My Gap Year
Last July, Harvey Mudd announced its plans to reopen in-person classes for Fall 2020, as cases were still climbing in Los Angeles County.
Considering the last time I myself was naively optimistic about the timeline of the pandemic, I said “fool me twice, shame on me, covid.” After suspecting that the 2020-2021 school year would inevitably be remote and recognizing the much diminished value of a remote learning experience, I decided to take a leave of absence and figured my time would be better spent gaining some industry experience.
I started searching for a new role to take on after my Snap internship ended. In September, I joined Spatial, a 25 person startup with $22M in funding.
April 30th was my last day at Spatial, so here’s a summary of what I’ve learned and built in the last 8 months.
What I Did
Spatial’s cross-platform collaboration app allows users to collaborate in 3D - through VR/ AR headsets or our interactive web and mobile apps. For many of our customers, a key feature of our product is the ability to view and interact with their files in our virtual workspaces. That’s where a lot of my work lies.
(Graphics below are courtesy of Spatial.)
Supporting new files
I managed and expanded the content ingestion system allowing users to upload over 11 new file types, including PowerPoints, Word Docs, GIFs, new 3D model types and more!
Building new integrations
I took ownership over our existing suite of integrations including Slack, Figma and Google Drive; and added a couple new ones as well like OneDrive and SharePoint. With these integrations, users can pull in content directly from their accounts and view them in their Spatial environment.
Building new partnerships
In the final weeks of my internship, I began leading the engineering efforts of a new and upcoming partnership with another leading collaboration app. In tandem, I aided our existing efforts for bringing NFT content into Spatial via our partnership with OpenSea, the world’s largest NFT marketplace.
Bridging new tech
For a week-long hackathon at Spatial, I took on an exciting solo project that brought AI to VR. After submitting a proposal to OpenAI and receiving private beta access, I built a prototype that uses their GPT-3 model to comprehend a room description and intelligently load related files for the user and relevant 3D models and images that would fit the theme of the meeting.
Since this feature (automatically preparing rooms) is pretty analogous to what a butler might do in the physical world, I named the project Geoffrey (a homage to the best sitcom ever.)
At the end of the week, I won 2nd Place for “Most Innovational Hack” 😤.
Supporting new features
Outside of those core functions, I provided backend support for several of our app’s new features, including LiDAR room scans, room templates, selfie-taking and content sharing.
In all, my work consisted of (a lot of) Go, MongoDB, TypeScript/ React and (a bit of) C++/ Unity.
What I Learned
Work from home isn't the worst
Don't get me wrong, I love working in-person. In fact, I got to work out of Spatial's NYC HQ while I was in town last Winter and it was incredibly refreshing to be able to see co-workers face-to-face. That said, I did enjoy the flexibility that WFH schedules offer.
Different companies have adapted to the remote lifestyle differently. In fact, I'd imagine smaller or younger startups tend to have the agility to better make it work.
(I'm also biased in that (1) I lived with friends and thus was able to maintain some social interaction throughout the pandemic and (2) we at Spatial were literally building a product to remedy the pains of remote work, and so I frequently attended meetings with my co-workers in VR.)
For future roles, I'll keep an open-mind to roles that are in-person or remote, but will likely prefer a hybrid of the two.
The best internships aren't really internships
I realized had a significantly bigger role at Spatial than any other internship, mostly for two reasons:
- This company is under 1% of the size of my previous employers (and I was the 2nd backend-focused engineer on the team)
- This internship was nearly 3 times as long as any other I’ve done
These distinctions really blurred what it meant to be an “intern.” Instead of being assigned to a carefully-curated project space within one sliver of the business, I was thrown straight into the fire -- squashing bugs, building features, brainstorming ideas and accruing greater ownership of systems over time. This made my work experience all the more educational and gratifying.
Transparency is key
Throughout my internship, I tried to stick my nose further and further into areas outside of engineering -- from product thinking to content marketing to growth hacking and more -- so that I could better contribute to the company and better understand how it operates from end to end. Being able to see the bigger picture allowed me to better brainstorm and offer more constructive criticism. Moving forward, I'll continue to prefer companies where offering transparency and exchanging feedback are both central to their culture.
To enroll or not to enroll
Spending a year in the tech industry has left me in an interesting situation. With all of the industry experience I’ve gained over my college years, I’m confident that I could, right now, find an entry-level full-time position that I’d be happy with, despite not yet having a college degree. And that raises an interesting question I’ve deliberated (and many friends have prompted) several times - should I drop out of school?
My current answer: nah.
For many CS majors, college is just an unavoidable intermediate between high school and joining the industry. Early on, I saw it as the same. But now, a college experience has new appeal to me for three reasons:
- Networking and relationship building is much easier on a campus than in the real world, so I’m excited to continue to meet new young people.
- I realize I’ll have the next several decades to code, but really only the next couple years to indulge in intensive study in fields for the sake of knowledge and curiosity rather than employability.
- I have significant merit scholarship funding to attend Harvey Mudd, so dropping out won’t have as prolific of a financial gain for me as it would for most.
My stance could change but at least at the time of writing, “it’s a no from me dawg” (*in Randy Jackson’s voice*.)
What’s the next gig? 👀
I’ll be working at another exciting startup this summer before I head back to school this Fall. Stay tuned :)