Sep 09, 2021 | Inside Karat

Engineering interns creating a brilliant future

The Karat Team

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This summer, Karat had the incredible opportunity to hire three rising juniors from Howard University as engineering interns: Kuria Edwards, Aster Smith, and Christopher Ong. Kuria and Aster, who joined us at the beginning of June, got their first taste of Karat in the Brilliant Black Minds program, and Christopher has been an intern at Karat since April. All three interns had the chance to experience what it’s like to solve real business problems on both the engineering and data science teams.

We asked them a series of questions below about engineering internships at Karat, why they want to pursue Engineering, and the projects they’re most proud of.

Q: Why did you choose Karat for your engineering internship?

Headshot of Aster Smith, Karat engineering intern, Summer 2021Aster: I first heard of Karat when they came to my university to launch the pilot program for Brilliant Black Minds. At the time, we had all been preparing for internship interviews, and I was bouncing back from being rejected from all of my interviews. Karat came in like a (metaphorical) knight in shining armor, offering practice interviews for my class. Those interviews came in clutch, and every time I left one, I felt like I was learning way more than I was in class! I really enjoyed the help Karat offered at my university. Karat fostered a warm and inclusive environment, and that motivated me to join Karat as a software engineering intern.

Headshot of Chris Ong, Karat engineering intern, Summer 2021Chris: I first applied to work at Karat because I was sold on the company’s mission, and I accepted the internship offer because of the people I met throughout the interview process. Each interview with Karat felt like a conversation with a friend. In one of my interviews, we discussed the challenges associated with rooting out algorithmic bias and new economic research about the design of efficient digital marketplaces. And it all felt so… natural. I figured that if I enjoyed interviewing with them that much, I would love to work with them. And I was absolutely right.

Headshot of Kuira Edwards, Karat engineering intern, Summer 2021Kuria: Karat presented me with an opportunity and I took it because I enjoyed the technical interview practices and the diversity I noticed in the interview engineers.

 

Q: What sparked your interest in engineering?

Aster: I fell in love with computers and technology from a young age, while watching Digimon on TV. Digimon is the quintessential 2000s show, one that embraces the advances of technology and leaves you motivated to help it improve. That’s exactly what Digimon did for me! Digimon inspired me to learn more about coding and technology, and it was because of that I wanted to go into software engineering. And while I haven’t gone on a journey to save the Digital World (yet!) I have had a fun and fulfilling experience learning more and more about software and hardware engineering and design.

Chris: I see data science as a critical bridge between theory and practice, between mission and implementation. One of the things that I love about Karat is how mission-driven we are as a company, and I see data science as the crucial tool to understand how we are executing on that mission and how we can improve. I also love the versatility and the impact that data science research brings. Through the course of my internship, I’ve gotten to interface with so many different teams across Karat, that all rely on the data team to better inform their decision-making and provide clarity. Being able to directly see the value that we bring as data scientists is an incredible motivator when the work gets challenging.

Kuria: I enjoy solving problems. And not short, quick problems. Long, tedious problems, so when I finally fix it, I’m a lot more satisfied.

Q: What did you like best about your team?

Aster: I really like how helpful my team is! Everyone is super helpful and chill, and it’s always nice to chat with them. They’ve never acted like I’ve bothered or annoyed them, and they’ve been super supportive and willing to explain things I might be confused about. I’ve never felt like “just an engineering intern” either. The team really makes me feel included, and I feel like my voice matters. If I ever have an idea or a concern, they definitely will value that input.

Chris: Working with my team has been the best part of my engineering internship. Each person I’ve come across at Karat has been warm, gregarious, and always willing to lend a helping hand or useful word of advice. I quite literally have pages upon pages of notes stored from hour-long meetings with each of my team members where they’ve walked me through documentation, given me feedback on my project, or even given me long-term career advice. And the people at Karat aren’t just incredibly friendly, they are also bursting with ideas and purpose. Each person at Karat seems to have a different mission in life for making the world a better place, and their energy is infectious.

