How interns shape the culture and tech of 20 Chicago companies

Andreas Rekdal

In the fast-paced world of technology, where companies can't seem to hire people quickly enough, interns are uniquely empowered to work on consumer-facing deliverables and get a real taste of what working in the industry is all about.

While companies bring on interns all year round, the summer is widely known as prime internship season. We asked some of Chicago's most exciting tech companies to find out what their interns have been up to all summer. To be quite frank, we are more than a little impressed.

Answers from Chief of Staff Iman Jalali

What the interns have been up to

ContextMedia has interns contributing across almost all of our teams on high-impact projects, from supporting our legal team to helping organize data for our sales operations teams. In the past, interns have helped with project management, partnership development and more.

How interns impact company culture

Our internship program helps build our company culture because we recruit our interns through the same lens that we recruit our full-time hires. First, we are looking for values and company culture alignment; second, we look for aptitude; third, we analyze their prior experience. Through continuing to set the bar high in recruitment for our interns, each addition makes our team stronger. We've now had multiple interns join ContextMedia full-time.

What to expect from a summer at ContextMedia

Interns who join ContextMedia can expect to be contributors. While we don't have a formal "internship program," we do take interns on an ad hoc basis to help support us on urgent projects. That said, we only create these internship opportunities if we feel that we can provide the individuals with a meaningful experience that helps them learn and grow professionally.

Answers from Software Engineer Sean Hurley

What the interns have been up to

Our interns are working on a wide variety of projects, all of which are interesting! They are helping expand our products to other countries and currencies, making them more robust and scalable, while also analyzing our data to improve our products and figure out what we should build next.

How interns impact company culture

The tech industry is a rapidly changing beast, and our interns know about the new technologies that we haven’t heard of yet. They also give us a fresh outside perspective that we don’t normally have. This helps us figure out if we’re working on the right things, and if we’re doing it in the right way.

But the most important impact that interns have on our culture is a chance for us to improve ourselves through teaching. Having the interns work on our normal full-time teams gives everyone a chance to take a step back and ask “How good of a job are we doing at teaching new teammates?” Teaching is one of the best ways to learn. So the better job we do as teachers, the faster our team will grow and the more we learn along the way.

What to expect from a summer at Braintree

Interns at Braintree can expect to get a taste of what it’s like to be on the front lines in our industry. They are part of our normal full-time teams doing the same work that the rest of their teams do. Being involved in the normal day-to-day activities of the team gives them the best chance to learn new things, grow their skills and understand how the world works after academia. However, the best part is that at the end of the summer they will be able to point to what they worked on and say “I helped make that happen," which is a great feeling.

Answers from CEO Irv Shapiro

What the interns have been up to

We had interns across many of our different departments including legal, marketing, accounting, engineering and customer success. Each intern worked on a handful of different projects that pertained to their specific areas of interest. From handling digital and social media like our marketing interns did, to the big data exploration and API development that our engineering intern did, each project our interns worked on gave them hands-on experience, introduced them to new skills, and gave them the opportunity to work on cutting edge technologies. At the end of the internship, they will have the opportunity to present the projects they worked on during a lunch and learn.

How interns impact company culture

Our company culture is rooted in our commitment to hiring SWANS: Smart, hard-Working, Ambitious and Nice team members. We then ask each member of our team to commit to the delivery of great work. Not every SWAN is comfortable with reaching for achievements well beyond average. A journey of this magnitude involves more risk than working at a company in a more traditional marketplace delivering state-of-the-shelf solutions. The internship program helps to provide both prospective team members and our existing team with an opportunity to ensure any future hire is a win-win where both parties are fully committed to greatness.

It's a great opportunity for young talent to get a feel for the culture of DialogTech, understand the different facets of the business, and see if it is a fit for them.

What to expect from a summer at DialogTech

We pride ourselves on the learning environment we provide to our interns. Our internship program is incredibly hands-on, and [interns] are able to truly experience what it is like to work in the startup world while contributing to projects that impact our business.

