Let the PHP Games Begin!

Let the PHP Games Begin!

Now this is the period when we’re all getting ready for summer internships. Probably all medium-to-large software companies in Romania will train and employ a significant group of juniors in the summer time.

This is not a call for students to apply to our internships, or to internships in general.

This is a piece of thought that might help other fellow companies explore and use these training periods to make an impact on the organizational culture level.

Yes, we’ve crossed that bridge some time ago. The bridge from purely technical to a technical culture, that is. Why is that? Because we’ve met other PHP fanatics, we’ve been to conferences – local and international – we’ve had challenging enterprise projects to play with and learn from. And this has been going on for a decade, during which we continuously looked to improve ourselves.  

One of the most important things we’ve learned is that culture is a first-class citizen and it has to be built-in at every step. This reflects why, how and what we do, and implicitly it also affects our selection of interns, our internship programs and our future colleagues.

When talking about the selection process, something has become pretty clear - we have way too many applications so, before the interviews, a selection must be done. It’s true, some of the kids don’t know how to make a proper CV. But, wow, they do write beautiful emails! So that’s definitely a plus. What we’re looking for in the application emails is to see their drive and we check the CVs for the technical background. Interestingly enough, most of the times, it’s not the ones with the best CVs, but the ones that write the best emails that get higher scores in the technical tests.

The tests themselves are, of course, difficult. We used to mainly test for OOP, but now we’ve narrowed it down to algorithmic and logic problems. Tough ones. Some of the applicants told us they’re the most difficult tests they’ve ever done. We haven’t changed them after this feedback, because are most interested in their ability to think.

Let me introduce Dan: he’s our lead trainer. He breathes PHP and his heart beats for Solr and other enterprise search platforms. During the interviews, Dan makes it his mission to bring out the best in people. He is especially looking for people’s drive (again!), cultural fit and learning agility. After the interview, there’s a final question that Google has inspired us with: "Would I like this guy or girl to be on my team?"

And only then does the real deal start. The program is intense and we’ve barely narrowed it down to two full-time months of PHP. The game rules are simple: we have two tracks, theory and hands-on, and they go in parallel. The assignments are difficult and the code review is thorough. For the final team project, the whole PHP department is invited to the interns’ demo. And we’re prouder and prouder of each generation of padawans :). We never know in advance the number of new colleagues that will join us, as it’s really up to them.

So what’s the catch in all of this? We don’t focus only on the technical knowledge they have to acquire, we make them grow and become better people. And we do it by being observant of the whole context, paying attention to every single other person they interact with and having an incredible capacity to connect all the information.

Year after year we’ve built our way up to a leadership position in Romania for Magento PHP. And we believe the people that apply and enter our training programs want to be the best PHP developers they’ve ever heard of. So we give them love. Tough love.

Our belief is that, if we grant them trust and share responsibility, any team would be able to make the best choices, learn and improve every time, and have ownership on this whole process from beginning to end. Let your team build your tribe.

Here’s Dan’s insight on this:

What motivates you in getting involved in the internship selection and training process?

Dan: “I’ve always enjoyed giving people solutions to their problems. I can’t just do nothing and observe how somebody struggles with a problem if I know the answer to it or at least a starting point that would give a direction towards the solution. I like to share knowledge and I always keep the following quote from Albert Einstein in mind: “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough”. So, in the end, I know that by helping others I’m also helping myself in better understanding the concepts at hand.

What do you aim for by holding the internship trainings?

Dan: “I want to work with brilliant people. Therefore, I started getting involved in the selection and part of the training for the PHP internships. I know that my peace of mind at work depends on the professionalism of my colleagues, so I try to make sure I’ll keep being happy at work in the future.”

How was the internship training experience for you? How do the internship experiences help you?

Dan: “It was a true experience. Being a programmer, by nature, I am not a very sociable and extroverted person. Doing the interviews has helped me a lot in the social skills area. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is to never judge someone by their resume. Never assume that someone with a less technical higher education degree won’t write better code than one with years of computer programming in their CV.”

What have you learned from one training to another?

Dan: “I’ve learned a lot. First thing to notice was my lack of knowledge in some parts of the curriculum. Preparing for a presentation in front of 10 people or more with meaningful examples and handout material is a tough job. Another thing I’ve taken from this experience was that different people seek different things in an internship and that their learned skills at the end depend on the trainer’s ability to explain, but mostly on their passion for programming and on the taught technologies. I’ve learned that being a trainer is one way of making good friends. And it’s a plus to have the opportunity to work with friends.”

All in all, we make our own sunshine.


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