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My Internship Experience at ShareChat

In September of 2021, I joined ShareChat as a Product Analyst Intern. Even before I joined, I was promised that it was going to be a 0 to 1 ride, with a crazy 90 degree learning curve, and indeed it was! As an intern, I got abundant opportunities to learn, grow, fall, rise back, lead, decide and network. Throughout my internship, I was given the space to make new mistakes, and was continuously taught how to learn from them - a process worth diamond’s value for someone just starting out. When I joined, I was inexperienced and didn’t know anything Product. Fast forward to the last days of my internship, I see myself explaining to new people ‘how to build product first thinking’, and I couldn’t be any more grateful for my journey here.

Internships: Debunking the Myths

Like a lot of undergrad students, even I was under the impression that internships are functions of:

  1. Tons of Certifications (Udemy/Coursera/Udacity++)
  2. Good Grades (Anything below 10 GPA was already a big NO)

Well, after 6 months of interning here, I can safely attest to the fact that Internships aren’t compilations of certifications, neither are they direct machines to test functional competence. And most importantly, unlike what we’re told, our academic background rarely matters. So all in all, learning can’t be bought, it has to be earned steadily. I experienced this since the very beginning at ShareChat. Let’s see how!

The Screening Process + Selecting the right company

The value that a company invests in you can be predicted from the intensity of the screening process that you go through. The more difficult the process, the more learning/growth there is in store for you. I applied at ShareChat through my college’s Training & Placement Cell and it was quite an intensive screening process:

Round 0: A formal chat with the recruiter (my then soon-to-be Mentor/Manager, Ekta) on my background/experience/projects.

Round 1: Take Home Assignment (They judged me on my approach)

Round 2: SQL screening (The process was so intensive I almost gave up here)

The direct involvement of my soon-to-be-mentor (Ekta) was a clear evidence that they were investing a lot of energy in the process, and that they valued me. These were the green flags I was looking for, which made me believe that ShareChat would help me grow exponentially.

And what helped me get in?

The ability to put myself out there & to recreate (GitHub/projects/ LinkedIn/blogs). And of course practicing SQL problem solving, in & out. Also, I remember Ekta insisting that SQL is plain Math/Set Theory, if you approach it like that - you will be able to apply first principles thinking to any problem at hand. And, I landed the internship!

A week into my Internship

The day I joined, I was pushed into a dump of long, complex and unfamiliar SQL queries and I didn’t know my way out. I couldn’t understand why they were written in a particular manner. That is when I knew that I was massively underprepared, had no rhythm to beat with the team, but also felt a dire hunger to upskill and match my mentor’s expectations immediately. To get my head around, I would talk to analysts and understand from them their ways of writing/understanding queries.

In my initial days, I was writing and breaking down these hefty queries, fetching data and calling it a day. All in all I wasn’t thinking about what I was really doing. Most of it, because everything was so unfamiliar, and it was difficult to maneuver. I felt confused, lost, and only much later at the end of ~week1 I came to know that this was intentional.

Ekta often says that to find your right way, you have to struggle with all wrong ways, because when you finally find the right ways - the muscle memory and the joy of finding stays with you.

The "talk"

Soon I had ‘the talk’ with my mentor, Ekta. I mentioned what I was feeling. To be honest, I did not like the feeling of ‘not knowing what was going around’. And this in hindsight was holding me back. I was open and had a honest conversation about the SQL queries “not meaning anything to me”, and that I was writing it all, and “still not getting it”.

She heard me out and said that she needed me to think and understand the “whys” (the ask behind the asks). Then she gave an example of something that had happened that week on a “tag diversity” exercise we were working on. Within ~2 mins of me presenting the results - she said “something doesn’t add up”. I had worked on it for a week, checked the SQL queries multiple times, but she was able to find what went wrong, from the same “first principles” that she was asking me to think from. That’s when I realized that the root of the problem was in being too mechanical.

One cannot build functional competence blindly without perspective. She also suggested to me to “Close every week by writing what you learnt that week. And writing about the things that you learnt because you approached them wrong at first.” Writing this helped me better reflect on how to improve my approach towards problem solving & productivity.

A month into my Internship

I continued to have multiple foot-in-the-mouth moments everyday. The first month was all about getting familiar with the pod, building myself to functionally assist the team and about learning to work alone with lesser hand-holding every passing day. First couple of weeks, I worked on sharpening myself.

  • SQL Ramp up: As someone who hadn’t worked in SQL before, it was a nothing to everything journey. First - SQL because without the medium to talk with data, there’s nothing to analyze. In the first couple of weeks I worked on aggregate functions, window functions, ranking functions, datetime functions, case statements, wildcards, and heavily on nested subqueries. These tips helped me tons:

    • Always visualize the output you expect from your query
    • Write micro queries and test them - this builds up confidence to write large queries
    • Ask - what do I really want & what could be wrong here
  • Excel/Spreadsheets Ramp up: Spreadsheet cheats are the keys to data crunching, so knowing micro functions is a must. In the initial weeks, I worked on understanding & using the following functionalities of Spreadsheets into real use cases: Pivot Tables, Conditional Formatting, String Formatting, Filtering Filter views, V/H Lookups, advanced Charts etc. Excel is a one-time investment, it only reaps sweeter fruits with time!

    Myself and another intern, Anurag were given a custom Excel ramp up plan, 2 days to prepare and then present our learning to the rest of the group! In all these presentations Ekta always did an internal review and challenged our thinking by asking us some very tough questions . It was clear that “Copy paste” was out of question, and she often said “2 din aur le lo, but I want this to be solid and worth every minute of the time that people listen to you” (take two more days, but this has to be great)

    At the end of our presentation we were elated to hear from Sr. Product analysts, and product managers that they’d learnt new things from the presentation - and of course we were happy that we had really understood it.

