Surviving My First Week At Foursquare

So, I’m in New York City. Unless you know me, you probably wouldn’t know that. And I guess if you didn’t know me, then maybe this wouldn’t be surprising information. But I’m not from New York City, I’m from West Virginia. What am I doing here? I’m grabbing an awesome opportunity with a death-grip and running with it. I’m an intern at foursquare.

Back in March I applied to the NYC Turing Fellowship and somehow, despite an enormous number of applicants, managed to be accepted to the semi-finals. During this round applicants spent a weekend in New York interviewing with a host of incredible startups. I was fortunate enough to interview with some amazing companies, but coming into the weekend I had my heart set on foursquare. After returning from the weekend in New York, it was an anxious several days. Like after a first date, when your unsure of when to call the other person, or wrestling with the possibility they were totally uninterested in you. Fortunately, after what seemed to be a lot longer than what it actually was, I received a response from the NYC Turing Fellowship: foursquare had agreed to let me come on as an intern for the summer.

I won’t get into the details of the logistics of coming to New York for the summer, or what my first impressions of the city were, or anything like that. That’s grist for another mill, or at least another blog post. But what I will lay out is why I wanted to work for foursquare, and what my first week was like.

Foursquare is an interesting concept. If you’re not familiar, it’s a location-based game that keeps track of where you’ve been, and where your friends have been, awarding points for exploring new places and keeping a leaderboard of the users, as well as providing how you rank against your friends. There are other aspects like mayorship and specials to help complete the compulsion loop, but I’ll just let you read the foursquare about page.

What I was most intrigued by was the concept of location as part of our identities. After a decade and a half online, people my age are starting to understand the value of having an online presence. What do I mean? I mean, having an email address, maintaining a website, using some form of instant communication like AIM or Skype. I feel that folks around my age, who grew up with the explosion of the internet, originally started out carefully defending the information they posted online. Now, the benefit of having an accessible presence online, and instantly being able to access information from others in your network, is invaluable. This is social networking, and my peers are finally starting to understand the value of it. Folks younger than I generally seem to have skipped the fear of posting information about yourself and caught right on.

Foursquare is unique in that it understands that location is an important part of our identity. Just as we share our email address to receive the benefit of connected communication, foursquare understands physical location is a very important part of our identity, and allowing us to share that information with our friends is invaluable. It also helps that mobile is a big part of their strategy. I love mobile.

So, what was the first week like? I’d be dishonest if I told you I walked in totally confident. However, upon arriving in the office I was greeted by Susan, who I’d interviewed with, and was given a quick tour of the office. Employees sit in rows of desks, next to each other. There’s a fridge and mini-kitchen. There are Sonos players for music. It’s hard to describe but the environment is very energetic. I also snagged a fousquare hoodie and tshirt, so I can’t complain about that.

I spent the next half hour being introduced and meeting the iOS team, whom I’d be working with over the next couple months. I was refreshed that, throughout the day, I was approached cordially by almost everyone in the office. They introduced themselves, asked what I thought I’d be working on, and in most cases mentioned they were excited to have me onboard. How cool is that? Literally, everyone in the office, from my team to the designers to  the business folks, even Dennis and Naveen, the founders.

The first day I was little awkward. I wasn’t sure what my tasking would be. After setting up my machine I peered with Anoop, the iOS team lead, to fix a bug and explore the code. I typically like to start working with a new code base by fixing a few bugs, if possible. It helps you find the execution flow through the code, but typically gives a more macro level understanding of the product: was this a user-facing issues?  how was it discovered? what functionality does it affect? I spent the next day or so working on a few bugs.

Unfortunately, I think I wasn’t quite yet in the right mindset. Internally, at least, I was waiting for some tasking. Some list of things to do. What I didn’t understand is that I was now onboard with a startup. It’s time to contribute. While there is direction and vision, as far as tasking and goals go I’m allowed to design my own future. I get to bring my ideas to the table, and sell them to the team. Somewhere, a form of me was looking for a checklist of to-do’s, when really I was given a blank canvas. It took a few days to realise, but now I think I finally understand.

So that was my first week at foursquare. There was a bit of flailing on my part, taking me a while to realise the sort of responsibility I’ve been given, but I’m super-excited. After talking to the engineers and other folks there, and researching some of the resources available I have a very high-level idea of what I’d like to do. I’m invested. I think this product has the potential to be incredible, to exploit some extra value in foursquare, but it’s up to me to execute and iterate on that idea.

After this first week and this incredible opportunity, I’ve had some time to reflect on the entire process. A lot of friends and developers back home reminded me that I’m very fortunate, and what an incredible opportunity this is. It’s true. But I wouldn’t have this chance without the existence of the NYC Turing Fellowship. I’m humbled they saw something in me that qualified me for the position, and the other students I met while interviewing were all sharp, outgoing kids from some spectacular schools. It’s an honour to be part of the program, and a privilege to be spending my summer at an awesome place like foursquare.

This post originally appeared at Ricky Hussmann’s blog.