Answers from VP of Human Resources Kira Meinzer

What the interns have been up to

Our interns are working on various projects throughout the company, from streamlining our onboarding process and managing our social media channels, to analyzing data to understand what features of ratings and reviews have the biggest impact on business.

How interns impact company culture

We’re proud of the high-performance culture we’ve built at PowerReviews, and we’ve found that our summer interns are enhancing that culture by bringing different backgrounds and offering different perspectives. If you take a look around the room at a happy hour or Tuesday lunch, it’s hard to tell who’s an intern and who’s a full-time employee. We’re all part of the same team.

What to expect from a summer at PowerReviews

As an intern at PowerReviews, you won’t be taking coffee orders, filing paperwork and doing other busywork. Instead, you’ll work on real projects that have a real impact on the company and allow you the opportunity to develop your skills to prepare you for the next step in your career. You’ll be encouraged (and expected) to offer fresh perspectives and ideas and collaborate with others throughout the company to bring those ideas to life to improve the business. Our interns have plenty of opportunities to learn and grow professionally — including regular lunch-and-learns with company leadership. But there are also plenty of opportunities for fun, including monthly happy hours and a scavenger hunt throughout the city.

Answers from kCura Director of Talent Acquisition Matt Garvey

What the interns have been up to

Our interns are tightly integrated with their teams, working on the same projects as full-time members. Several of our software engineering interns are working together to create a solution that highlights the platform capabilities of our software, exploring the different applications that our partners have built to streamline e-discovery for their own unique needs.

How interns impact company culture

The entire company reflects the fresh energy that the interns bring to our team — there’s been an even higher level of collaboration and communication as more senior employees are teaching them about our product and business. The passion for what they’re learning helps remind people why they love what they do. This year’s group has also wholeheartedly embraced the community — joining intramural teams, playing games at lunch and making connections across the company.

What to expect from a summer at kCura

One of our core values is to exceed expectations, and it’s also the feedback we keep hearing from our interns over the years — they didn’t expect to be doing meaningful work while also enjoying a tight-knit community culture. But they’re making a difference, working alongside professionals in departments across the company on future features of the product and significant campaigns.

Answers from VP of Human Resources Sharon Ray

What the interns have been up to

Our interns are working on a variety of exciting projects this summer. One particularly interesting project is a research analysis looking at the response rates of various demographic profiles for a few of our key programs. The data this intern is analyzing will help inform future product development.

How interns impact company culture

Our interns bring fresh thinking and new ideas, which are really core principles of our culture at Emmi.

What to expect from a summer at Emmi

We view our interns as full members of the team. We give them real work experience, and they are held to the same standard as employees. One of the more unique things about an internship at Emmi is that they get a significant amount of exposure to senior leaders. They have the opportunity to meet with each of the executive team members and learn more about them, their department and overall strategy.   

Answers from Jellyvision SVP of People Mary Beth Wynn

What the interns have been up to

We have both an internship program (June through August, for rising seniors) and an apprenticeship program (June through November, for recent grads). Both have had a tremendous impact on our company culture — they are a great pipeline for amazing entry level talent and we find that these millennial hires belie the millennial stereotypes and are hardworking, humble and have great interpersonal skills.

How interns impact company culture

They help us handle our busy season and get a lot of projects done that we otherwise wouldn’t have bandwidth for. They also join us in all of the madcap revelry going on while they’re here — New Hire Mingles, our legendary Summer Party, September’s Mustache Day for our apprentices and a variety of other cool and nerdy social stuff.

What to expect from a summer at Jellyvision

Beyond the revelry, what our interns and apprentices can expect from us is real work, with real responsibility, and serious training and mentoring to get that work done. They leave us with new skills and real world experience that will enhance their resume and help them find their next internship or job. (Many of them also end up staying with us or returning as FT employees later in their careers).

Answers from Earlybird CEO Andrew Parnell

What the interns have been up to

Continuous, lifelong learning is one of our core company values. Having student interns in the office is a great reminder that if you can't teach something, you may not know it as well as you think.

