What I learned working at a multi-billion dollar company at 17.

So, I just wrapped up my first job…which happened to be at one of the most influential companies in Canada.

No biggie.

Just kidding — huuuuge biggie.

The Innovation Team at Interac Corporation

Being the youngest intern at Interac Corporation this summer has been one of the most eye-opening and valuable experiences of my life. It taught me SO much about the real world — about working with people, remote work and communication during a global pandemic.

I’ve got a laundry list of what this internship has taught me. To wrap it up nice and pretty, I’ve compiled a concise list of my key takeaways for this summer. Hopefully reading my key learnings will introduce you to some food for thought or serve as a refresher.

1. Remind Yourself How Lucky You Are

I’m sure the first objection to that is “well, what if I’m not lucky?” to which my answer is that if you are reading this article you already are lucky.

You likely have a device of some sort. A medium account with access to amazing articles. The ability to read.

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There is still so much that I take for granted. I know that. I’m working on being more consistent and cognizant of all that I have in my life.

Interning at Interac was an opportunity for me to practice gratitude each day.

The day I found out that I got the internship I literally jumped up and down. I was so excited. A few days after that, schools were shut down. This was around the time things got pretty ugly in the world...my friends were talking about losing their internships because companies were freezing hires.

Given that I’m writing this article, it’s obvious my internship did come through.

I have no words to express how much that meant to me. I didn’t let myself forget that I had this remote job while many people, much more qualified than I, were having trouble keeping theirs.

So, I tried my best to remember to take full advantage. To be as value-adding as possible.

The point of this takeaway though is to remind yourself of all the underlying things you don’t notice that you take for granted.

See, it’s a positive loop.

  1. Working in a state of gratitude is likely to remind you of why you do what you do.
  2. Working while remembering why you do what you do is the path to unlocking your passion.
  3. Your passion gives you a sweeping store of energy that you can showcase through your work.

2. People Are Everything

I’ve had the amazing opportunity to be a part of a human accelerator program called The Knowledge Society. I’ve learned so much about passion projects and mental models and how to work on what matters to me.

Now, as someone who moves quick — sometimes too quick — working on a team for an even larger team was new to me. A downside of working fast is forgetting to slow down and align with others.

I quickly learned a lot about the corporate environment — one of the main things being that people take the cake. Aligning with people is everything. Clarifying expectations with people is everything.

It’s not the work that sticks but the connections you make.

A common misconception is that you need to connect with everyone. This is true to some extent because you don’t know who you’ll click with until you’ve tried talking to a wide variety of people. This leads me to my next takeaway…

3. Smart People ≠ Title

While I had the amazing opportunity to speak with some more senior people at Interac, I had equally meaningful and value-adding conversations with people who weren’t “c-suite” so to speak.

People are not their job titles. People are their experiences, their opinions, their way of thinking.

Bill Nye said it best:

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”

Titles are hard-earned, which makes them a big deal. There’s nothing wrong with that — that is well-deserved credit and status. However, you must not fail to remember that there is more to people than their role at a company.

There are far too many brilliant minds in this world for us to be narrow-minded and refuse to seek them out.

4. Hard Work Shouldn’t Be Exclusive

Something I’ve been working on recently is prioritizing tasks. That is — working on things by a dedicated amount of time rather than working on it until I feel satisfied. As an ambitious person, it’s been a tool I’ve had to implement to force myself to not ruminate on things for too long.

Done > perfect.

On the flip side, however, putting your all into what you do helps you emobdy a more consistent work ethic. What I’m about to say may be controversial — and that’s okay — but I’ll share it because it works for me:

If I’m not sure how valuable something will be for me, I put my all into it. I try it out and give it 110%. That way, if it doesn’t add value, I know it really isn’t for me and not just because of me not trying.

It’s made it a lot easier for me to stumble across new skills and develop them. The side-effect of adopting this mindset is that you don’t become stingy about work.

It’s a pet-peeve of mine when I find people who believe they are above a certain level of work. At the end of the day — you have two choices. Either you sulk through the not-sexy work or you put your all into the good and the bad and emerge with newfound knowledge or skills.

Everything you do adds value. It either adds value to you or to whoever it goes to. Seeing this is just a shift in perspective.

5. Be A Circle in a Square Hole

The first day I joined the company, I was told to be myself.

I know corporations get a bad reputation for being cold and compressing. At Interac, I was always encouraged to offer up feedback and bring my opinion to the table.

That doesn’t happen everywhere.

Even if some of my ideas for projects were unconventional at times, having the discussions around them shined a light on things that may be new for the company.

For example, introducing new software and onboarding techniques I’ve seen and used to the company.

My point is — bring yourself and your thoughts to the table right away. You want to work in an environment where you are heard and encouraged to contribute to the way things work.

I have a lot of people to thank.

The dream team.

Thank you to Marc Folch, my manager, for constantly giving me challenges to grow. I always left our meetings with next steps and action items to help make me a better human. I’ll emphasize this — not just a better intern, but a better human. The challenges I was given were extremely thoughtful.

Thank you to Sohrab Kalra! I aspire to be as quick-witted and humorous as you are.

Thank you to Kashmera Self for the insightful advice. I always left our 1on1s marvelling at your wisdom and way of thinking.

Thank you to Oscar Roque for making this summer a possibility. Your guidance and support were incredibly valued.

Thank you to Sandra DeCarvalho for giving me some amazing life and career advice! You are such a warm person, and I am so glad to have met a mentor like you. Here’s to many more chats 😀

Thank you to Peter Seney, Rebecca DeLuca and Colleen Harasymchuk for the chats! I gained so much value from our conversations this summer.

Thank you to Tricia Gruetzmacher and Dinaro Ly for all the feedback and mentorship on the projects we worked on together.

Finally, to Debbie Gamble! Thank you so much for making this internship a possibility! From the very first meeting, you established just how important the internship was to Interac as an org. You let us know how valued the internship program was right away and that made all the difference.

Let’s get in touch

If you’re interested in keeping up to date with me, I have a monthly newsletter that you can join by clicking here.

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn as well 😊

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Ruhani Walia

Ruhani Walia

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econ + statsci lover, curious writer, learner and emerging tech enthusiast.