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A COVID-era Signifyd internship brings new challenges and new growth

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by Matthew Hamilton, Signifyd senior HR manager, EMEA

In mid-2019 we were excited to plan our internship program for software engineering students soon after establishing our R&D site in Belfast. This was a huge part of our commitment to support and grow local talent. Even though we had small software engineering teams we were committed to creating opportunities. Little did we know that COVID-19 would turn our “normal” and our realities upside down; along with those of many students looking for the perfect work experience.

In March 2020, as a company freed in many ways by our cloud architecture, we were in a position to transition to remote working immediately; however many students out there would panic about the security of their placements.

Bringing on our prospective interns despite the disruption was a no-brainer and we didn’t hesitate. We honored every commitment and got our contracts out to all of our newest team members, quickly! We wanted these talented people to know that they would come on board, no matter the COVID uncertainty.

One thing was left: How could we recreate the best placement experience? We had numerous meetings to understand how we could adapt our interns’ remote onboarding experience and work environment to still give them what they needed from their placement. Joining a company remotely was not what any of them had signed up for!

Could it work, or would it work? Read on for the answers. I was delighted to learn that one of our interns Aira Mae Bayaga, had decided to write about her placement during COVID.

Aira Mae gives you her perspective as an engineering intern at Signifyd over these turbulent months, the expectations, the internship challenges… the unedited version!

Internship through a screen

by Aira Mae Bayaga, Signifyd software engineering intern

No one expected their 2020 to be filled with enforcement of lockdown restrictions and face masks. COVID-19 has impacted us in many ways, most importantly in quarantining from family and friends and everything going online.

Ara Mae Bayaga

Aira Mae Bayaga

Our summer got lost amidst the madness. Then students began to hear about cancellations and postponements of their internships. My Signifyd internship was the one thing I had been looking forward to throughout the beginning of the pandemic, but after hearing such news from other students, I began to worry.

Signifyd, it turns out, didn’t let a pandemic hold them back and my internship went ahead at the beginning of July. Any thoughts I had of preparing to go into the Belfast office were replaced with setting up a mini-office within my bedroom. It was really thoughtful of Sarah from HR to personally and safely deliver all the equipment I’d need, along with amazing goodies. Sarah and I chatted briefly, she lifted my spirits, and I became less anxious about getting started.

I know from commiserating with my fellow interns that our early going was a similar experience for all of us. We agreed that the first few weeks were information overload and “overwhelmed” was a word I uttered twice a day.

We were split into different teams with differing responsibilities and similar opportunities. There’s no denying that we all fall victim to imposter syndrome sometime during our lives, and usually unknowingly. I’d apologize a bit too much at the beginning and hold myself back from asking what I thought were stupid questions (even though everyone would tell you that there’s no such thing).

Continuous support created a learning environment

Honestly, I was intimidated at first, but the feeling faded as I started to realize the continuous support that I had —particularly from my teammates. They were always willing to help whether I knew I needed it or not.

The team I joined is IOS, Integration and Onboarding Services. Recently our work has been focused on improving the authentication service, — both utilizing Keycloak and authenticating users.

One notable project I worked on involved looking into Terraform and applying that to the tech infrastructure. Terraform was new to me, so I had to research and get familiar with this unfamiliar resource. I also received a lot of help from others in the company as I built my understanding of this task. One of my other key responsibilities is being a part of the team’s PagerDuty rotation. This involves responding to incidents that arise from services owned by IOS and investigating them to find a resolution.

Although all my interactions so far with the team and other employees have been virtual and primarily conducted through Zoom and Slack, I’ve been able to build some fantastic professional relationships. Finding opportunities to form friendships was more difficult.

The weekly Zoom ‘Virtual Social Time’ meeting just isn’t the same as having a ten-minute chat before work or spending lunch together in the café downstairs from the office. I know that’s something beyond our control, but it is something I’ve missed out on. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to experience it now that we’ve turned the page to a new year.

Communication is the internship’s superpower

In this more virtual world, communication continues to play a huge part in my internship as Zoom calls take up the majority of the week and have now become the norm.

As the weeks went by and I got more familiar with the applications, processes and work I was undertaking, I felt like any other employee at Signifyd. I became more inclined to get involved in the work environment.

My team has focused on ways to help and guide me through every challenge. And I’ve focused on ways to gather invaluable takeaways from them. Their words of affirmation and feedback have given me validation in both my work and as an individual. I’m constantly learning at Signifyd and I continue to be exposed to different areas of the company, which makes every day exciting and new with a touch of challenge. Throughout my entire time at Signifyd so far, I’ve gained new responsibilities that have given me more chances to get involved with the company mission.

I’ve also been able to participate in numerous events. For instance, during the last two weeks of August, the engineering team held a Productivity Summit which focused on cross-team tech debt projects. There were also workshops, discussions and presentations held over two of those days. It was a really great chance to learn from other R&D members outside of my main team and to work alongside them. I also had the opportunity to be a part of a panel with other graduate software engineers on a discussion about ourselves and life at the company at a Digital DNA event.

Company culture comes down to people

The highlight of my time in Signifyd has been being surrounded by both people and a company that care for each other and provide an environment for our personal and professional development. Signifyd is also very dedicated to progress and innovation with an inviting workplace culture that I’m so grateful to be a part of.

I’ve been given opportunities that allowed me to step out of my comfort zone (shoutout to Dave, my team tech lead, for the encouragement), grow academically, and gain a new approach to professionalism. I’ve expanded my network exponentially (with more references!) which has become such a keyword for students looking for opportunities like internships or for their future post-university life.

The past six months have been nothing less than exciting, challenging and worthwhile. I’ve learned so much already and I’m looking forward to discovering what the rest of my internship holds in store for me.

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Aira Mae Bayaga

Aira Mae Bayaga

Aira Mae is a software engineering intern at Signifyd in Belfast. She’s an undergraduate student at Queen's University Belfast, studying computer science. After her internship year, she will return to university to complete her third year. Connect with her on LinkedIn at