told myself from day one regardless of where I go I'm lucky to be placed or I'm lucky to have gotten out of the classroom. Because the classroom was tough so, I think getting out of the classroom was definitely great for me. I was just happy to move forward, but what surprised me regardless of having that open mind was just how welcoming the environment at Salesforce was. Everybody is willing to help you and all you've got to do is ask, because they've been like in a similar position basically. I would say that just the amount of support I received walking in, it was unexpected and it was really great for sure.
Charlie: You're based in the San Francisco office? I work in London, so all of our interactions have been via Google Hangouts except now when we're in the same room which is also in San Francisco. That team that you sit with is largely made up of marketing and they're incredible. Even when I started, I found when I first came over here people were super supportive and super willing to help you get used to... Feel comfortable and to understand what everyone does and their roles and how you can be a part of it. I think that's something that you want regardless of whether or not you're an intern or if you've been in the industry for 20 years, right? You want to make sure that you are surrounded by people who have your best interests at heart. I think that, that's something that this group has done really well and I'm glad that that came across because I think that's so important, especially when you're new.
Luis: Definitely. I will mention that my manager... This is purely based off my experience, but I was very surprised with the amount of time Jennifer, my manager gave me. She definitely put in a lot of effort into building I guess my professional experience through my internship, she was ready to go. I would say for any manager that is taking on an intern and wants some advice, I would definitely recommend reaching out to Jennifer if possible and she might be able to help out.
Charlie: There are the good things, were there challenges that you came across or things you didn't expect or things that were harder than you thought there might be?
Luis: To start off, I will say that, I'm from San Jose and I have to make it up to San Francisco on a Monday through Friday basis. The commute, as you can imagine is pretty intense, it's a very long commute, that was pretty challenging. However, luckily as a Salesforce intern, they provide a shuttle, so you pretty much don't have to take public transportation unless you want to. That was a plus, but still the commute is very long, I would say maybe on average five hours a day.
Charlie: Wow, that's a lot of podcasts.
Luis: Yeah, I know. You can do a lot of things, you can sleep, you can work on projects, you can read. I did do some research, I got actually Google Analytics certified on my way home, just from the commute. But other than that, learning a completely new software tool, that was pretty challenging. To give more context, as I mentioned I worked with Python, SQL, and Tableau but for my internship I got a totally different tool, which was Google Analytics and Data Studio. And there was a few others, but those were the ones I mainly worked with. Just having to learn that from scratch was a little bit difficult, I did have a mentor and she helped me out, she gave me so much support. I was able to work through that. However, initially it was scary because I was like, "Oh man, I'm expected to do this type of work and I have to learn this tool within a couple of weeks or a week or so" or something.
Charlie: Yeah, because you want to make the most out of the time and I think it's awesome that you had support for that. But it's still, I suppose something going in that you may end up at an organization that uses different tools than the ones that you're necessarily comfortable with. So, I guess being flexible to that, is probably worthwhile, right?
Luis: Yeah, exactly. I did a lot of dashboards during my time here at Salesforce and one of the things that was pretty tough was properly setting it up. You have to make it, from what I've learned, very concise and very clear so that anybody who takes a look at the report knows what's on the dashboard. From one glance you see like this is sessions over time in a bar chart or something that. You'd want the appropriate title and the appropriate description for that, so that people will know this is coming from, for example, our blogs. Or this is coming from specifically this blog or something like that. Being able to communicate data was a little bit difficult to do, it took me a long time and I'm still learning, it's not something that I feel I'm a professional by any means.
Luis: But, that was a little difficult. Lastly, I would say I was still on a stipend, so I was still getting, a monthly pay through the Year Up program during my time at internship and it wasn't too high. That might be a little difficult for some people that might have... There's some people that have kids that go through the program or have bills to pay, so that was a little bit difficult. But I will say to anybody out there that is considering the program, it definitely pays off, the stipend, it's going to affect your life. But once you're done with your internship, you're going to have skills that are invaluable, so I would say just muscle through it.
Charlie: Absolutely. I'll put a link to Year Up as well in the show notes so that people can check it out and learn a little bit more about it, if it's something they're considering doing. We went to a presentation today from some of the Year Up students and they mentioned that there are also remote opportunities there. So, if you're not based in San Francisco like for example, one of the people that presented was coming from New York and working remotely, so there're opportunities there and I think it's well worth checking out. It's very cool and I appreciate you taking me along because I had a great time.
Luis: Yeah, thanks man. It was really a great hearing, the stories that... The people's different journeys and similar outcomes, getting that marketable skill set that they can advance and improve their life.
Charlie: What were the key takeaways or things that you feel like you learned from this experience?
Luis: I learned a lot to be honest. Within these six months it's a long time for sure. It feels like it flew by really quick, but I learned so much and that could be a podcast in its own. Going back to data I got a better understanding of the importance when it comes to clarity and communication.