But hey! Product Analysts are product first

As a Product Analyst Intern, how did I build Product first thinking? Product Thinking begins with identifying & understanding user problems (user pain points). For any user, their journey around using the product has to be seamless, and if at any point they feel the friction, it’s on us to identify the friction causing agent.

What is the problem? Where is the Problem? Who is facing the problem (% of population)? Why the problem (RCA)? These are some questions we frequently work towards answering.

As a Product Analyst Intern here’s how my workstream breakdown looked like: (A detailed blog on this soon)

  1. Knowing the product that you’re working on, inside out
  2. Understanding different User Personas & their User Journeys
  3. Data crunching + Analysis

    • Trends/Patterns Analysis
    • Funnel Building
    • Triangulation
  4. Solving for a business case

    • Sizing + Sensitivity Analysis (target population + estimated effect)
    • Scenario planning/corner case effects
  5. Debugs/RCAs (Root Cause Analysis)
  6. Metric Determination (+Testing params) & Monitoring

An excerpt from my Internship: Flex Slots Engineering

Of all the projects that I worked on, I was given complete end-to-end ownership of this track. So what’s the problem here? BigQuery has virtual CPUs “slots” that help run queries. We reserve a certain slot capacity to run our queries. If the reserved slot capacity is lesser than current slot demand, queries are queued. Hence during peak load times, analysts face delays and failures in running queries. This adds delays in org’s analysis time. If the reserved slot capacity is more than current slot demand, some slots are left idle & we pay for those idle slots even when we’re not using them. To find an auto scaling solution to this optimization problem, we experimented with flex slots that were engineered to be spun off when slot demands rise.

  • RCA: We started with identifying the root cause of delays for analyst’s queries.
  • Sizing the Business Problem + Sensitivity Analysis
    How many of these queries will run faster and that will lead to how much % gains?
    How much % costs will we save by minimizing idle slot usage?
  • Next we built Analysis Dashboards to visualize the Query Runtime Statistics to Analysts. (So that they debug their delays on their own)
  • Engineering an optimization solution for this problem. (More on this soon)

To understand how hiring works, I later even shadowed Ekta in a few Product Analyst interviews and at the end, after the candidate dropped, she would ask me my solutions/my answers and what I thought of the candidate. Through this process, I was able to correctly understand how effective screening is done and what Sr. leaders really look for, while hiring. This was gold that I was continuing to uncover.

I finished off my internship with Flex Slots Engg track, learning that you don’t necessarily need x+ years of experience to lead an orthogonal team!

Learning Meta skills from people

Apart from becoming technically proficient and functionally sound, I connected with some of the most amazing, hardworking, experienced and helpful people here at ShareChat. I got a chance to network with them, listen to their stories and journeys, and take away some good notes from them. And here’s what I learnt from them:

  • How user pain points are identified
  • How problem statements are broken down into solvable pieces.
  • How screening works in reality (vs how we think of it)
  • How leaders ask for feedback and handle criticism
  • Building functional competence with perspective
  • Developing a growth mindset to be better and better every passing day
  • Regularly reflect on your work & take feedback from unbiased sides.
  • “Make new mistakes, don’t repeat old ones.”
  • When you value your own craft, trust is automatically built.
  • Build connections & network effectively.

How my mentor Ekta built me

ShareChat has some of the best leaders in the industry. They invest equally in everyone and value all their people. My mentor Ekta was the quintessence of ShareChat’s values and one of the best leaders I’ve come across. Ekta always made me feel very uncomfortable and “not-at-home” during work time (not a typo!). She’d push me off the cliff and into the oceans and ask me to swim back & out. She would show me the path but would make me zigzag it my own way, with very little hand-holding. This, I later realized, was extremely important for my growth. Example - “Mrunal, here’s the problem - validate the problem, back it with data, size the business problem and get back with recommendations to solve it”.

She orchestrated my entire learning curve by giving me complete ownership of everything that I worked on - this helped me discover my own potential. She’d also engage us in a closed feedback loop after meetings.

As my Manager and Mentor, she has sat with me for 4 hours straight to teach me “where” I need to focus but has also left me alone for days together to lead a team of engineers, all by myself. One perk of having Ekta as my Manager - while I was trying to match her standards of a “good intern”, I didn’t realize that I was growing exponentially all along the way!

Me Before vs After

Before joining ShareChat I didn’t know what product thinking meant or what product led problem solving is. I was not aware of the scale and impact of the problem statements I was going to solve. 6 months here have completely changed the way I look at everything.

Initially I wasn’t confident to even talk to team members, 3months on, I was communicating with our GCP partners on our weekly calls and confidently leading most Office Hours sessions with them. In my first week I was anxious scanning a 300 line query, and 6 months on, I see myself leading a team of 3 engineers to solve an optimization problem for BigQuery Slots Autoscaling. This is the level of impact ShareChat, Ekta and my team have had on me.

Here’s a snippet from the appreciation message she wrote, on my last day!

Companies that care :)

For the 6 months that I worked at ShareChat, I was constantly shown that I was valued and that my work + tiny efforts were appreciated. On my last day, the team sent me a custom cake (zoom call screenshot on the cake since we never met in-person during my internship) and a heartwarming Thank you note.

Beyond my growth and learnings, I saw some of the best leaders who value people. This speaks length about their people first principles and about the amazing company culture here! Personally, I had the best 6 months and built connections of a lifetime! And this is exactly why you too should work at companies like ShareChat!