10 months ago I was walking around a building filled with tech companies and job hungry students, pitching themselves to the companies in hopes of getting a 6 month internship starting in January of the new year. I of course was one of those students, but I had a secret weapon that not many other students had: an iPhone app with my name on it.
I approached most of the companies in the same way, getting straight to the point saying I had a passion for iOS development and wanted to work on a mobile development team. I would then go on to demo the app I had built over the summer in hopes of impressing the recruiter and maybe, just maybe, getting a spot on one of their iOS development teams.
A lot of companies were interested but none of them lit up quite like Colin, one of the co-founders of Happier. After talking for some time it was obvious that Happier didn’t just want an intern, they wanted another team member, and that was exactly what I was looking to hear.
My first day at Happier was actually a lot like any other day at Happier: Sit down, open XCode on one screen, Asana (our task manager of choice) on another, and start coding and fixing (or creating) bugs. By the end of my first day I had 6 commits on our iOS project which would be submitted to the App Store in just a few short weeks.
Looking back, I can’t believe the amount of responsibility I had as an intern. I got to meet Happier’s investors, sit in on important financial meetings, voice my opinion about design, function or how something should be done. And the amazing part was, the team always listened. I can’t say I ever, even for a second, felt like an intern while working at Happier. In fact, Happier’s been around for 14 months and I have been a part of 8 of them. Going by my quickly fading math skills, that’s more than 50% the lifetime of the company!
Once April had come around, Happier had been featured in the App Store twice and we started gaining a lot of traffic from users who did not have iPhones. This is when we knew that it was more important than ever to open up Happier to a much larger audience by bringing our app straight to www.happier.com. After talking with Yoav, our CTO, we decided to switch me from iOS to web and build a web app from the ground up.
This was a brand new project with a lot of uncharted territory for not just me but the whole team. I thought I had responsibility before, but this was a whole different level! It was now my job to architect, build and deploy a full Happier client for thousands of people to use. Wow. I was nervous, and honestly, I did not know that much about the web and the technologies used to make a great app. It was time to learn a few things.
I’d love to say that over the next month I built this super, incredible, amazing web app but that would just not be true. I made more coding/design mistakes in the first month of this project than I ever have before. Sure, there was progress and I generally had something new to show the team everyday but I knew I could do better. So, one weekend, the project looked something like this:
Yup, I deleted more than half of what I had built. One of the best decisions I ever made. I took all the lessons I learned from the past month and practically started over. For at least a couple of months Yoav would joke with me (maybe it wasn’t a joke) saying, “Hey Andrew, you’re not going to rewrite happier.com this weekend, right?”
One of the most important things I learned while working at Happier was the importance of “shipping often” and “shipping early”. As a developer, “shipping” refers to anytime we release something new to our users and this is often a scary moment when you are being pushed to ship code that feels unfinished or unpolished. Although I certainly don’t write the cleanest code on the team, I care a lot about of the overall feel of a product I’m working on and to release something that doesn’t feel ‘perfect’ to me is very difficult.
We recently released version 2.0 of our iOS app to the App Store and that meant getting web 2.0 ready at the same time. I was given 2 weeks (a typical work sprint at Happier) to make the necessary changes with the expectation being that we would release both the app and web app at the same time. On day 6 of the sprint Yoav and Colin came over to my desk to check the progress and without any hesitation Yoav said “we’re releasing this tonight.” Needless to say, I was pretty nervous, and had no idea what would come next.
The New York Times wrote a piece about Happier and it just happened to go live a couple hours after we released version 2.0 of our website. We were hammered with traffic throughout the next couple days, every new user immediately being a part of the Happier 2.0 experience. We were able to learn really quickly what worked, what didn’t, what needed to be fixed and improved.
But at the same time, I’m thinking, all those people are using a product I, an intern, built from scratch. Happier gave me an opportunity that no other company would have dared to risk. It’s not everyday that a 20 year-old intern gets to lead a project in the tech industry, and I am so honored to have been given this amazing opportunity.
Nataly, Yoav, Colin, Sarah, Ian, Parker, Laura, Kimberly, Brian and Nick… It has been an absolutely amazing experience working with you guys and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.