Elijah Verdoorn

Programmer, Designer, Musician

Thoughts on a Summer in the Bay


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my experience this summer at Pandora, and have been trying to write about it alongside my pondering, but have been coming up without words. Without a doubt, I had a great time and learned a lot. Being an intern at a company that values music like I do, while expecting talent and skill from their engineers feels like an extension of the liberal arts, combining many disciplines to make a cohesive whole. While there are a million great things that I could list about Pandora, until today I couldn’t seem to put to words a nagging feeling that I was missing something, that I was judging a good experience too harshly, and that I was not going to say the right thing in such a public setting.

I initially wanted to write about the technical experiences that I had (this site overall is supposed to be a showcase of my technical abilities, a digital portfolio of sorts), but found that the words were not flowing. I know that I became a stronger engineer, that my knowledge of the areas I worked in is deeper than I could have expected it to be thanks to the work I was exposed to, and that I made valuable connections with mentors and peers that I respect. These are standard fare for an internship, items that I’ve experienced before and parts of an internship that I feel are a given for the software industry. I could also have written at length about the fantastic benefits that I was offered this summer, ranging from deep mentorship, lectures, and career advice from company leaders, to free beers around the office. Each of these different opportunities and benefits presented a different look at the internship as a whole, and there easily could have been a short series on these things; such a set of posts, however, would not be genuine. I would not be representing the feelings that I had during my summer accurately, and would feel like an advertisement for Pandora, which is not my goal. Instead, I want to present a more personal perspective.

An honest reflection on the working experience cannot be presented without a look at the external factors that led me to Pandora, and the life I lived while I was not in the office. After all, while we ought to enjoy our work and find a career that is fulfilling and makes us satisfied, there is much more to life than the 9-5, and keeping a healthy and happy life outside the office is key to staying motivated to do well in one’s career. I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to take a shot at a job at a big tech company - I’ve been rejected from numerous internships multiple years running, and completed more than twenty applications for internships last summer before I found myself accepting my position at Pandora. I expected rejection from lots of these applications, as I didn’t always have all the qualifications listed in the job description before applying. I knew, however, that if I wanted to stretch myself and build my resume that I had to take the leap to a company with a consumer-facing product in an industry that interested me. Getting out of Minnesota to have this experience allowed me to attend professional development events outside of working hours and make connections to industry professionals more readily. This summer was the fulfillment of a letter I wrote to myself at the end of my senior year of high school, in which I challenged myself to find a job in a tech hub before I graduated college. Despite the excitement of fulfilling a long-held goal, I had my share of challenges even after I confirmed that I had gotten the job.

Being from the Midwest, transitioning to life in the bay area was anything but smooth for me. I struggled to find housing, had a tough time confirming information when I did eventually find a place to live, and generally had a sense that I was out of touch with the life that the bay area natives lived. I’m not sure if the perceived disconnect was in my mentality, my work, or just the reality of moving across the country and being in a wildly foreign place for the first time, expected to make it work for myself. On reflection, I realize that I’ve had the experience of being separate from the life I’ve known once before, but didn’t have nearly the same experience - when I moved into my dorm room for the first time my Freshman year.

During that pivotal time, I was in a similar situation: in a foreign environment, at a transitional period in my life, with high expectations for myself and the life I wanted to live. There was a key difference, however, that removed a lot of the trepidation that I felt at that time: I was moving in, not feeling like my situation was temporary. While I certainly did understand the reality that I’d be moving out for the summer, 9 months in one place is vastly different from the 10 weeks that I planned to be in CA for the summer. Because of this change, I made my new room my own, made friends, got involved (maybe a bit too involved!), and generally set up for the long haul. This summer, I didn’t do the same. I treated every relationship as temporary, didn’t really move out of my suitcase, tried to work all the time, and had a sense of “pushing to the end” when I’d get to go home, rather than the feeling I have now at school where I am dreading the day that I can’t call this campus my home. This subtle shift in mentality was enough to change my experience. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind for the future, and would encourage others to take my story as a reminder that fully committing to and engaging in life in your area is powerful, and can make the difference between a healthy lifestyle and one that feels somewhat empty.

I don’t want my words here to instill doubt in any students that might be considering taking an internship, job, or other position in a place that they are unfamiliar with. I 100% do not regret my decision, wouldn’t want to change a thing, and fully appreciate all that I learned this summer. I am a better engineer, I am more independent, more confident in myself and who I want to grow to be, and have the reassurance that I can provide for myself from start to finish. This is a powerful sensation that many are forced to experience far earlier that I did, but I’m glad that it came at the point that it did for me. I’m sure that I’ll be challenged in the future, and will probably have to re-establish myself in a new place a few times throughout my career, but I know that I’ll have the skills to do it.