During Helen’s time on the infrastructure team, she contributed not only to improving the services we run and tackling a brand new feature, but she also helped improve our open source Apollo server! In her first few weeks, she built a highly requested open-source feature allowing users to have more control over their security, and worked closely with customers to define the right experience. Helen took on the challenge of understanding two different code bases, mastering both TypeScript and Kotlin, which were both new languages for her! She was able to tackle long-standing tech debt on the team and work cross-functionally to start prototyping a new feature around role based access control. While at Apollo, Helen discovered that her passion lies within consumer-facing products — understanding what the user’s wants and needs are helps her feel motivated and empowered.
How did you get into in Computer Science?
It was actually something that I didn’t want to do. My mom is a software engineer and seeing her at her desk all the time made me think, “I don’t want to do that!”. When I got to college I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. Since MIT is very STEM I could be a chemical engineer, mechanical engineer, etc. But I felt like computer science was very flexible! So I took some computer science classes and really enjoyed it. My mom was like, “Ive been telling you this since you were 13!!!”
What made you choose Apollo?
I think leaving my last internship I really wanted to try something much smaller. It was a big factor in how I chose the internship that I wanted to do. I wanted to learn more about infrastructure and developer tools. I was always curious at my last internship, “who built all these really cool things to make our lives easier as devs?” Apollo happened to align with everything that I wanted in a company and what I wanted to learn. Also the people and whole recruiting process really stood out to me! It felt like you guys were really trying on your end but at other companies its like “oh another candidate” and then repeat the process. I was also super excited to work with really experienced engineers and there were plenty of the them at Apollo and especially on the infrastructure team.
What was it like working on commercial products?
I realized that I do like working on things that are consuming facing. I think this is my first time working on open source as well and reading through issues that people open was really eyeopening for me and I can see how I’ve been contributing to a larger developer community. Being able to close that issue on Apollo Server was really fun.
What’s a unique challenge you worked on this summer? How did you overcome it?
Learning the monorepo was a huge challenge! Our product is pretty complicated. It has a lot of parts to it and it gets confusing since we use it ourselves. It was challenging learning how to read code and how to be more efficient at it. In the beginning I wasn’t sure how the pieces fit together so it was hard to know where to start testing the code that I was writing. You need to understand a lot of different parts before seeing the complete picture. Eventually things started coming together when I worked on refactoring the codebase for hack day. Getting the opportunity to work on a little bit of everything helped me understand our pipeline for building out things and what our customers might want see!
Did you discover any new passions this summer?
I realized that I like consumer facing products more. I think understanding what people need gives me a lot of motivation! I also have a bigger appreciation for building out end to end systems now that I’ve gotten to experience it myself. Other members on the team are such great resources and are incredible people and that’s really rare to find.
What surprised you the most about the team?
I was so surprised to discover that there were so few people that were working on huge systems! I thought to myself, “How did you build this with only a few people?!” That was incredible and that made me realize that you can have a really large impact as long as you put yourself into a position where you can. Another thing that surprised me was how closely people work together and how open everyone is! Everyone is involved in everything which is really cool because that means everyone has some knowledge of everything.
What piece of advice would you give to next year's summer interns?
I would suggest trying out the graph manager end to end! That will help you understand things better. Also if you know what you’re interested in there’s something for everyone so don’t be afraid to reach out to your manager! Try learning as much as you can! People here are such great resources that I don’t think you’ll have the opportunity to use anywhere else.