Syntio Summer School

Ivan Celikovic, Sara Petrinjak

PRINCIPAL CONSULTANT, PEOPLE OPS LEAD

Summer internships are a well-known practice globally for students who would like to gain experience and get acquainted with ways of working, their preferred technologies, end to end project planning and executing in a company of their choice. 

Internships are popular among the student population in Croatia, especially IT students, as they are very helpful for students without any prior work experience or for the ones who are not yet sure in which field, they would like to become experts. As a data engineering company working with some of the most cutting-edge technologies, which also places great emphasis on knowledge sharing and agile team development, we believe we have created a culture where students can progress greatly. Students have proven to be valuable and significant members of our teams, after about six months of onboarding process where they get a chance to work as a part of our product teams, conducting research and development, or participating as members of Syntio’s Architecture department. By providing internships, we were able to continue our successful cooperation with faculties who proved their status as leading ones when it comes to IT industry. They have a well-developed program of student internships, user friendly to both students and companies alike. The process is quite simple; after making final agreements on the terms of the summer internship program, we were able to look through the CVs of the students who expressed their interest in joining Syntio, even though the interest was overwhelming and bigger than we could imagine. Next, we organized individual interviews, with the help of our Principal Consultants, such as our Head of Professional Services and our Head of Products. Due to Covid – 19 regulations, interviews were held online, even though we truly enjoy in person interviews with each candidate who applies with intension to become a Syntian. By providing these interview opportunities we ensured that all candidates got a chance to get to know Syntio and ask as many questions about our summer internship plan as they could think of 😊. It was also a wonderful opportunity to meet all the amazing students who were highly motivated to learn more about data engineering. 

After many meetings and discussions, first generation of Syntio interns was chosen! We want to thank all our coworkers for all the hard work and effort you put into selecting the most suitable candidates. The date was set and we were on our way to face a new challenge – which was to plan the whole summer internship program for 24 soon-to-be Syntio interns! First task was to choose a name, and we decided on “Syntio Summer School”. The word School was chosen to reflect the learning process and level of education we intended for the students to receive, as well as companionship and teamwork expected amongst the students themselves. Due to the high number of Summer School students, we decided to separate them into a few groups. 

Led by research on this topic and our own experiences, we decided to create 4 groups of 6 students. Each group would be given a project to build an Advanced Analytics platform in Azure for a different use case. We faced a challenge to choose use cases that would be interesting to students and current at the time of the Summer School, but also to find cases which had a lot of accessible information online that the students could scrape off the Internet.  Our choice of use cases was The Olympic Games, Euro 2020, Cryptocurrencies, and the Covid-19 pandemic. After preparing topics and tasks, we contacted our best experts at Syntio to talk about the technologies that the students were going to face as a part of their work on their projects. Presentations included topics such as “Intro to Azure“ and “Intro to Kubernetes“ and these presentations were carefully planned and organized in a way that would track with the paths of the projects. 

As the start date for the Syntio Summer School crept nearer, excitement started to rise amongst us. We had never faced the onboarding of 24 students at the same time! 

On the 5th of July 2021, a Monday morning, the students started to arrive at our office address. Besides the necessary paperwork and work equipment, we had also prepared fresh croissants, coffee, and orange juice, to really welcome our students into the office. We had an ulterior motive for this, as this would ensure that the students had a chance to get to know each other before the introductory presentation. In “Intro to Summer School” our Mentors made sure to cover the vision of the projects, while our People Operations Lead presented the Syntio values and ways of working. After the Intro presentation and the randomized division of the 6 groups, students started their three-week long project work. Each project contained various tasks, from ingesting data from different sources in various formats, processing data and storing it for analytical purposes in a Data Lake, to creating reports from a data model in relational databases and building dashboards to present their results. Students successfully overcame all the challenges that came when dealing with batch and stream processing, file ingestion, scraping data from web pages and getting data from APIs.

Teams worked in agile setups covering all major ceremonies, followed Gitflow branching strategy for versioning, created Continuous Integration/Continuous deployment pipelines, and set up their Azure infrastructure using Infrastructure as Code principles. To achieve this, they used tools that Azure offers, such as Azure Data Factory, Azure Functions, Databricks, Azure Synapse, Azure Kubernetes Service etc., as well as open-source technologies like Apache Kafka and Terraform. Middleware code was written mostly in Python, Go and Java. Our goal was for students to get hands-on experience in agile way of working using important principles (IaC, code versioning, CI/CD, automated testing). Whilst the serious work was happening, we also decided that some fun was needed as well! So, we held a Summer School Table Tennis Championship over the span of last two weeks, so students could engage in some physical activity and sportsmanship on the side. The Championship was a huge hit, as all interns engaged in the competition, but only first three won previously chosen prizes!

We were able to organize Summer School in offline version, due to large area of our office space, which gave to students the opportunity to ask for advice from the mentors in person, as well as communicate with their team without technology barriers. Also, teams helped the other teams on their own, which made us very proud. Teamwork beyond the team is a value we cherish greatly, as knowledge sharing does not know limits inside Syntio. This way, everyone got the chance to improve their communication skills, empathy, and knowledge transfer skills, as rivalry is not our style.  

On the last day of Summer School, students were asked to present their projects in front of all Syntians. Everyone was quite excited to learn more about projects Summer School interns successfully completed, but also very supportive and helpful with advice about presentation skills.   

After just three weeks, interns showed us the insights they had derived from available data and their overall knowledge of Cloud Data Engineering. Final presentations were more than excellent! Our expectations about their engagement and programming skills and even presentation skills were high. But also exceeded. Students were asked to fill out anonymous feedback forms, and we shared ours with them in person. This way we got a chance to talk with each of the students about their strengths, achievements, and where they might have had some room for improvement. This also gave them the chance to ask questions that might have come up during their internships and work experience. Everyone had the opportunity to stay and work with us on our products with the option of a full-time job later.

The Syntio Summer School was deemed a great success by all the mentors, and especially by the students themselves. We even achieved to surprise ourselves with this well-organized internship program, as well as selection process of candidates that proved their capabilities. 

We came to this conclusion by looking at the overwhelmingly positive feedback that we received, but the most important measure that we saw, was that every single one of the Summer School Students expressed their desire to become a Syntio employee. We can’t put into words the feelings of pride and achievement that this program has brought to us, but we are delighted to have created an environment for learning and development, that is paving the way for the next generation of Data Engineers. Surely next year we will try to repeat this excellent result and we will try to raise the whole organization a step higher.

 

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