My First Time Start-Up Internship 

Jinghao Zhang, SEAS Masters in Computer & Information Science, 2024

Thanks to the generous funding provided by GAPSA and Penn Career Services, I was able to take the role of a backend software developer intern at Roamer, a young start-up pioneering in the realm of AI-driven residential property search platforms. I have never worked in the United States, nor have I worked at a start-up. Yet, this summer, I had the opportunity to personally witness and contribute to the growth of a start-up. This experience has been a transformative experience that has enriched my technical skills, exposed me to various fields, and taught me valuable life lessons that I will carry forward.  

A distinguishing factor between startup and established corporate settings lies in the company’s scale and structure. As a young start-up, Roamer has only around 10 to 20 people and a very flat organization structure. This arrangement provided me with the unique opportunity to work closely with the founders and delve into projects that required not only technical skills but also creativity and passion in exploring new paths over the course of my internship. My major focus revolved around developing web scraping scripts in Python using powerful tools such as Selenium and BeautifulSoup. These scripts played a crucial role in gathering new meaningful data from the web, thereby fueling the backend database of the company’s machine learning model. Moreover, I participated in the optimization of the storage structure for text data within the database which helped decrease the time complexity associated with content searching and improved user experience on the website. I was also able to have deeper conversations with the founders. By attending seminars and brainstorming sessions, I got exposed to cutting-edge Natural Language Processing (NLP) insights from industry experts and got to know their personal stories which I found very inspiring in my own future career path. ​Although I had only scratched the surface of NLP, these talks helped me appreciate the intricacies of NLP in a real-world context and widen my horizon to practical materials beyond theoretical knowledge. 

Apart from accomplishing assigned tasks and improving my technical skills, I also learned many invaluable life lessons from this summer internship. One of the most profound lessons I learned was through my mistake in assuming that my mentor expected me to know everything beforehand and that asking questions was something to be ashamed of. I was afraid to admit my need for more guidance during the early stage of my internship and made me struggle in finding the right track. After talking with my mentor who had given me encouraging feedback despite the little progress I made and offered me a later collaborative workshop,  I realized the true essence of internships – not to excel in tasks and impress your supervisor, but to grow and shine as an individual in a team. Moreover, as I reflect on the experience in the past summer, I realized that one of the foundations that helped me survive the internship was laid by the resources provided by Penn. I was able to quickly brush up my coding skills in Python, which was the main coding language used at Roamer, from the “crash course” in CIS 5210. The hands-on experience in web scraping gained from the group project in CIS 5500 equipped me with the necessary knowledge to take on the challenge of creating  new scraping scripts from scratch. Moreover, the knowledge learned from building an index table for our CIS 5500 project to decrease text content matching query time directly translated to my internship experience as the company was facing a similar problem. Empowered by these experiences, I was able to tackle new problems at larger scales with related skills and confidence.  

​​Last but not least, I want to again express my appreciation to GAPSA & Career Services Center for not only funding this transformative internship but also for nurturing an environment where graduate students’ growth and learning are celebrated. The experience at Roamer has been an unforgettable chapter in my academic and career path, leaving me inspired and empowered to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. 

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 GAPSA Summer Internship Funding Program that is coordinated by Penn Career Services. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services