Charlie: Yeah. I was saying I was going to mention that, because I think that one of the things that when it comes to... I work as a user experience designer as well as looking after brand and I think one of the real challenges is making data digestible and understandable. It's really wild to hear about your development over the six months and the work that you were doing at the start of that six months. It's a universe away from what you were working on at the end and I think it really shows in the way that you understood how people see this information and how people interpret it and it's awesome. I think it's really great.
Luis: One of the things that a lot of Year Up students might have in mind, they might be thinking, "Oh, how's the workload? How much work am I going to be getting?" It varies on the manager, but one thing that I learned is that you can communicate with your manager and tell them... I would say be honest and be transparent with the people you're working with. If you feel you're overloaded with work and with just things to do, don't be afraid to mention that. Everybody's really understanding and you'll be surprised with the amount of work you can accomplish.
Luis: I was pretty surprised. I feel I could have done... Well looking back you always think, you could have done better. But I feel like just looking back at the amount of work that I did, I was just like, "Wow, that's a lot of reports that were put together. One of the guys said this in the presentation, you've got to trust yourself and trust what you're capable of."
Luis: I'm basically taking that away from this experience. I'm not going to question myself, I know that I can accomplish it and anybody can, so that was one thing as well.
Charlie: Earlier you were talking about how the support that you got. So, you've met a ton of people, I'm guessing through this and Salesforce is a very, very, very large company. How did you find the meeting people and getting to know people and networking and all of that side of things?
Luis: Jennifer really helped at first initially to introduce me to the team. She's like, "Hey, you should do a one on one with Charlie for example." We did a one on one. However, over time, I had got gotten to know the team already, so I met the team. I met with Jason the former CMO of Heroku and he gave me really good advice. One of the things he said, "Hey, if you want to have a successful..." Or basically he was saying three things that you should do during your internship are these three things. One of them was you should do as much work as you can because that's going to help build your resume. Two was, basically take ownership of the work that you do, so know your work inside out.
Luis: Third, was networking, he's like networking is huge, basically you're going to learn a lot from a lot of different people. Since you are at internship, it's something that you should take advantage of learning from different perspectives, seeing how other people approach a project or handle a certain situation. Again, don't be afraid to reach out to individuals, you can email them and set something up prior and if they don't respond, it's totally fine. I sent probably 50 emails and got maybe 10 responses, 20 responses. I got a good amount of responses, but each response it's an opportunity to learn and to grow and to build your communication skills. I would say, if anybody's doing an internship, definitely network.
Charlie: Let's say you had a time machine and you could go back and give yourself advice. Or if you had advice for potentially future interns or future Year Up students, what would you say to them?
Luis: Something I would say to myself, if I could go back in time, I would say... One thing that I wish I did basically is learn more about the data I was analyzing. To be specific, I was creating dashboards on our podcast, our blogs and we have various blogs, the customer stories. Basically a lot of things revolve around Heroku and I didn't spend as much time getting to know what Heroku was as I would've liked. There's a lot of elements that go into creating an app and the developer world so I would've liked to learn more about apps and what developers do and how Heroku is valued to our audience, basically.
Luis: I also would have stayed more organized, everybody listening just be organized, it's only going to help. That's one thing that I wish I could have done better and I will do better moving forward. Be intentional about what you do as well, especially in meetings because you want to be thoughtful of others' time. I've been in some meetings where I didn't come as prepared as I would have liked and I wish I can apologize to those people. "I'm sorry." You have had that a few times, looking back it's hard to look back and be okay with it. But, other than that, some general advice I'd give is, for those that are doing the Year Up program and are students and will be going into internship. I would say take advantage of the support systems that Year Up has to offer.
Luis: We have mentors that we are given, we have a coach that coaches us through the whole year and as I mentioned, definitely network. With not just people within your internship but your colleagues and people outside of that might offer some help. But some other things I would add, asking for work and suggesting projects that coincide with your interests.
Charlie: Absolutely. Because, that's how this podcast came about because Jennifer heads this podcast and does an incredible job on it and talking to her about it, that kicked off this conversation. Then, you and I are working on a design project together, which is really cool and I think that, that came about, because when we first met in our one-to-one. I think the first thing you said was, I really like design, I like your work, flattery gets you everywhere by the way. So, then you and Jennifer and I ended up having this conversation about, well why don't we go and do something like that together? Because that's a good opportunity to work in a slightly different area and see how you like that or whether that's something you enjoy. Especially at an internship level where you potentially have the room to explore things like that.
Luis: Definitely. This next piece of advice I want to say is more for those that are maybe nearing the end of their internship. Or are getting closer to finishing up, wrapping it up and looking for jobs outside of internship. One thing that is very crucial to do is document your work and know the impact that it has on your team. Because when you start interviewing for jobs, they're going to want specific examples on projects that you did and your thought process and you're going to want to know that like the back of your hand. I would say, that's very, very crucial if you're seeking a job after internship because some of us like myself, I was really applying to jobs. Basically I want to go back to school and get more education, but I want to work as well, I'd like to have a job and do that part time.