What to expect from a summer at Earlybird

Immersion is one of the best ways to learn, and interns can expect to be involved in helping us serve real clients. From joining us in strategy meetings and client support sessions, to writing code and working with our internal tech, we try to find project assignments that give a realistic look into our business while supporting each intern's interests and professional goals.

Answers from SwipeSense co-founder and Chief Product Officer Yuri Malina

What the interns have been up to

Our interns are working on a variety of projects in marketing, web development and embedded development. A couple of examples: developing robots that will be able to test and activate our sensors thousands of times an hour and developing new marketing materials that will go out to all of our users in hospitals.

How interns impact company culture

Our interns have brought some awesome energy to their respective teams, infusing new ideas and perspectives to the various challenges our company is tackling.

What to expect from a summer at SwipeSense

Interns can expect to work with experts in their respective fields and contribute to tackling one of the leading causes of death in the country: hospital-acquired infections. They will be challenged and learn how to balance acquiring new skills, executing on their projects and supporting existing initiatives and operations. The internship won't be easy, but it will be rewarding.

Answers from Trading Technologies EVP of Global HR Katie Burgoon

What the interns have been up to

Each intern is working on a big-ticket item that requires strong problem-solving skills. For example, one of our interns is contributing to a tool that can easily stop, start and restart connections to an exchange. We also have all of our interns learning to use our TT platform and participating in a trading competition. They are implementing strategies, managing risk and competing with one another in a simulated environment on our new platform.

How interns impact company culture

The energy and excitement our interns have brought into the office has been invigorating for our culture. Our cohort this summer is the largest in TT’s internship program history, and they have already made a great impression on our full-time staff. Our interns will be planning and leading our all-company meeting in August to wrap up the program and share what each of them learned. The program as a whole has allowed our employees to get involved by mentoring, leading projects and sharing their experiences.

What to expect from a summer at Trading Technologies

Our internship program is designed to expose students to the exciting world of fintech, but more importantly, get hands-on experience and really contribute actively and impactfully to what we are building. Each is assigned to a team based on their academic background, experience and interests and work like any other junior new hire. In addition, they have been participating in various programs around the city, including the MarketsWiki World of Opportunity Series.

Answers from Infrastructure Manager Blake Smith

What the interns have been up to

The group of interns at Sprout work on a wide range of projects, but one that is particularly interesting is the overhaul of one of our core platform monitoring services. This is a mission-critical service that helps us find issues within the Sprout production platform and fix them quickly.

How interns impact company culture

One of the best things about our intern program is that they become part of our team on day one. They're not here to grab coffee and bagels. Instead, they work alongside full-time engineers to ship real features that have an immediate impact on our 17,000 customers. The benefits go both ways — having a vibrant internship program helps our senior engineers level up our work. When we explain a difficult engineering concept to a new intern, it forces us step back and reexamine what our team is doing. On the flip side, interns bring fresh ideas to the mix, which is particularly important in ever-evolving social media space because new perspectives can truly improve the product.

What to expect from a summer at Sprout

An intern at Sprout can expect to learn incredibly important skills that they could never get in a classroom setting. These skills include solid software testing practices, operations and code deployment, pair programming and writing clean code that must be maintained for a long time. Our interns are going to get exposure to all of these software engineering tools and the chance to have the code they write be used by thousands of Sprout customers.

Answers from ReviewTrackers COO Kevin Kent

What the interns have been up to

One of the interns is our ‘Acting Salesforce Admin,’ and is building workflows and reporting within Salesforce that is being utilized by our entire sales team as well as our CEO.

How interns impact company culture

They bring a significant amount of energy to the office every day. They have been a crucial part of helping in the planning of fun ‘outside’ of the office team outings and are always doing more than is asked of them.

Because the interns get to work on projects that directly impact the scaling of our company — they are invested and therefore mesh very well with those that are here with us full time.

What to expect from a summer at ReviewTrackers

Interns can expect to have fun while still making significant contributions and take on important projects that impact the growth of the company as well as their professional development.

