Life Lessons from My First Week as an Atlassian Intern

It’s only been one week and it’s an adventure already! I set up my new work-from-home space, found my favorite Atlassian Zoom backgrounds, met an incredibly kind and welcoming team, earned a bonus point at Intern Trivia Night for pulling out the funkiest dance moves, and even got locked out of my own apartment (more on that story to come.) With a whole host of new experiences packed into the last few days, I’ve found myself learning new things constantly. Upon making that realization, I resolved to jot down those nuggets of wisdom throughout each day to turn into weekly blogs for documenting the ways in which I’d grow over the next 12 weeks. Here’s just the beginning of that journey…

Atlesson #1: It’s in your power to keep COVID from dampening your internship experience.

I kicked off my first day at work by setting two new personal records:

  1. Waking up at the earliest time yet this year at 7:00am.
  2. Wearing jeans inside the house.

Afraid of underachieving on my first day, I rolled out of bed earlier than the sun (just kidding… but that’s what it felt like,) with nervous excitement for what was to come. As I scanned my wardrobe, I came upon a decision that involved much more than just what to wear for the day, but more meaningfully, whether or not to lean into the vision I’d had before COVID-19 of what my first corporate work experience would look like, starting with how I dressed. Gratefully, I remembered what my recruiter, Anne Marie, had said about Atlassian’s culture involving casual wear rather than business professional, so I made the upgrade to jeans (a rarity for a sweatpants-lover like myself) and a happy orange cardigan. This small choice, though, was indicative of an intentional mindset for my day, and even my summer: I’d actively chase and capture my own aspirations for this internship experience. And this mindset was reinforced throughout my entire first week, as I noticed that the most recurring piece of advice was not about how to get on my manager’s good side, or what the fastest way to get a project done was. Notably, it was the advice to initiate conversations with as many people as possible. My Atlassian buddy, Shana, encouraged me by sharing her own experiences as an intern here 3 years ago and the fact that she was heading down to LA this weekend to visit some of the friends she’d made through her intern cohort that she still kept in touch with. Decoa, during our 1-on-1 this week, told me to say “yes” to every career opportunity and experience that would come my way this summer and even beyond, tapping into and shaping my post-college goals from the get-go. These interactions, along with the next-level support of the onboarding team, were just the beginning of feeling at-home and empowered in my first week.

Atlesson #2: Resources are everywhere in an open company.

After learning that a 7:00am start time was nowhere near a requirement for new hires and filling out my preferred work hours on an ‘About Me’ page, I began the process of getting acquainted with what would soon become my new best friend: Confluence.

In a company that is growing exponentially, the “startup culture” is real in the sense that the pace is fast and new information enters the fray at all times and from all angles. What I didn’t expect was how relevant the company value of “Open company, no bulls***” would be to my first week on the job. That value has led to company information being open to everyone by default, and that’s allowed me to immediately access resources across the board about where my team is situated, how we’ve been performing, who our stakeholders are, and all other bits of knowledge necessary for becoming an informed contributor within the past five days already. Confluence, or ‘Connie’ according to the younger folks at the company, keeps all of this information organized and easily accessible — hence why she is now my new best friend.

Atlesson #3: Efficiency doesn’t mean how fast you can get things done.

One thing I traditionally get impatient about is inefficiency, simply because I’ve realized how limited our time in the day (and in life!) is. What I’ve discovered on a highly cross-functional and quickly growing team, though, is that jumping to execution does not bode well with long-term success. Instead, I’ve been learning what it means to “Build with heart and balance,” a company value that stands for passion and urgency, but equally also the wisdom to carefully weigh all considerations with care. On my team, that has looked like caring for the people just as much as the work itself. This week, that meant my mentor listening first to how my Friday morning went before tackling the meeting agenda. It meant my manager leading a team meeting that opened with a “2 truths and a lie” social activity before going into team-wide updates. It looked like attending office hours, standups, and 1-on-1s with members of teams we collaborate with closely to get advice and establish support for my project this summer even before it’s begun.

It reminded me of a quote from Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” The majority of the meetings I took part in this week revolved around planning and not execution. I learned that in order to be efficient at work, robust systems for collaboration and support from other teams must get locked in first. The mere 15 minutes spent talking through the summer project proposal with the SEO team at their office hours this week led to breaking down the unknowns we had while creating the proposal and action items for both their team and ours. That is what efficiency looks like.

Atlesson #4: People make you powerful.

