It was an honor to have the opportunity to interview stand-out student, Andrew Barba. A 3rd year computer science major set to graduate in 2016, he recently finished his co-op at Happier.com, an extremely successful tech start-up in the Boston area. He gave me great insight into what a co-op at Happier.com is like, how to navigate the interview process, and what it is like to work for a start-up. All of you entrepreneurs out there or people interested in start-ups, listen up!
Ashley LoBue (AL): Can you tell me a little bit about Happier.com?
Andrew Barba (AB): Nataly Kogan, one of the founders, had worked for well-known companies like Microsoft and was extremely successful. She thought that she would be happy when she hit a certain level of success and made a lot of money, but Nataly found that it wasn’t the case. So, she and her co-founder, Colin Plamondon, got the idea to create something that can make people happier in other ways—they did some research and found that if you write down three happy thoughts a day, then you were scientifically proven to be happier. Happier.com started out as an iPhone app but then got extended to the web since it was cost effective.
(AL): What did you do day-to-day as a co-op for Happier?
(AB): I actually got to work on the iPhone app for three months, and then they said “here, build a website”, so I was really excited about the amount of responsibility I had. Yoav, the CTO of Happier, was my mentor, and I did it all as far as coding—all of the other stuff was on him. It was a lot of fun! Yoav actually designed the system we work with, which is called Agile Software Development. The idea is that you release products and features quickly so you learn quickly—the key to this system is that you don’t release it when it’s perfect, you release it when it’s ready, so that you can get user feedback and adjust things according to that feedback. We are able to do this through “Sprints”. Every Monday we have a big planning day where the whole team gets into different groups (like design, product engineering etc.) and we try to brainstorm on what we can get done. Natalie leads the meeting and talks about the direction she wants to go in, and then we triage from there—the design team says we can do this, and then product engineering says that they can do that etc. We release in two week chunks. On the web, we release as soon as the app is done.
(AL): What are the challenges?
(AB): One of the challenges working for a start-up is that you have to start projects that you don’t really know how to design. You might think something will work, but in actuality it won’t. One time I literally deleted everything that I worked on for a long time because it wasn’t functional and I made a mistake. For every mistake you do though, I think you always learn two or three things, so that you always are a better programmer today than yesterday. As a student, you are taught to do things in a certain way, but you need to learn to think outside of the box if you want to solve a problem or do something that hasn’t been done before.
(AL): What do you like most about it?
(AB): Freedom is what I like most about this position—they don’t call me an intern because I will build a product for them like the other engineers, so they treat me like another member of the team. They give me a huge amount of responsibility, which I don’t feel like I would’ve gotten at an internship at say, Facebook.
(AL): How did you get your co-op with Happier?
(AB): I met happier at the Co-op expo. They really liked that I had already made two apple apps—I started learning how to make apps by signing up for 12 one-hour classes on how to do it. It was time consuming, but I loved it. I gave them my resume but actually showed the apps I made. I believe this side project helped differentiate me from the other candidates and say more about me than my resume could.
(AL): What about post graduation?
(AB): I would love to start something on my own one day—the startup space is fun, a lot of work, and moves very quickly, but I just love that environment.
(AL): What is the best piece of advice you can give other students to be successful in co-op?
(AB): I would say to definitely speak up to your supervisors. Don’t be quiet in a meeting and voice your opinions. Your team really wants to hear what you have to say.