Answers from Co-founder Chee-Young Kim

What the interns have been up to

At NowSecure, our summer internship program has allowed our three interns to dive right into startup life, working alongside our product management, engineering, sales and services teams. Rono, Tyler and Komal are contributing to mobile app testing projects using our enterprise products, mocking up wireframes and performing QA testing on our software to identify bugs.

How interns impact company culture

The interns have really been a part of our team from day one and have brought a lot of energy to our Oak Park HQ. Our team has enjoyed the opportunity to share ideas and answer questions. Most importantly, we've been excited to work with three incredibly smart young professionals who are working hard on in-depth, technical projects and rising to the challenge of working at a startup.

What to expect from a summer at NowSecure

When we designed our summer internship program, we wanted our interns to experience the excitement of working at a startup while learning about a fast-paced industry. We didn't want to hold anything back. I've been impressed with how quickly they've learned the technical components of mobile security, become part of our team and made tangible contributions to what we do each day.

Answers from VP of Human Resources Sara Schroeder

What the interns have been up to

Signal’s internship program crosses all functions of the organization, from development to client success to finance. Each intern works on individual projects to support their team. For example, the human resources intern is supporting the creation of a wellness initiative for the company, and the sales and marketing interns are providing reporting and analytics support to help track campaign metrics. In addition to their individual projects, the interns are working on a group project, which they came up with on their own: a video about the internship program to be used as a recruiting tool for the future.

How interns impact company culture

Interns bring a very fun, vibrant energy to the Signal culture. They’re so enthusiastic about being at the company, and impressed with things big and small — from the technology platform to the beer fridge. It’s a great reminder for every Signalite to be proud of our very special company!  

What to expect from a summer at Signal

Interns at Signal can expect to learn a lot about technology and what it’s like to work at a fast-growth company. We've had some interns come in with little or no tech experience who now want to continue their careers in the Chicago startup world. We are also providing lunch-and-learns on business topics ranging from how to create a great resume to marketing 101, so they’ll be more equipped for real-world business settings as they progress in their careers. And perhaps most importantly, Signal interns are building lasting relationships with the employees of Signal and each other.

In fact, our current intern class has taken it upon themselves to arrange extra-curricular activities with each other outside of the office. These are personal and professional relationships they’ll have for years to come.

Answers from UX and Design Director Bethany Mudd

What the interns have been up to

Opternative is disrupting the vision care industry, and we’ve asked our interns to disrupt us.

How interns impact company culture

Our interns are an exceptional team. They bring academic knowledge, deep expertise from other areas and a passion for our product. They break our daily routines and challenge us to think in new ways. Suddenly the future doesn’t feel so far away. We’re looking ahead while perfecting the world’s first online eye exam.

What to expect from a summer at Opternative

The summer’s theme has been learning how to quickly develop and test ideas by gathering massive amounts of customer and marketplace feedback. Our interns talk to strangers, stalk competitors and (try to) sell MVPs. The customer development process is uncomfortable but worth it. We want them to walk away with a passion for being wrong and the ability to iterate. That's where innovation comes from.

Answers from Director of Consumer Marketing Mark Colwell

What the interns have been up to

The five summer interns work in a few departments throughout the company, but all GoHealth employees are thrilled to have them here.

How interns impact company culture

The program reinforces how welcoming and supportive GoHealth is as a community. Throughout the summer, GoHealth employees have organized lunches and happy hours for our interns, and they really feel like full-time employees, not just seasonal.

The interns also bring new energy to the office, and knowing they’re so excited to be working for us makes us excited to have them – and even more sad to see them head back to college a few weeks from now.

What to expect from a summer at GoHealth

GoHealth interns can expect to participate in meaningful and interesting projects. We pride ourselves on encouraging the interns to get as much out of their time here as possible. They’ll also get the chance to connect with an amazing group of people who will help the interns maintain a long-term connection to GoHealth. And most importantly, we can guarantee that the interns will have fun here. Our environment is so collaborative and innovative, and the interns have a unique opportunity to be a part of that.