Kuria: They’re really understanding and accommodating when it comes to me not knowing or understanding something.

Q: What is one project that you’ve worked on this summer that you are most proud of?

Aster: I’ve learned a lot more about software engineering than I’ve ever learned before. A part of that was learning how to use GraphQL, a data query and manipulation language that I had never heard of before. We had to use GraphQL to make some internal changes, and in the process, I was thrown into learning about it blind. It was super confusing at first to work with. I couldn’t really wrap my head around database queries and manipulation. But at the end of the ticket, I felt like a pro! Even to the point that the next time around, I was able to work on the GraphQL sections mostly on my own, implementing mutations and such.

Chris: I actually just finished a project for the data team last week which I am super proud of! Over the past few months, I have been working on developing a new statistical framework for using past interview data to quantify the predictiveness of our interview assessments. The goal of this project was twofold. The first was to summarize the quality of our interview design, so we could measure progress as we continually refine and improve our interviews. The second was to be able to pinpoint otherwise invisible sources of interviewing noise or bias that could threaten the integrity of our product.

By using Bayesian statistics and information theory, we can quantify and minimize the amount of statistical noise that our interviews generate. In the long run, this lets us make more accurate predictions about our interview candidates. I’m incredibly grateful to my manager Dan Hendrick. Thank you for entrusting me with a project that was so central to our company’s mission and giving me the support I needed to succeed. And thank you to Jason Preszler for the many hours he spent giving me feedback and helping me to refine my analysis!

Kuria: I really enjoyed working on the new script messages page. I really liked how Aster and I were able to work on the same issue with separate tasks and being able to combine our work to fix something. I also enjoyed being able to make something less complicated to reduce strain on the other software engineers.

Q: What did you like most about working at a start-up as an engineering intern?

Aster: I love how flexible and relaxed everyone is. Even though we’re doing pretty important work, no one’s really strict about it. Everyone’s willing to listen and no one’s really judging. I love the community as well. I’ve also enjoyed watching the company continue to grow as I’ve been working here.

Chris: At Karat, I feel like anyone can make a suggestion and have it taken seriously. If you do your homework and produce solid evidence and reasoning for a feature proposal or a product change, there’s a reasonable chance that it could be implemented. This atmosphere of disciplined optimism and rational open-mindedness means that everyone has ideas about every aspect of our company. After I presented my intern project, people from all over the company came to me with suggestions for how I could improve my analysis or apply it to a specific business need. I was totally blown away by how invested and engaged everyone was looking for new ways to make Karat better.

Kuria: Work doesn’t feel like work here. I love the community at startups and how employees actually know and care for one another.

Q: How would you each describe the culture at Karat using one word?

Aster: Flexible.

Chris: Dynamic.

Kuria: Welcoming.

Q: Lastly, what do you hope to do after you graduate?

Aster: Hm, this is a tough question! There’s so much that I can do! I just hope I make the world a better place, in one way or another 🙂

Chris: I am open to many different career paths! I am fascinated by computer science and software engineering. I am also very interested in data science and economics! Recently, I’ve become very interested in a new field of research at the intersection of computer science and economics which focuses on how the design of digital markets and the digital economy will shape the future. In that vein, I’ve loved the work that I’ve gotten to participate in at Karat. I enjoyed the ability to work at the intersection of computer science, data science, and economics, which has a direct impact on the structure of the hiring market and people’s livelihoods. Ultimately, I think I’ll be happy in any job where I can use the skills that I’m good at to help design solutions that help people.

Kuria: I’m honestly keeping my options open. I’m interested in gaining experience over the next few years without settling down into one thing yet, just to figure out more of my likes and dislikes within my preferred work environment.

Thank you so much to our interns for leaving your mark at Karat! We’ll miss you all on our Zoom calls, but hopefully will see you on campus in the Fall or Spring (or whenever in-person workshops are back on) as part of next year’s Brilliant Black Minds program. Until then, cheers to unlocking more opportunities!

Karat internships open up again next Spring. Learn more at https://karat.com/company/careers/

The Karat Team