It was almost the end of my two-month summer internship at Salsify, a Boston-based product content management startup (do these words mean nothing to you? No worries, just think: techy people doing techy stuff in a cool new techy office), and I had just about finished the summer without doing something to completely defame myself and taint the memory of my few short months there as an engineering intern. Alas, what is a fantastic summer internship without a fantastic intern screw-up?
Several Saturday mornings ago, I woke up leisurely, stretching my arms, heavy with a night’s rest, across my bed. I quickly retracted my reach, horrified at the damp sensation I felt on my sheets.
I realize now, as I type this, that it would appear as though I’m describing the scene of a mid-night urination dispensation, but I promise, that’s not where this is going.
I immediately shot up out of my early morning stupor, thrashing through the confines of my blankets to locate the one item on the non-sleeping side of my queen bed that could not, I repeat, COULD NOT, get wet. My heart sank, just like I feared my checking account balance would once I admitted to my boss what I had done, as my scrambling hands slid over the slick, chrome surface of my brand new, work-issued, 15-inch, retina display Macbook Pro.
My Tufts water bottle, which I purchased just hours after being accepted to the school of my dreams, lay next to my weeping laptop, cap slightly askew, still dripping its contents onto the $2,500 piece of equipment which contained all of my work from the summer and, horrifyingly enough, was worth the majority of the money I’d made over the summer, which I needed for the upcoming school year..
After 24 hours of furiously attempting to boot up the soaked-through laptop, leaving it in front of all of our household fans on their highest setting, lovingly stroking it and channeling The Little Engine That Could by whispering “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”, and trying not to think about the taunting I would receive at work the next day, I texted my boss dejectedly, declaring, “Something not so chill happened to my laptop last night”.
But when I sheepishly skulked into my colorful, startup-esque office, giving my boss the look a very guilty puppy puts on after he’s chewed the family’s brand new pillows, he looked at me, started laughing, and sighed, “What? Calm down, everyone makes mistakes.”
And then, with a smirk, “Laptop killer.”
I faced friendly teasing about how I “gave my laptop a bath”, or how I needn’t use my umbrella in the torrential hail storm Boston was receiving that afternoon, because I could just use my laptop. But within a few hours, the deed had been completely forgotten, and my daily life as an engineering intern at a startup had resumed to its normal state of “What the frick is going on/my code was working just a minute ago, I swear”.
I guess I should have predicted that my coworkers would be forgiving of my fairly classic yet costly mistake; I had certainly been misstepping all summer long, and people had been very understanding of the fact that I was still a youngin’-- I even earned the nickname “babyface” for being the youngest Salsify employee to date. I made some typical mistakes, like breaking the ice maker, or pouring beer from the tap instead of cold brew coffee (I promise it was by accident), but there were also some slightly more major offenses that scream “INTERN” in the most cringeworthy way possible.
There was the time that I walked into a board room meeting by accident… on my very first day. Not knowing the importance of the meeting, I marched in, looking for someone to point me in the right direction, and told the room that I was a new intern while everyone tried not to laugh at me. Nothing like a good first impression, eh?
How about the time that I started “accepting” all of my own stories on Pivotal Tracker, which is a tool that we use to document tasks that everyone is working on? Once delivered, stories are only supposed to be accepted by the stakeholder, or the person in charge, of the project, if the work is satisfactory. It was especially awesome that every time I accepted one of my own stories, just thinking I was finishing off the task like it was no big deal, it popped up in the activity feed, so everyone could see it, kind of like on Facebook when it says “So-and-so liked her own photo”. Yikes.
Oh, and I can’t forget about the time that I pushed a file that contained dozens of usernames and passwords for various services Salsify uses to Github, a code sharing website, which anyone with a little bit of motivation could hack into. This was met with “NO NO NO NO NO BAD” from my coworkers, and shortly followed by a google search of “How to remove commits from git”. Ugh.
But despite these screw ups, no matter how large or how small, no one treated me rudely, no one judged me, and no one ever became angry with me-- not even when I gave their laptop the cleaning of its life. People my age, millennials, are so afraid to mess up, so scared to make mistakes, that we live life in fear of taking risks. The truth is, everyone, especially summer interns, messes up, and no one would be where they are today without a whole trail of oops’ and my bad’s behind them.
So what should you do when you [do something bad] to your [something important and/or expensive] that your company [paid for and/or really needs back]? The first step is to apologize, but the second step is to cut yourself a little slack. Your boss will, too, because he or she once was the young, learning, mistake-making kid that you are right now.
I learned lots of valuable stuff at Salsify this summer relating to software development, but the life lesson that will stick with me as I go into my freshman year at Tufts? Messing up is okay. Don’t be scared to take a risk because you’re afraid of failing-- chances are, everything will be okay, and you might even learn something from the experience (as long as the mistake isn’t too jumbo, of course).
And guess what? After a couple days of drying time, my laptop worked as good as new.