By Regina Liu Yixuan, Undergraduate, SMU School of Computing and Information Systems
Before coming to SMU, I have never written a single line of code – saved for the one time back in 2014 when I copied and pasted an entire Flappy Bird game into my Macbook’s XCode app, without understanding any of it. Today, I am a third-year student at the SMU School of Computing and Information Systems, where I am focused on pursuing a career in software engineering upon graduation. Joining the SMU Global Innovation Immersion (GII) programme opened doors for me to take on my first internship as an inexperienced techie-wannabe in this field, with the benefit of being exposed to an international workplace.
First experience working in the blockchain industry
Under the auspices of GII, I started out in my first role in the blockchain industry as a Software Engineer Intern at Mask Network from May to August 2021. Mask Network is a startup focused on building a portal that bridges gaps between Web 2.0 and 3.0 in the blockchain landscape. Its core product is an open-sourced browser extension that modifies the social media platforms we use (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) and provides additional capabilities within the walls of these platforms, such as transacting cryptocurrencies, encrypting messages and so much more. With employees around the globe, most of its manpower is based in China.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, my internship was done remotely which was an interesting experience. Despite not having physical contact with any of my peers, the connections still felt tangible thanks to the seamless communication between us. With everyone just a message or a Zoom call away, I could well had been in a room next to my co-workers. In addition, one cool thing about the blockchain software development community is that most projects are open sourced (i.e. developed in public), so creators of other projects are often just a message away too. As an intern new to the blockchain space and software engineering world in general, it was great to have a community friendly to newcomers and ready to help with the beginner questions that I had.
A culturally diverse workplace
Despite being based in China, Mask Network has a culturally diverse workforce, thanks in part to its thoroughly internationalised product. The company’s direction is in line with the global Web 3.0 community (i.e., a term that describes a decentralised web, powered by the likes of blockchain technology), and it’s highly active on social media platforms with substantial non-Chinese followers. Many of my co-workers were able to converse in both English and Chinese, which is not at all surprising given that English has become the de facto language in open-source software development.
This allowed me to converse without any communication barriers, which was neat as I probably would have spent a lot more time translating my messages, especially since the community uses quite a fair bit of jargons.
Words of wisdom from my mentor
One thing that my mentor – Ms Grace Ma – mentioned, stood out to me: China has an ultra-competitive market in terms of tapping on fresh talent, given its population size and the corresponding size of driven graduates, but healthy competition can drive greater levels of inquisitiveness, and enable more people to share common topics of interest with.
The main takeaway I had was to keep my career skills fresh, learn to step back to look at the bigger picture in terms of potential fields to specialise in, and find a place where you feel excited to be in. It’s not always about being competitive, because the perfect combination of interest and skills will directly benefit how you work and go about your day-to-day responsibilities.
If you’re considering a remote internship experience…
To keep up with my progress and allow time for feedback, my supervisor set up weekly one-to-one meetings over Zoom. To break down potential barriers for communication, we also had a Telegram group and a Rocket. Chat channel with a few other coworkers or friends in the community added in. This gave me more than a single point of contact, and I was able to reach out to anyone whenever I needed help.
With the likelihood that most of us will be heading towards a hybrid working arrangement at least for the short term, it’s a good time to experiment with different working styles and see how you perform remotely. Working at home taught me the importance of self-discipline and gave me the convenience of not having to travel to work every day. If you prefer having hours of focus without co-workers tapping on your shoulders every five minutes, then remote working may be for you. Regardless, this would be a great way to let you explore your working style as you embark on your career.
The Global Innovation Immersion (GII) programme is a 3-month virtual / in-person overseas internship with high-growth innovative companies, tailored for SMU students who are passionate about starting businesses, the startup ecosystem, and innovation and digital transformation. This internship is open to all full-time SMU undergraduates who are returning for at least one semester of study. Managed by SMU’s Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship (IIE), more than 200 students have undergone internship programmes under the auspices of GII since 2015.
SMU offers you the opportunity to expand your innovation network and strengthen your entrepreneurial skills like no other. Accept your SMU offer today! Acceptance closes 24 May 2022!