Maintaining Effective Communication As A Remote Nerdling

Sept. 22, 2020
Nerdling Interns On Zoom

The following article is part of a series of articles about our NerdWallet Summer Internship program. Tiana Nguyen shared their experience as an software engineer intern. If you are curious about joining NerdWallet as an intern or full-time employee, please apply for one of our open positions!

Communication is always important in the workplace and when working in a remote environment, the necessity for effective communication is magnified. Not only does good communication result in productivity and growth in your work, but it also allows you to build and develop strong relationships with your coworkers. Keeping this in mind when I first joined as a Nerdling, I decided to enhance and focus on written, verbal, and visual communication throughout my internship at NerdWallet. Below are some of my learnings that helped me out this summer!

My Team Zoom Photo

My Team Zoom Photo

Written: Documenting Progress

How can I ensure that my mentor and manager know what I’m doing and also keep track of my own progress throughout the internship? Now that we’re working in a remote environment, coworkers aren’t able to simply turn to your desk and actively see what you’re working on. But it’s still important for people to know that you’re being productive and for you to keep them in the loop. I realized one of the best ways to sustain this level of communication was through maintaining documentation on my day-to-day work and progress.

From the beginning of my internship, I decided to create a Daily Checklist document and share it with my mentor and manager to access throughout the summer, if they were ever curious. This is where I listed out the tasks I have to do each day and as the day went by, I marked these tasks as “Done” or “In Progress”. By the end of the day, it was really rewarding to look back at what I had accomplished and look forward to what else I had to complete the next day.

In addition to my Daily Checklist, I also shared an OKR Progress Log document with my mentor and manager. As a Nerdling, we’re given the opportunity to create personal OKRs to accomplish by the end of the internship. So as I completed tasks that fell under each of my OKRs, I made sure to add the task to the document. I found this especially helpful for when I was completing my self-evaluations, since the documentation made it easy to recall what I’ve achieved.

Documenting your progress is not only a good way for your manager and mentor to see what you’ve been up to, but also a really good way for you to keep track of your own work. It gives you the opportunity to look back at old PRs, revisit and reference steps you took to solve a problem, and remind yourself how much you’ve accomplished!

Verbal: Scheduling 1:1s

zooming with multiple people

1:1s with NerdWallet CEO, Tim, with my Mentor, Jega, and with my Culture Buddy, Raissa

How do I feel part of the company and get to know what’s going on at NerdWallet without having those spontaneous interactions I would get at the office? It’s definitely hard to get to know people when first joining a company, and especially a lot harder remotely. Luckily, the culture at NerdWallet remained phenomenal and all the Nerds continued to be open and welcoming of new Nerds.

Although it may be easy to meet people by attending the numerous meetings already filled on your calendar, it’s usually with the same subset of people. So one thing I found that helped me get to know NerdWallet was reaching out and scheduling 1:1s to meet new Nerds that I usually wouldn’t work with or see often. This process of reaching out to others allowed me to gain a better understanding of the different teams, projects, and backgrounds people come from at the company.

While these 1:1s with others are fun and insightful, what I found especially valuable were my daily 1:1s that my mentor, Jega. He had scheduled these 30 minute sessions from the beginning of the internship which proved to be a great way to check in, ask questions, pair program, and just talk about life. These 1:1s were what truly helped me ramp up, made me feel part of the organization, and got me through each day of my internship.

Scheduling 1:1s are a great way to get to know other people in NerdWallet as well as build stronger relationships with people you already do see day-to-day. I would strongly recommend scheduling daily 1:1s with your mentor and reaching out to anyone you desire; everyone always welcomes the Nerdlings!

Verbal & Visual: Presenting Virtually

Am I sharing the correct screen? Am I keeping eye contact with the audience(or the camera for this remote case)? Am I actually being engaging or allowing people to be distracted by whatever else may be on their desktop? Although it may seem as if presenting virtually would be a lot easier than presenting in person, I honestly find it just as difficult and nerve wracking.

Before even creating your deck, it’s important to first assess who your audience is and how you can convey your project in a way that will make them care and understand. You don’t want to lose everyone’s engagement by presenting in a way that only a select few people understand. I found that adding visuals and graphics really helped solve this, especially when time is limited and you can’t take hours to explain everything to the tee. This may be hard if you’re working on the backend and you have no visual to show besides your project running in your terminal. However, you can get creative and explain your project through a metaphor or a story in which you can provide a visual representation for it. This will not only help the audience understand what you’ve been working on, but also make it more memorable for them.

progression of powerpoint decks

After the deck is done, it’s time to practice, practice, practice, and actually ensure your demo is working. I like to start off by writing a general outline of what I want to say, and then begin to memorize the talking points before running through the whole thing. When practicing, be sure to keep a good pace, polish your annunciation, and don’t go over the time limit!

Conversation from SlackFinally we’re at the last step: presenting. No matter how much I practice, I always find my heart beating so quickly from how nervous I am. Minutes before I was about to present, I was messaging my mentor about how scared I was. And he was there to comfort and scream with me; sometimes we just need that before presenting. During your presentation, try to follow what you’ve practiced and make sure to look at the camera– your new form of audience. But even if it doesn’t go as smoothly, just keep on going as if it was supposed to go that way!

Of course though, I still don’t have the art of presenting mastered. In fact, this is probably something I’ll be working on for a while. But through each presentation, I learn a lot and continue to iterate and refine the process.

Verbal: Seeking Help

How many questions am I allowed to ask? It’s always hard to know when you should be asking for help and balance the amount of questions you ask. I was especially worried that I wouldn’t be able to get the support I may need since I can no longer turn to the person next to me to ask a quick question. However, I found that everyone at NerdWallet is all always willing to help and give support in any way possible.

I learned that the best way to get help from your team is to identify the area of expertise you need help from and mention it during scrum or on the team channel. I was definitely intimidated and uneasy about doing this because I was a Nerdling, but in reality we’re treated as Full Time Nerds and shouldn’t be feeling this way. Everyone is always open to answer and give you the support you need during your time here, so ask away!

1 on 1 zoom screenshot, thumbs up from both people

Thumbs up for pair programming

What really helped me this summer was that my mentor especially encouraged me to seek help whenever needed. Oftentimes when I was stuck, I would send him a message and he would respond immediately with a Zoom link to pair program with me. Pair programming throughout the summer proved to be extremely useful for when I encountered a difficult bug I couldn’t fix.

It’s also nice that many teams allocate time every week for Office Hours, where Nerds can come in and ask any question that may relate to the respective team. This proved to be a great way to get help from other Nerds beyond my team.

In general, every Nerd is always welcoming and happy to answer questions, just make sure to communicate and reach out when you’re blocked and having trouble!

Maintaining effective communication with your coworkers in a remote environment can be hard, but it’s always worthwhile to ensure a productive and inclusive work environment. I’ve definitely learned a lot about how to be a better communicator, and of course a better engineer and Nerd. It’s astonishing how quickly these past 11 weeks flew by and how much I’m continuing to learn and grow everyday— even leading into my last week here. I will always remember all the daily meetings with my mentor, fun and creative virtual Zoom events, and wonderful memories I made throughout my time as a Nerdling. It’s nice to know that I’ve become part of a community, and that I can always turn to the Nerds.