onX Engineering Interns Build Skills, Features

When Emily Sior finished her internship at onX in the fall of 2019, she’d collected plenty of the things she expected: a swift education on the daily realities of a software engineer at a fast-growing tech company, opportunities to work on meaningful projects and ship features, and a sense of confidence that she could thrive in the workplace. 

She also collected one thing she hadn’t bet on: a career. 

Sior joined onX full-time as a software engineer on the Hunt team, where she immediately put skills and relationships from her internship to use as a staff member. 

“For me, I was really integrated into the team and didn’t feel like I was an intern. The work I was doing was going into production just like any other engineer,” she said. “It didn’t feel like much about my job changed from my internship ending on a Friday to starting on staff the next Monday.” 

While Sior’s quick transition to full-time work isn’t the case for every intern, her experience with a dedicated mentor and responsive team is shared with every cohort of interns to walk the halls (real or virtual) of onX. 

Interested in becoming an onX intern? We’re recruiting for the class of 2023.

Lessons from a 2022 Intern

The first time Montana State University student Gage Halverson saw the onX booth at a career fair he was wearing a back and neck brace beneath his blazer. The then-20-year-old was recovering from a snowboarding accident and breezed past the table in pursuit of an internship in the construction industry. Two years later, though, he was back and looking to build something different with a career focus now pointed toward software development.

“When I heard that I would be joining onX as an iOS developer intern, I had mixed emotions. My inner 4th grader who was blown away by technology packed into a wallet-size device was stoked,” Halverson said. “My inner high schooler was a little uneasy, recalling how I had failed to understand what it even takes to build iOS apps, much less what a compiler is. I was excited to finally work as a software developer, but I knew that I was going to need to work hard and learn fast.”

Halverson’s first line of code in the App Store might have been a quick fix to capitalize “with” on a share screen, but soon he’d identified a feature available on the web but unavailable in-app and, in close collaboration with his mentors, broke the project down to create a path to implementing it on iOS. 

“It was an amazing experience to go through the software development life cycle from project planning to deployment,” he said. “One of the many highlights of the internship was being able to take ownership of a feature that I wanted to see in the App and taking the steps to make it a reality.”

Jooyeon Han and Emily Sior
Engineering Manager Jooyeon Han (left), guides each class of interns at onX, some of whom go on to become full-time staffers like Hunt Software Engineer Emily Sior (right).

‘Guide Them Without Giving Them the Answer’

For onX Engineering Manager Jooyeon Han, it was interviewing potential interns that drew her into the program she now runs. 

“When you interview interns versus full-time staff, you have a different investment,” she said. “You’re rooting for them. You want to give them space to find their own solutions, to guide them without giving them the answer.”

That philosophy guides Han not only in selecting each year’s class of roughly 10 interns, but also matching interns to teams and mentors to ensure that the engineering staff is learning alongside the students. Using intake survey results, engineering managers, and workload roadmaps, Han places interns with a dedicated mentor on a team that is ready to develop a young professional and provide places for interns to make an impact.

“We might start them on a list of bugs but we want to move them beyond that,” Han said. “What they get out of it is teamwork and skills, but also a chance to build their portfolio for their next job or even onX. We don’t want to have them just working on ‘intern projects.’” 

onX also offers a chance for interns to learn about their own preferences and define the areas of emphasis they might wish to pursue in their professional careers. 

“Interns come in with more of a general skillset than a typical full-time engineer,” Han said. “This is where mentors come in big time. What’s a good project to start with and end with? What are their strengths? Depending on their interest and proficiency we want to double down on their strengths. We don’t expect them to know everything.”

And that doesn’t just apply to code. Han noted that for many interns it’s also their first experience in a professional office environment—and while onX may be as casual as they come, there are still questions to navigate in both office etiquette and technical know-how. That’s why Han facilitates a weekly intern Lunch and Learn for some continuing education and social interaction among the cohort (who are split between the Missoula and Bozeman offices and a few remote locations) as well as a private Slack channel where interns can query one another in a safe space.

One of the questions that comes up again and again among interns past and present: Do I belong here?

onX interns at Camp onX in 2022.
onX interns heading out for an afternoon of activities in Big Sky, Montana, during the Camp onX company gathering in 2022.

Overcoming ‘Imposter Syndrome’

Showing up at any company on Day 1 of an internship is an intimidating experience, and it’s only natural to wonder if you’ll be able to hang with the high expectations. 

“iOS development seemed scary and complex,” Halverson said. “I remember the first time I tried to build an app while I was in high school, I couldn’t even get the test project to compile. I believe that this was the first experience that sent me down a spiral of doubt. I did not believe that I would be able to perform at a level high enough to be an iOS developer.”

The feelings were the same for Sior, who recalled that she “struggled with imposter syndrome a lot as an intern. I felt in over my head, it’s a big jump from college to the industry.”

But with a strong support network of responsive teammates, a dedicated mentor, and a company culture that prizes passion and progress, Halverson, Sior, and every class of interns  quickly realized that onX’s intern program was built to make them fail fast, learn quickly, and develop into software engineers ready for whatever comes next.

“Coworkers that are supportive and equally excited about the work they are doing can solidify career decisions for those of us searching for our place in the world after college,” Halverson said. “The transition from absorbing information from instructors to utilizing your skills and knowledge can be intimidating. Interning at onX helped bridge that gap and gave me a sense of purpose and excitement for my future.”

And finally, some advice from intern-turned-full-time engineer Sior: “Give yourself grace and ask questions. People know you’re here to learn and people love to help you and want to help you. You’re there for a reason, you were selected because we believe you can do it.”