Internship experience: becoming a Pixelgradeian

I’m Cosmin, a 22 year old student, a mad optimist and gaming passionate dude, with a big love for people and programming, which is pretty counter-intuitive, right?

November 13, 2018
Reading time 8 – 11 minutes

I would like to tell you my story regarding Pixelgrade, a story with lots of moments that will synthesise the ups and downs of, basically, every young developer. Also, I hope it will also make you want to know more about Pixelgrade, its culture and, mostly, its people.

Looking for an adventure

Looking for a job in my 2nd year of college, I stumbled upon an announcement, on my college Facebook page, that said:

We are looking for a new colleague. Even if you are rebellious, independent or just crazy, if you are an open-minded person, we are waiting for you!

The strange thing is that I felt that a lot of my traits were mentioned there, and though I felt slightly touched, I didn’t have any friends that knew what Pixelgrade was all about, or any information regarding them at all, so I was a bit reticent.

Therefore, I started to search on the Internet and read every possible detail regarding them, but still, I didn’t truly understand the importance of the things they did, like themes or plugins, because I barely used WordPress in the first place.

The thing that pushed me over the edge, in saying YES, was a colleague of mine that knew about my interest into Pixelgrade, that went to them to have an interview, and as soon as the interview finished, she called me and said “You have to come to talk to these guys!” I immediately sent an email to them, and we planned the interview for the next day.

After a very relaxed and pleasant conversation, in which they were interested in me as a person, rather than a developer (quite rare these days), and even telling me that “technical skills can be learned, attitude not,” I was really happy and hopeful of what will come next.

There was an instant connection and the rest just came naturally.

The journey

Couple of weeks later, here I was, starting my journey into the world of WordPress, with great people all around me.

I knew what WordPress was, at least from an “outsider” point of view, but, with the help of not only Vlad, my mentor, but sometimes from the entire team, every project felt something impossible to finish at the beginning, and, at the end, a great push and desire to learn even more.

For three months, on a mostly daily schedule of discussion first, work after, we were passing through the concepts and terms that we will go through in that specific day. We talked about what we don’t understand, what is hard to grasp and the things that we should focus on.

Some days it was mainly work and we had to do our own research, filtering information as good or bad and using it in our projects. At the end of the day, Vlad came to the rescue, if it was the case that we had to be rescued from some very bad habits or just some basic mistakes.

I liked that I was the one deciding what I wanted to learn about, that I could always put my spin and ideas into everything we were working on. 

Though back-end development seems rather logic-ridden, the amount of tools and help from everyone around you meant that everything you wished could be done, in the way you want it done.

Of course, it’s not like you do not have to respect code standards, basic algorithm logic or other stuff like this, but seeing that everything you do is a really friendly user experience, has a beautiful design, or just has a practical use and can be reused as a tool in bigger future projects, makes the “working” aspect become “passion”.

Surrounded by open-minded, helpful and professional guys, I felt that I HAD TO raise my standards, to constantly improve and at least try to reach the levels that others imposed on themselves. My learning curve quickly became a diagonal line pointing towards the sky.

What did I work on?

Me and my internship colleagues (we were three in the early days) knew from the beginning that we will start from the premise that we don’t know anything.

MVC pattern seemed rather abstract

Because of this, every project I had made me go through important stages and details that I shouldn’t miss, learning all types of features and technical aspects regarding the Web: from creating a simple online custom Notes, to Secret Santa Algorithm, to making a whole web application for it.

And all of these guided me to the final and most important project of them all, my own WordPress theme.

The requirements for the custom “Izzy” WordPress Theme

The last project sounds like a huge task compared to the rest, but the number of resources I had, regarding documentation and help from —our—mentor, showed me again that no challenge is too hard.

The fact that I was functionality focused, taking part in an internship for back-end developing, didn’t stop me from creating my own theme design and have my take concerning the layout and content, using my imagination for not only just code but to also give life and meaning to it.

Design layouts for every possible scenario

I felt that I improved a lot on a personal level, being more disciplined, responsible and focused. I started to release my inner creativity, and I’ve seen the way a true professional behaves.

But besides all this, I discovered a passion that was right in front of me, for the Web and WordPress.

Looking back

Introduced from the very start to Pixelgrade’s values, I somehow saw the bigger scheme, what was my position then, but also my role for the future. All was clear from the early internship days. I appreciated this aspect then, but more so in the present. Being direct and expressing the current plans and goals means significant confidence and trust boost.

In every project I worked on, at the end of it, I could see my mark, my take on it, even if it meant hours and hours of documenting and help from the people around me. In the end, it was worth it, and the feeling was one of the best.

Sometimes my take was not the proper one, sometimes it wouldn’t even meet the requirements, but transforming these situations into learning experiences, making mistakes became one of the best ways to learn.
Simulating that we have to work on a real project, with a deadline and many requirements, made me struggle on a lot of basic things, especially that I pretty much didn’t know PHP.

The project that I had the feeling that I will never finish was called “Secret Santa.” I had to research every single function, situation or error, and there were plenty.

Everything that I did had to be improved, as Vlad was always giving us tips and ideas to optimize our code day by day.

The users pairing function, the one that decides which person gives a present to whom

The function above is the one that makes Secret Santa secret.

Situations in which two users have to buy a gift for the same person, or cases in which there is a user that will buy a gift for someone, but will not receive any at all, may seem funny.  But I was overwhelmed by how many strange situations may appear, just because, even though my algorithm seemed okay, it didn’t treat all the possibilities.

So to keep track of all the users that are available in giving or taking a gift, I used a frequency array, so that I will always know which user can receive a present, and a global pairing array, to know which person gives a gift to whom.

The function above seems rather straightforward, but at the time, every improvement I thought I was adding to my function represented a new situation, and some of them hard to get.

I had to test and re-test several times, because of the random factor, to see if the situation was solved, only to see that a new one appeared. I was always thinking and tinkering if I treated everything, what could be done, what can be improved. And all of this fuss for the last piece in my puzzle, the one that was of uttermost importance!

The “trick” that saved me was the best tool that a developer could ever use, and that is the debugger. If I only listened to Vlad from the beginning of the project.

With all these being said, I’m glad that I saw what the hard way means. It made me think more and code when it’s necessary.  Coding just because you want to code seems fine for a hobby, but definitely, it is not the proper way for a professional.

Every step seemed to be a step forward, and that is something that I never thought it could be possible, particularly for a guy who knows that he doesn’t know anything.

The end and a new beginning

After this whole adventure, I became the new junior back-end developer. I am both excited and nervous about what the future holds, and maybe a little bit scared, seeing the quality and the high standards everyone at Pixelgrade has.

That also gives me motivation, because being surrounded by so many great people is the perfect scenario in which someone like me can learn and evolve.

I want to thank everyone here at Pixelgrade, and everyone that I met on my journey. But most importantly, I want to thank Vlad. For his patience, the willingness of teaching everything he knows, saying the truth out loud and always pushing us in reaching new heights.

This experience showed me things in all aspects, especially on the professional side, but the thing that makes me very happy even now is that I could be part of this amazing team. Everyone puts a mark on me, and I am grateful to know and see that I was influenced and inspired by all these people. They are the ones that made this experience stellar.

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