A Coursera Experience: From Learner to Intern

28 August 2014

Jonathan is a student from Texas who loves to learn. He joins the Coursera infrastructure team as a software engineering intern this summer between graduating from high school and starting freshman year at Princeton. In his spare time, he loves to play his cello, take pictures of food, and watch superhero movies.


On the first day of my internship at Coursera, I arrived at the office eager to kick off my summer learning from and working alongside the infrastructure team. I had applied to work at Coursera through the KPCB Engineering Fellowship around the same time I was applying for college; having completed two computer science courses (Machine Learning and Design and Analysis of Algorithms) on the platform, I knew firsthand how empowering open access to education could be, and I wanted to help improve that platform for other learners. Little did I know about all the amazing things I would learn working at Coursera, the lasting friendships and memories I would form, and how quickly these two months would go by!

Jumping Right In

During my time here at Coursera, I’ve created features, fixes, and even new products across 7 different projects with funny names like Quack and Gandalf. With plenty of guidance and feedback from my mentors on the infrastructure team, I’ve grown immensely as an engineer and gained valuable experiential knowledge.

At the beginning of my internship, the team shared a document that highlighted potential intern projects. I was really grateful for the amount of planning that went into bringing new engineers like me up to speed. As an intern, I never felt like a second-class citizen. In fact, many of my projects were high-priority tasks for the infrastructure team!

Knowing that the products I designed and developed would be used by learners directly, or help other engineers at Coursera more effectively create new products for learners, was an incredibly satisfying feeling. One of my bigger projects was building out six new features for a tool we use to create testing environments for engineers. Another project had me categorize and create metrics dashboards to monitor errors from our site, which helps us find and fix problems within minutes of deploying. It excites me that these things can help improve the process of building awesome new experiences for learners!

Fun and Culture

At Coursera, I’ve had the good fortune to meet many amazing and friendly people. I’m incredibly fortunate to intern at a company of whose culture I enjoy being a part. Culture is a nebulous thing but I feel it in a myriad of ways; from the independence I’m given in deciding how to solve a problem to the friendly conversations I have with people around the office.

This summer’s intern cohort of almost 20 people is a tight-knit group that I’m very fortunate to have gotten to know. Since I’m originally from Texas, I had an amazing time exploring the Bay Area with everybody. Whenever we were attending intern events together, bonding over conversations on the Caltrain, going sailing in Santa Cruz, or playing Escape the Room, I felt lucky to be able share these experiences with the rest of the interns before we go back to our separate schools.

Thinking inside the box.

Perhaps one of the defining symbols of my intern experience is the Box of Productivity. In one corner of the office, there are couches with partitions on three sides. A few of the other interns and I decided to put two of them against each other, creating a box that was great for when I wanted to think through hard problems, or just be in a box. Like when peanut butter and jelly were first introduced onto bread, once we put the two couches together, it was hard to imagine that they could ever have been separate. It’s a great example of the fun, creative atmosphere that I’ve come to appreciate so much at Coursera.

Mission Matters

I’m blown away by how incredibly talented everyone at Coursera is and how dedicated everyone is to advancing the mission of proliferating access to education. It’s a pursuit that has affected me personally; completing our co-founder Andrew Ng’s first iteration of ml-class back when I was a sophomore in high school directly contributed to my serious interest in computer science as a discipline and to my desire to be a proactive lifelong learner. The inspirational learner stories we share internally every Friday relate even more transformative narratives, and although there’s more work to be done, I’m genuinely proud and grateful to have had a part in the progress of this educational undertaking.

Jonathan and two Coursera engineers: Frank and Josh.

Thank you so much to the infrastructure team, especially my mentor Frank, for teaching me how to be awesome, the KPCB Engineering Fellowship for connecting me with Coursera and hosting events this summer, and everyone in the Coursera community for making this summer an amazing and memorable experience!

Jonathan Zong
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