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Introducing AscentCore Incubator’s first internal product: Marketplace

At AscentCore we have at least two internships every year. The engineers that join our ranks are carefully selected based on their traits and qualities, such as self-motivation, organization, level of preparedness for the interview, ambition, culture fit, communication skills, and openness to learning. Before starting a session, we diligently review all the resumes we receive and we interview a shortlist of candidates. From there, we select the interns who will join our ranks. 

This year we added another twist to the internship by creating the AscentCore Incubator. This initiative was created to test new product ideas and to offer the junior engineers a chance to experiment different business and technical areas that have an actual impact. 

Why is this internship different from the others we had in the past?

Many internships offer the possibility to deepen their technical skills, but the Incubator challenges engineers to think outside their area of expertise as it requires more about business logic rather than technical aptitude. 

As our Technical Manager and Mentor Horațiu Cristea said, apart from attracting and nurturing high-potential talent, the goal for the interns is to “benefit from real-world experience, to have the opportunity to sharpen their skills in building software in a commercial environment, to improve their communication skills and teamwork, and the opportunity to land a full-time job”.

Marketplace is the first project that the team developed during this session, our first internal product: a platform where businesses of all sizes and from multiple verticals can connect with local customers, who can choose from existing products or they can create custom orders on which businesses can bid on. 

The first difference is that the interns had more responsibility in developing this application. They were exposed to a complex commercial software development environment, where they had to elicit and organize requirements in addition to implementation and testing. They learned to estimate their work in both time and cost, how features and budget are negotiated, and why the communication with the stakeholders must be efficient. 

Another difference was the way of working: a dedicated technical manager was assigned to provide mentoring and leadership. Through weekly one-on-one sessions, he helped the interns organize their workload better and provided regular feedback in order for them to eventually become self-sufficient. Moreover, the junior engineers participated in multiple training and Q&A sessions held by AscentCore’s domain experts. 

What was the desired outcome of the internship?

For the interns, it was about gaining real-life experience with a software project. During these weeks, they got a sense of what are the steps of developing a product as well as how much communication is required to gather, analyze and implement the requirements. All the trainings and Q&A meetings were an excellent opportunity for them to learn directly from senior engineers while our employees got the opportunity to mentor and lead others.

In the end, we created a product in two months with a team formed of a technical manager, five junior software engineers and a UI/UX designer. Even more, the process was a challenging one because the Frontend was developed using React and the team did not have any proper expertise. Finding the best path from A to B was an adventure: a lot of exploring, dead ends, rabbit holes, but most of all, a desire to get to the bottom of it.      

We took this project to the next level by organizing a Hackathon on Product Development where all AscentCore employees could contribute to making this application an MVP. We created different discussion boards on the following topics: software development/architecture, business risk/opportunities, sales, marketing, and UX/UI. We were happy to see that more than half of our colleagues joined us in sharing great ideas. 

Another goal of the Incubator is to serve as an exercise for engineers to get used to contributing to open source. We believe that this is an important role and we want to prepare them for it from the beginning. 

Which was the most memorable part of this internship?

The interns’ enthusiasm and passion seeped through to the rest of our colleagues and soon enough they had managed to get half of our AscentCore team backing up their project and finding ways to improve the platform even more. By accepting this challenge, they pushed themselves and everyone else out of their comfort zone and got them to expand their knowledge outside of their regular work-related topic.

What’s the next phase of this project?

All applications that are built within the AscentCore Incubator are planned to be developed to an MVP state and, if possible, released to a final product. The Marketplace application was built to serve multiple businesses and is developed with a pivot in mind. Everybody from the company can contribute to this project and, hopefully, at one point, they will. The Incubator is mainly a playground for many initiatives. We plan to use the Incubator concept in the future as a buffer for getting people ramped up to a new role.

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