A reflection on our first co-op semester

In my first months as an engineer at Panorama, I eagerly looked for opportunities to bring prior experience in and have a big impact. I thought about the things my previous employers had done really well and how I could bring what I learned there to help make our engineering team better. What stuck out to me the most was that my last company had a really strong co-op/internship program, and we didn’t have one at Panorama yet. 

In past experience, co-ops and interns were a great hiring pipeline for full-time engineers. Having students join a few times a year provided opportunities for other engineers to mentor and teach them about how our systems worked and what life as a software engineer is like. Additionally, one of Panorama’s core values is that we contribute to our communities, including the Boston community, the education community, and the startup community. Giving these students an opportunity to learn from us through a co-op experience is a great way to do that. With all of these benefits, starting a co-op program at Panorama was an easy sell.

Image of core value:
We contribute to our communities.

In addition to our clients, we serve our communities more broadly, including the Boston community, the education community, and the startup community. Whenever possible, we contribute, and we give back. We release open source materials and share best practices. We help others who are doing important work.
One of our core values, displayed in our hallway of values.

We decided to start specifically with Northeastern University’s co-op program for a few reasons:

  • Our thorough onboarding process takes some time, and a 6-month co-op (instead of a 3-month internship) would give a better return on the time the engineer produces value relative to the time the engineer would spend learning about our company and our codebase.
  • Being a Boston-based company, we felt that focusing on a Boston-based university would enable most interviews to be fairly low-lift for the candidate and we would not have additional complexities of travel time.
  • The interview and employment cycle at Northeastern are well-defined, so we could keep interviewing to a short timeframe. We could also start with the January – June employment cycle so that we wouldn’t onboard the engineers in the summer when we also might need to spend our onboarding efforts on new graduates.

Once we decided to move forward with the program, we made a rubric to ensure fair resume review and made small changes to our interview process specific to the new role. After that, we went ahead and rated resumes as they came in and did the interviews. We successfully hired two co-op engineers, Spencer Pozder and Raquel Levy! As their summer nears the end, I sat down with both of them as they described their experience at Panorama.

How did you hear about Panorama?

Raquel: I heard about Panorama through the Northeastern NUCareers co-op portal! The posting really stood out to me as a place where I would actually be able to make a real impact and was really excited by the idea of using data to improve student outcomes!

Spencer: I first saw Panorama on NUCareers – I looked them up and their mission really resonated well with me! They were definitely my first choice once I started applying for co-op positions, and I am very glad that was the case now that I am here.

What was the interview process like?

Spencer: I was a little worried about my interview with Panorama; it was scheduled for 4 hours, which is the longest interview session I had done at that point. But the time really flew by: each individual part was interesting and everyone I met was inviting. Since starting my co-op, I have learned just how much Panorama cares about their interview process, and it has set a high bar for other interviews I will have in the future!

Raquel: Overall the interview process went really well for me. It started with a phone screen, and then a series of in-person interviews at the office. While at the office, I really liked that I got to meet so many different people and having 2 other engineers in each interview session made it feel more like a collaborative conversation than a test! I also loved the coffee/walk I got to go on. Getting to go on a casual walk with Jason (VP of Engineering) and Phoebe (a full-time Engineer) showed me a lot about Panorama’s open and friendly culture and gave me a great chance to ask a ton of questions. Across the board everyone was so inclusive and welcoming!

What do you normally do on a day-to-day basis?

Raquel: My day-to-day tasks are pretty much the same as any other full-time engineer on my team! It’s really great being treated as a full-time employee and getting to do real impactful work. Not only do I get to write, test, review, and deploy code on a daily basis, but I’ve also had great learning experiences getting to be on calls with clients, and working cross-functionally with other product/engineering/client success teams across Panorama.

Spencer: At this point I generally do the same engineering work as the other members of my squad – I take a JIRA ticket off the backlog, write some code (and tests) and get out a PR! I have been involved in some important work on the product since I started here, which has been a big change from what I have seen in other co-op positions.

What has been your favorite project?

Spencer: Handling the end of the school year has been an ongoing effort for my team, and it has been interesting to work through the technical problems it involves. Many new features need to be added, and lots of existing client integrations need to be adjusted to work automatically come September. It’s exciting to see this work take off though, and the difficulty has kept the work engaging!

Raquel: My favorite project so far has been getting to build support for a new SIS (Student Information System) in our platform. It was a really great learning experience because I got to see the project from start to finish and got to take on a lot of responsibility for getting the project completed. Not only did I get to establish new patterns and add lots of new code to our code base, but I also got to do research and investigation about the SIS, I got to work closely with the client success team as well as the client themselves to learn about their data schema and how it might align with our internal schema, and overall I got to touch pieces end-to-end of our full data pipeline which helped me learn a lot more about the system.

What is your favorite thing about working at Panorama?

Raquel: How easy it is to learn! From engineers with traditional CS backgrounds to former teachers and school administrators, to sales and marketing experts, there are so many people with a range of talents at Panorama who are all so friendly, collaborative, and always open to helping and answering questions.

Spencer: The people I work with. Everyone is so helpful and the entire engineering team is full of incredible developers.

What is your least favorite thing about working at Panorama?

Spencer: Sometimes I feel a good amount of Imposter Syndrome working with so many great engineers – but they do a great job of supporting me and I have learned a lot during my experience which has worked to combat this!

Raquel: Since Panorama has been growing so much and half of the team is on a different floor, it has been harder to get to know everyone outside of engineering. With that being said, the weekly company-wide catered lunches, full-team meetings, and other fun outings and events have been great opportunities to build connections with more people outside of the engineering team!

How does this compare to your previous co-op experiences?

Raquel: My last co-op was at a larger global company, and had a million different projects going on at once. It was nearly impossible to be friendly with everyone and having half of our team across the world in China and India made for early morning calls and long hours. I also was strictly a front-end developer and did basically the same type of work for my full 6 months there. Now, having been at Panorama I see how much I really care about working on a passionate, energized, and collaborative team. I have loved working at a smaller company and getting to wear many hats and grow in a wide variety of ways including a range of technical skills as well as collaboration and communication. I also love working somewhere where everyone really cares and it feels like there is always somebody to help!

Spencer: My previous co-op was at a larger software company where I felt much more like a cog in the machine. Panorama is great about involving me in work that directly affects clients, to the point that I have been involved in calls with clients about what we could do to directly improve their experience (I get to see educators get excited about what Panorama could do to help them).

Would you recommend a co-op at Panorama to a friend?

Spencer: I already have!

Raquel: Absolutely! I have already encouraged many of my friends to apply.

Would you consider working here after graduation?

Raquel: I could definitely see myself at Panorama after graduation! There is so much exciting work happening for a meaningful cause, and I know there is so much more for me to learn from Panorama. The people, mission, and learning opportunities would make it a no-brainer for me.

Spencer: Absolutely! There is a lot of career-development work here at Panorama that each engineer does with their manager to keep track of what work we have done, it is exciting to see what I have been able to accomplish and what kind of work I could be involved in in the future.

Raquel and Spencer have been kind enough to share their contact information if anyone wants to chat with them directly [email protected] and [email protected]

Photo of Jess (author) with Raquel and Spencer (co-op engineers)
Me (center) with Raquel (left) and Spencer (right)

We had a great experience with our first set of co-op engineers and were happy to hear that they felt the same. We look forward to many more semesters of hiring students as co-op engineers in the future.

If working with co-ops (or as one) interests you, we’re hiring!

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Source: Panorama Education