In my first week, I’ve become all but fully convinced that the people are the most important factor in enjoying your work. The team I’m on focuses on an enterprise software solution, and those terms in themselves are enough to convey that this space is much beyond my previous exposure or areas of expertise. But, my mentor, Katherine, told me that it’s so much easier to get your own work done when you know the people around you. You not only feel more comfortable asking for their help, but are also able to better understand how they can help you, and this unlocks the key to finding true value in their perspective. Throughout the past week, I’ve come across an entire slew of vocabulary that I’ve never seen before, but feeling able to ask questions in a ‘no-stupid-question’ culture and finding proactive support from every single member of my team and beyond has been integral to my quick learning about the product.

This made me realize that even while working with a product I had yet to understand fully, I found drive and motivation for the work because of the support and kindness permeating throughout the team. Katherine told me that especially in a remote and highly cross-functional team such as ours, it’s a necessary component of success to be vocal about what you need. She showed me what that looked like in practice during meetings I shadowed with her, and I realized that the ability to ask for those things so candidly was possible only in a culture where collaboration and proactive support is the default.

Atlesson #5: Getting off the computer is necessary, and takes discipline.

On my first day, I worked non-stop from 7:30am til 1:00pm, when my roommate and I decided to grab some quick takeout so we wouldn’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning up after (also because it was her birthday!) I had also just finished working my way through the work-from-home setup manual, so I felt ready to take a pause before looking for more pages on Connie to read through.

We picked up our favorite pasta dishes at a nearby college-budget friendly Italian place, and came back home to eat. That’s when we got to our apartment door and realized that the spare set of keys we’d taken with us out the door had only the car key and apartment building key, not our room key. I stood there gaping, knowing full well from just completing the onboarding manual that I could only access those Confluence pages on Atlassian-approved devices for security reasons, and those were on the other side of my apartment door.

We called our building manager, who said that the earliest he could send us our spare key was after his work day finished at 5 or 6pm. I had no idea how I’d get anything Atlassian-related done for the rest of the day, and the only things that kept me from becoming a fully-formed ball of stress were 1) the confidence I already had from conversing with Katherine and the team throughout the day that they were kind people who treated me like a human rather than a working machine, and 2) the fact that it was my roommate’s birthday and she was standing right next to me.

Being locked out on my first day at work might’ve turned out to be the greatest blessing in disguise, though. I ended up spending an extra hour in a memorable adventure in attempt to find an alternative way to get into the apartment that forced my mind off of the bubble of work. When we were finally able to get back into our home two hours later, I had gained the mental rest from work I didn’t know I needed, and re-entered the remainder of the day with an undeniably clearer and more refreshed mind (plus, I was still able to finish the work day on time because of my early start!) Without being locked out in the first place, though, that break wouldn’t have lasted longer than our 30-minute takeout run.

Throughout the rest of the week, I learned that the high speed of growth in the team and company meant that there were always more things that could be worked on. And knowledge of this made me feel unwilling to step away from the screen, especially with no pressure to leave a physical office in order to get home and the ability to constantly be on my laptop. At the conclusion of my first day, I was on Zoom with Katherine after recapping how my Monday of onboarding went when she said, “Hey, it’s 5pm; log off! Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.” It took her explicit reminder of what time of the day it was for me to have reason to put an end to the work I’d been doing and come back to it the next day.

I realized that in order to get the rest my body and mind needed throughout the day that I’d otherwise neglect to take, I’d have to build in habits and practices for each day. My current idea is to 10 pushups or 20 sit ups during the 20 seconds preceding a new meeting to get my eyes off of the screen right before jumping back in. I also scheduled in 1-hour lunch breaks on my Google Calendar, as my manager, Daniel, and Katherine both do. I realized that although I only need 30 minutes to make and eat my lunch, the 1 hour break allows the mind to rest and reset as well. And that time is integral in making me more productive for the remainder of the day and avoiding burnout.

I’m learning that it’ll take discipline to form the habits that will implement and preserve rest in my daily schedule, but that it’ll pay off in dividends. Who knew that getting locked out of my apartment could teach me to be more productive at work?

Summary

I could go on, but here are the five key lessons that capture broader themes of my past week:

#1: It’s in your power to keep COVID from dampening your internship experience.

#2: Resources are everywhere in an open company.

#3: Efficiency doesn’t mean how fast you can get things done.

#4: People make you powerful.

#5: Getting off the computer is necessary, and takes discipline.

I know that this is just the beginning of a multitude of life lessons to come. Here’s to putting even more gold nuggets under my belt in the coming 11 weeks. Bon voyage, Atlassian!

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