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The Diary of An Ex-New York Times Software Engineering Intern

This is what’s it like to help build the digital face of one of the oldest print publications.

The Diary of An Ex-New York Times Software Engineering Intern
[Photo: mizoula/iStock]

There is perhaps no other newspaper that is more regarded the world over than the New York Times. In its 166-year history, the paper has won 122 Pulitzer Prizes—more than any other newspaper in history—and set the benchmark for what quality journalism looks like. Its commitment to  in-depth reporting of events across the globe, together with its reputation for a commitment to accuracy and editorial independence has lent itself to the paper’s status as the national newspaper of record.

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The Old Gray Lady might still make most of her money from print for now, but that hasn’t stopped the paper from seeing where things are headed. The paper has actively recruited some of the industry’s top coders and multimedia experts from mediums ranging from video to VR to make sure it’s not just keeping up with the digital revolution, but defining it.

Its 2012 interactive long-form multimedia story, Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek was hailed as “a break point in online journalism” and since then the paper hasn’t held back on the digital front. In the first part of 2017 alone, the paper has won The Mirror Award’s i-3 award for impact, innovation and influence in the digital space and six Webby Awards for excellence on the internet. Given how much the New York Times has embraced digital, it’s no wonder that some of the best software engineers want to code for them. But just how do you get your foot in the door? Daniel Kao, a current software engineer for the New York Times, started as an intern. Here’s what his experience was like.

On His Internship Role At The New York Times

I started my 10-week internship on June 13, 2016. I flew to NYC and started interning the day after graduating the University of California, San Diego as a 22-year-old. I worked in the news products department as a front-end developer for the home team, working on the code that powers the home page.

How He Found The New York Times Internship

I have to give credit to UCSD and its vast alumni network for helping me land the internship. During winter quarter my senior year, an NYT employee and UCSD alum came to campus to do an info session about the New York Times and to collect resumes for their summer internship program. There, I learned about the different internships offered by the NYT and added my resume to the pile for software engineering.

Having done a good amount of front-end work at other companies and organizations, I decided that I would be interested in joining one of the web teams.

The Interview Process

The interview process for the NYT was the most concise, professional, and friendly out of all the interview processes I went through during that time. It consisted of two phone interviews, one of which was over video and had me answer some very practical javascript application questions.

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What Helped Me Score A NYT Internship

In terms of interns, the NYT prefers third or fourth-year students, even though a significant number of my intern class were also new grads and graduate students. It’s hard to know exactly what tipped the scales in my favor, but having a combination of technical experience at a variety of previous internships, including one at a video platform company and a general interest in media technology likely helped my prospects.

The Average Workday Of A New York Times Intern

As a software developer for the Times, we have a unique perspective of being the vehicle by which the newsroom releases content to the NYT audience. And because interns are treated much the same as new hires at the NYT, my average workday looked similar to that of the rest of my colleagues.

The NYT technology department follows an agile project management workflow like most software companies, so every day begins with a standup meeting, detailing what each person is working on for the day. From there, days are filled with development time, meetings with other teams, code reviews, or pair programming. The engineering culture is very collaborative, and people are unafraid to ask for help, meaning engineers are dialoguing and working together on things most of the time.

Best Experiences As A New York Times Intern

When I think about my experiences as an intern, one stands out above the rest. A few weeks into my internship, I worked with a designer to build and launch a highly experimental prototype of a new homepage design within a few weeks. It was hard to believe that I was writing code that would directly impact www.nytimes.com. This later went on to become a new mobile homepage and will soon become a new desktop homepage as well.

The speaker series that was a part of the intern program was also a very valuable experience in gaining perspectives from other parts of the organization. We were able to hear from all corners of the company and ask the questions we always wanted to ask.

The third thing I’ll mention is the print plant tour. Printing a paper is no trivial task, and walking through the giant printer that is the NYT print plant is a phenomenal experience.

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The Lasting Benefits Of A New York Times Internship

The biggest obvious benefit of interning with the NYT was that I returned a month later (needed some time to actually decompress from undergrad) as a full-time employee on the same team. Throughout my internships, I’ve had the honor of working with great teams of people almost everywhere I’ve found myself, the New York Times being no exception.

The New York Times is an incredibly dynamic and multidisciplinary organization. We have teams doing almost anything you can think of. Never a dull moment.

What Others Can Do To Land An Internship At The New York Times

1. Know what you’re interested in and what you want out of an internship.
2. Have an open mind and a strong desire to learn new things. Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid of the dumb ones.
3. Be great at what you do and even better in a team.