Internship Retrospective: A Thinking Ape

27 Jul 2019

After my first internship doing full-stack/.NET development at an enterprise asset analytics software company, I wanted to try something faster paced. As well, if I’m being totally honest, I was hoping for something a wee bit more glamorous than “enterprise asset analytics” and “.NET MVC.”

Video game development seemed like the perfect answer.

A Thinking Ape Entertainment (May - Aug 2018)

A Thinking Ape is a small gaming company located in downtown Vancouver. At the time that I interned there, they were about 70 people, including 7 software co-ops and one art co-op.

I started out on A Thinking Ape’s data and growth team, where I was the only developer on the Ember dashboard that informed most of ATA’s advertising and user acquisition strategies. But, while I enjoyed learning about the (new to me) world of online and mobile advertising, I felt that working with no engineering mentorship wasn’t giving me the technical growth I was hoping for.

Something that I really appreciated about ATA was that, as soon as I voiced my concern about my lack of technical mentorship, the team leads pulled together to find me work that would better suit my goals. I ended up spending the rest of my summer on the Kingdoms of Heckfire team.

Moving an intern to a different team partway through the summer must have been a lot of work, but they did it anyway and I ended up having a much better experience for it. This was above and beyond what I’d imagined a co-op employer would be willing to do.

I also really liked the stuff I worked on during the second half of my internship: I got to develop a pretty big feature end-to-end, as well as make optimizations to the game client. I even got to work with other engineers!

Cool stuff I did at ATA:

  • Learned about the wacky world of targeted online advertising.
  • Got to make video games!

Overall, my work was very interesting, my coworkers were nice, the company went out of their way to improve my experience, and the office was absolutely beautiful. But something just didn’t click between me and ATA. The lack of process, the fact that important meetings tended to be scheduled “Some time later this week, maybe Thursday or Friday afternoon? Or next week if we forget?” drove me crazy, as did the impromptu office parties that somehow always managed to happen right when I was in the middle of debugging.

What made it worse was that I couldn’t understand why: ATA seemed like it should be the perfect workplace. Certainly everyone else seems to think so, judging by their 4.7 rating on glassdoor and inclusion on multiple Best Workplace awards lists.

Ultimately, this experience taught me a lot about myself: that I enjoy more peaceful environments, where meetings are reasonably timely and parties are planned out in advance. I also require some amount of process and structure in order to do my best work.

More generally, it taught me to approach finding work a little like dating. It’s important to have chemistry with the place you’re going to be spending 40 or more hours a week.

I would recommend A Thinking Ape as a place to intern at, with the caveat that I didn’t personally enjoy it. But, the work was very interesting, and people who enjoy working in less structured environments would thrive there.