Luis: Also, when it comes to jobs, it's almost like a numbers game at a certain point. One strategy that a good friend of mine gave me, he said, "Apply to three jobs a day for a month and you'll land a job." And you know what, that actually works. It's excessive and it takes a lot of effort because you have to research the company. But I would say apply, do that, take that step and start early in your internship. Maybe a couple months or maybe even three months of time remaining in your internship. I did that for two weeks and I got five responses.
Luis: I did it and it actually came before that month and I only got two interviews. But out of those two interviews I got one job offer that I ended up declining it, which I'll mention why in a little bit. But in terms of jobs, that's one thing I would say. Also, just remember no one is perfect, so throughout your internship just go in and do your best and take your mistakes as you go and they're learning experiences. I would say, again, just trust in yourself and be grateful for the opportunity.
Charlie: I think that's so important as well. Especially when you're starting out, it's really easy to... You will make mistakes, it's just what people do. Things happen and approaching it as a learning opportunity is such a valuable way to grow from it rather than beating yourself up. Or feeling like it's something you have to be... That it's the end of the world, I think that's such a valuable way to look at it and that's some awesome advice and I think that's actually advice that's applicable to any internship.
Charlie: I will say as well on the documenting your work, I think that's also good for your self esteem because afterwards you can look back on it, almost like a portfolio for a designer. You keep pieces of work so that you can reflect on your growth over time, you can reflect on the things you've achieved. Also, when you're going into interview or if you're talking about your work, you have this repository of things you've done and I don't know it feels nice.
Luis: It's a great way to stay prepared too. Preparation is key.
Charlie: Your internship is coming to an end tomorrow. Not in podcast time but in real world time.
Charlie: What are you going to do now?
Luis: Well, fortunately I was able to receive a six month contract at Salesforce on the Heroku team, which is why I didn't take that full time offer, I'd rather stay here. I love the work that I'm doing and I have some really cool projects coming up.
Charlie: I'm genuinely so excited, I think to be honest a minute. It's really good example as well of your attitude towards this internship has been so positive and so enthusiastic. For it to lead to a contract, I think that's so cool and we get to work together a bunch more, which is also awesome because you're awesome.
Luis: Thanks man. You are pretty awesome man.
Luis: Not kidding, you're pretty awesome, you're really awesome man.
Charlie: Well take it. What kind of stuff do you want to do during that six months?
Luis: I'd mentioned to Jennifer that I'd to learn more about programming and software development. Eventually I'd like to create an app using Heroku, but if there're any projects that I can do that involve some coding or programming, I'd like to do that. As well, I'm going to be doing some SEO work, so the SEO team is... I'm going to be speaking to them next week and we're going to get something going there and I'll also be continuing my data analytics. I'm going to build upon my current experience and take some maybe courses outside of Salesforce and just get more well versed in that area.
Charlie: What about outside of our Heroku, it's coming to the end of that six months and finishing the Year Up program. It's amazing, but what are you thinking about outside of us and that?
Luis: Outside of that I'd like to get my computer science degree, that's something I want to do on the side as I'm working. This is actually advice for people as well, so I'm more of an artist, I like design. I was initially going to school for graphic design prior to the Year Up program, but I think it's very important to keep an open mind. Because, when I tell people, "Oh I do data." They're like, that's totally different from art. That's like the perception, it's numbers so obviously it's a little different. But basically keep an open mind and keep your skills with you, keep your hobbies with you. My art, it's going to stay with me for the rest of my life.
Luis: However, I'm not going to limit myself to just art. I want to accomplish as much as I can within the time I have here, my journey on earth basically getting zen. Aside from that, I have some personal projects that I've been working on for too long, I would say almost two years. It's basically a art website that I want to as mentioned use what I know from technology and just combine the two and see where it takes me. But personally, I feel that money is great, but making an impact in the world is in my perspective, it's greater. I'd like to share my natural gifts to the world through the work I do and to do that, I'm going to just continue to focus on being the best version of myself. Just pressing through the obstacles that life has to throw at us.
Charlie: Man, that is a very, very nice way to look at it, and a really nice way to summarize this whole conversation. I think that, like I said, the attitude you've had throughout this whole internship has been incredible and so positive and I'm so thrilled that you are sticking around. I'm so thrilled that we get to... I think you said in a meeting a couple of weeks back when we were talking about the six months. You were like, "Oh I'm so glad that people gave me their time." I think we're really lucky that you gave us your time. So, thank you, thank you. Because it's awesome that you joined us and I'm so excited to see what happens next.
Luis: Yeah, thank you man. I really appreciate it and being here has been phenomenal for sure. It's definitely changed my trajectory in life and I just want to thank you as well and the team at Heroku.
Charlie: You are great. Well, thank you everyone for listening. Check out the show notes to learn a little bit more about Year Up and we'll try and link to some of the stuff that we've talked about today. Thank you, Luis, for joining me.
Luis: Thank you.
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Charlie is a designer, developer, musician, and creative coding enthusiast. He can usually be found somewhere in London, probably on a bike.
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