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What we learned: A retrospective by Vox Media’s 2016 summer intern class

This summer, interns from SB Nation, Eater, and Vox Product came together to create Powering the Olympics, an in-depth feature that explored how athletes, restaurants, and the city of Rio De Janeiro are preparing for the games. The interns had the unique opportunity to form a cross-functional team, working in editorial, design, and software engineering.

We had 10 weeks to conceive and build our project, meeting weekly both in person and on video call with the SB Nation interns in Washington D.C. Editorial contacted and interviewed Olympic athletes and local restaurants in Rio, while Product designed and brainstormed the interactions on the site. When the rest of the Engineering team was in Chicago at VAX, the product team interns hunkered down in the New York office and built the web application from scratch, preparing it for deploy the week after.

Last Thursday we presented our final product to the rest of the Vox Media team. Below are answers to questions brought up during our presentation.

Question: What were some of the challenges of working on a cross-functional team?

Jon Moss (Product): While working on our team, we were presented with various challenges. One of the biggest challenges was the need for empathy between the different skill sets. The product interns needed to understand the editorial process, and vice versa. Having an understanding of the work each side is doing is critical.

Q: What was the most important insight you took away from working on the intern team?

Kaitlin Gu (Product): The importance of a diverse team. Everyone on our team came with different experiences and skill sets so we all had a lot to learn from one another. It is easy to say that this project would not have been possible without everyone’s involvement. We were able to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as learn when to lend our strengths and ask for help. More importantly, everyone had a really good attitude regardless of what obstacles came our way which made the experience enjoyable from beginning to end.

Noelle Ingrisano (Product): The most important insight I took away was learning how to communicate ideas in a clear and concise way. Working alongside others who had different responsibilities was a good experience to learn about communicating ideas and visions in a way that can be easily understood and executed among a diverse team. It was very important for all of us to work together and pull this project off which we did. I was very proud of everyone and how much hard work and effort we put into making it happen.

Q: How did it feel like accomplishing something this big by communicating between two cities?

Ali Sidiki (SB Nation): I honestly didn’t think it was possible at first. The idea was a little alien to me around communicating between two cities and working on something this big. But when we pulled this off, I was very proud of what we were able to accomplish. Though I haven’t physically met with most of the people I worked with, I admire them a lot and look up to them and I am very lucky that I got to work with such a brilliant, hardworking and dedicated team.

Q: Are there any tips you would give someone who was trying to build something like this?

Ryan Connors (SB Nation): Communication is of utmost importance when working with two groups in different cities that are working on very different parts of the project. Clarifying goals should also constantly be on everyone’s mind. Things will always change from the time you think up an idea until when it’s ready to publish, but you should always have in mind a clear idea what you want for your end of the finished product.

Anna Brown (Product): It’s important to remember that when creating something you will go through several iterations of the product, and sometimes, you will have to make the tough decision to remove parts of it for time’s sake. Just because something wasn’t published in the final version doesn’t mean that you didn’t learn a ton from going through the process of building it. And you may be able to use the code that wasn’t used, or the copy that had to be removed, for another project in the future.