Answers from ParqEx CEO Vivek Mehra

What the interns have been up to

[Booth MBA candidate Brandon Hemming] is developing scalable strategies for some of our key operations as we continue to grow. [Boston University undergraduate Neil Browne] is building a marketing plan that defines our strategy by customer segment and then helping us to implement the plan by participating in the launch process across several neighborhoods.

How interns impact company culture

Our summer associates are bringing fresh ideas and reinvigorating the culture with their energy and passion for the brand. They’re extremely creative and constantly looking for ways to improve the way things are done, but also combine analytical thinking with interpersonal skills to manage our current partnerships.

What to expect from a summer at ParqEx

Summer associates can expect a truly unique experience to work for a fast-growing startup in a role with unlimited potential for growth. The opportunity to collaborate with fun, innovative and passionate people in a relaxed, yet highly productive atmosphere. And great work/life balance — we value and support each individual team member.

Answers from Mabbly CEO Hank Ostholthoff

What the interns have been up to

They have worked on lots of projects that have been incredible experiences, from Techweek to working on a new AI technology. I think the most impactful project this summer will be working with the City of Chicago. Government can move at a slower pace and we are excited to see how our energy and creativity shakes things up in the Treasurer’s office.

How interns impact company culture

The internship is an integral part of our company's passion to inspire the people around us. It gets people out of their comfort zone, has them share their experiences and build a relationship with someone who has a fresh and pure perspective.

We certainly all inspire and push each other to the next level when ... they become key part of the tribe for the summer and in everything we do our measure of success is whether we give more than we receive.

What to expect from a summer at Mabbly

It's called Literally The Most Kick Ass Internship Ever for a reason — this isn't a coffee and copies kind of internship. It's a great balance between working hard and playing hard — the tireless work to solve a specific business challenge and then get rewarded with any city experience, from kayaking on the river to nights out on the town.

College seniors and recent grads can expect eight weeks of countless experiences that actually help build skills, relationships and help shape career paths. They get to learn from the sharp tip of spear in terms of digital marketing and media and build amazing relationships inside and outside our organization. We hired three last year and a few other interns got positions at our weekly partners companies. All in all, it's rich experiences with lifelong friendships between the interns.

Answers from VP of Product Management RJ Taylor

What the interns have been up to

Our interns were split into two teams of product managers and software engineers. Each team was given a challenge to design, develop and present a customer-requested feature that will be included in the live Geofeedia production code. These products were presented by the teams at our annual company meeting in Chicago. We knew these presentations would be good, but we were absolutely blown away! It’s amazing what the interns were able to accomplish in just six weeks!

How interns impact company culture

Our internship program impacts our company culture by reflecting and supporting our core values of being passionate, acting with a sense of urgency and having fun!

What to expect from a summer at Geofeedia

Whether you’re learning from industry thought leaders during our Executive Leadership Series, developing the next generation of our technology alongside senior engineers or jetting between our Chicago and Indianapolis offices, you’ll finish the summer with more direction about who you are, what you want to do and where you want to do it.

Answers from co-founder and CEO Julie Novack

What the interns have been up to

PartySlate is a marketplace for party hosts of all kinds (including brides) who are searching for new ideas — and top local event professionals who want to share their extensive photo portfolio to drive leads. For the pros who need help, our interns create the initial PartySlate profile, upload beautiful photos and teach the pros best practices. It is a great experience for our intern team to schedule and lead meetings with these event professionals and venue managers.

How interns impact company culture

We have been so impressed with how our intern team has hit the ground running this summer. When you work for a startup, you have to be assertive and self-directed. We tell them what our goal is and they are great at figuring out how to make it happen. It has been a great reinforcement for one of our important core values — ‘get things done.’   

What to expect from a summer at PartySlate

We are always looking for driven interns who want to work at a fast-paced startup. Our interns can expect to be given a lot of responsibility in a short time period. We have an experienced leadership team that is excited about mentoring interns into exciting careers in the startup world. We have exciting intern roles working with product, editorial, design and marketing.

Responses have been edited for clarity and length. Images were provided by the listed companies.

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