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Interning at a Smaller Tech Company

Author – Stephen Kilcommins  Stephen and the Gecko Team in Pre-Covid19 Days

In choosing a company for which to do my third-year internship I opted for a smaller sized company as opposed to the familiar tech giants based in Dublin – Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and the like.  As I chose to complete my internship in an emerging technology company, which has only recently gotten past the tag of ‘start-up’, the work I completed throughout my internship was versatile and dynamic in its nature. It was this variation in experience that lead me to seek out a smaller sized company. The company I chose to do my internship with is called (opens in a new window)GECKO Governance. GECKO is based near Dublin in a town called Dundalk – where I live – but also has offices in Sydney and New York. In a nutshell GECKO is a RegTech fund management regulatory solution which enables users to schedule, manage, and monitor an investment fund’s regulatory and compliance requirements in real-time.

My recruitment process with GECKO was likely quite different to the process most others would have had when searching for a company in which to do their internship. My recruitment with GECKO began just over a year and a half prior to my internship, in early June 2018. The Head of Technology & Product Innovation Patrick Purcell became aware of me through a mutual friend we shared. He was looking for a junior employee who had a background in tech, but with good soft skills and the ability to adapt to the everchanging situations one would find in a start-up. I had a chat with Patrick by text in March of 2018 where he asked if I would like to have an interview to potentially work on a project over the Summer of 2018. I happily obliged. My interview took place in June 2018 and was a 1 to 1 with the company’s CEO, Shane Brett. The interview was more so based around my soft skills - how I was as a person, and how I could fit into the dynamic working environment of a start-up company. At this stage there were only 5 employees within GECKO, there are now 10 (In the main company office in Dundalk). After this initial Summer of work, I was asked to stay on and continue working with GECKO.

As the company is not yet at a size where every position is filled by a specialist, there was a wide array of work to carry out. It wasn’t merely an internship centered around programming, but rather encompassing a full view of tasks needed to be carried out in an emerging technology company. Due to the company’s size it is difficult to describe a ‘Typical Day’ in the life of a GECKO employee. Every day brings a new set of challenges to be solved – this includes: testing, writing automation scripts, writing blog posts, handling social media content, filling out technology review forms, answering RFP questionnaires, fixing bugs, working to fix client’s problems, researching and working on new compliance modules for the software, writing new code features, researching new technology to use in the software, and sometimes, not a whole pile when no work is urgently needed to be done. On these days I spend most of my time partaking in online courses, specifically Laravel and Javascript, to upskill.

Something I love about working in a smaller company is the freedom you have to work within many areas. In the early days of the internship I worked on the company’s website increasing the SEO performance as well as fixing a bug that was making the blog page of the site break. I was 1 of just 3 software engineers fixing bugs in the live software application and maintaining the live code. I later completed an in-depth data analysis of the entire application and the data that we as a company house. Through this data analysis report the company has gained insight into the features most used within the application, the buttons and pages most frequently clicked and visited, an internal network representation of the users of the application – making it known which users utilize the application the most, which users are the most important to please and have an in-depth understanding of the software and its pain points. This analysis has since been used to create a new framework of data-driven development of features within the company – producing rough features and watching to see how the users interact with them before refining their functionality in line with these interactions. Alongside one other tech team member I wrote the entire documentation for the application. Most recently I wrote Python scripts using Selenium for the importation and exportation of data from the live application. This will be used going forward to onboard clients, and to copy whole projects full of tasks from one software instance to another. As you can see from even these handful of jobs I carried out, you have a lot more freedom of what you work on within a smaller company, and also you have a much greater ability to make a lasting difference in the future of the company.

I learned a lot during this internship about my future career plans and general life ambitions. To be honest I didn’t think that these would have changed much back when I started the internship as I’ve now been with GECKO for 2 years – but boy was I wrong. One of the main things that has affected how I will view future career plans was the coming of COVID-19 and its impact on how we worked as a team. I learned that I would love to have a job from which I can work from home as I desire. I also learned that working from home the entire time isn’t exactly what I want (which I had previously thought) – ideally having an office to go into one or two times a week would be of great importance to me when researching future job prospects.

I also learned just how much I enjoy working in a smaller sized company. I prefer going into work not knowing what task you will end up being given for the day, as opposed to being pigeon-holed into a specific position – not to say that there is anything wrong with that, but it’s just not for me.

Through my exploration of the company’s data using Python to conduct data analysis I realized that data analysis and data science is the area that I would enjoy working in most. Prior to this I would’ve thought it was software engineering in general, but I realized that working on my own accord finding interesting anomalies in the data was far more rewarding than working on new features or bugs on the application front.

It is this freedom of exploration that a smaller company can offer you that can show you what exactly it is within the computer science industry that makes you tick.

In conclusion, I have thoroughly enjoyed my internship with GECKO. The team have been a joy to work with and I would consider them my good friends now. Working from home because of COVID-19 has also been an eye opening and maybe even career-defining experience for me. The ability to work remotely will certainly be a factor I will take into account with job prospects moving forward. I’ve enjoyed the dynamic nature of my work as well, not just programming but experiencing other facets of the working world. I am very proud of what I have accomplished during the internship in producing code and bug fixes that are now part of the application’s codebase, and also applying the knowledge I have acquired during course time in UCD in Python in a functional and beneficial way to a real company. The internship has been very fun, rewarding, and has greatly enhanced my skills and confidence in those skills. When it is all said and done, I’m very grateful that I opted to work in a smaller sized company. I feel all the more well-rounded after my experience working in GECKO.

UCD School of Computer Science

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