Musings

Interning at the Iconic

A good sign that you’re either a workaholic or have an obsessive personality is that even after leaving your internship, you make sure that email inbox is clean every single day.

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I’m a little thrown off because I’m not cleaning my three email inboxes at The Iconic. Thursday, 27 February was my last day interning there. I didn’t have much time to collect my thoughts throughout the day because I was finishing up some things, so I’m reflecting about my time at The Iconic now:

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About the Iconic
The Iconic is an Australian-based online retail company (comparable to Zappos in US and ASOS in UK) that started in October 2011. Going into the third year of business, the company is currently transitioning from the startup mindset to one about growth. The Iconic is undergoing a rebranding process in order to better define who the company is and have a reason as to why they’re doing what they’re doing—it’s like how some people eat peanut butter right out of the jar, but I don’t because my mom would slap my hand every time I tried doing that when I was younger. There will be a lot of changes happening to The Iconic in the year of 2014, so be on the lookout.

The company is one of the most diverse companies I’ve ever seen: a handful of British and Australian, lots of French (or maybe I was just surrounded by them), sprinkled with American, German, Danish, Portuguese, and other countries. (Funny enough, most of the Asians were in the finance department; way to reinforce the stereotype.) All the different nationalities together means lots of different ideas to pull from and be innovative and the possibility of creating something amazing, but it requires a lot of communication and understanding other people and how they function and why they do what they do… and a shit ton more of communication. (It reminded me of the team projects at school, but on a wider scale.)

Side note: I’ve been trying to figure out what being Australian meant. If you have the Australian accent, you’re Australian. But there are many people who live in Australia that don’t have the Australian accent, and they consider themselves Australian. I want to say that The Iconic is a good example for what Australia is like—diverse as heck.

Before Interning at the Iconic
Truth be told, I didn’t want to intern at the Iconic. I asked previous Iconic interns what it was like to intern there and they didn’t give me a good vibe. One said she didn’t have anything to do (to which I thought, “Seriously? But it’s a startup, so there should be lots to do!”) I didn’t want to get an internship where I wasn’t doing anything because it’s a waste of time and space. I know me, and if I’m at an internship or work and there’s nothing to do, I either (a) periodically ask my boss if there’s anything I can do, (b) start doing things not work-related, or (c) just think and see where that leads me. I’m the type of person who always needs something to do.

Three Cultural Differences

First, time gets lost easily in Australia. American companies are more time-conscious, while The Iconic is a little bit all over the place. At TripAdvisor, if a meeting was scheduled for 2 pm, then it means the meeting starts between 2-2:10 pm. At The Iconic, that meeting could be starting anytime between 2-2:30 pm. That’s because all the managers usually have back-to-back meetings and barely have enough time to get comfortable in their seats before they’re whisked away to another meeting. There were a couple of times where I’ll go up to my boss (Angus) to ask him a question, but he tells me he has to be at a meeting that started 5 minutes ago. Either they need to have fewer meetings, or they need to talk faster in these meetings to make it to the next one.

Second, Australia is extremely laidback, more so than California. Me? Laidback? No. I’m high-strung, adventure-seeking, fun-loving, curious, talkative, and a lot of other things, but not laidback. Adjusting to Australia’s relaxed culture was more difficult than I imagined because I strongly prefer structure with a little bit of flexibility over some structure with a lot of go with the flow. I think I adapted pretty well though. Similar to America, Australia has a 9 to 5 work structure, but it feels like you can come and go as long as you get your work done. Heck, Angus comes in between 10:30-11 am (Is he sleeping? Is he calling America and/or Germany? I always wanted to ask). Our internship hours were actually 9:30 am-5 pm, which (to me) started too late and ended too early, so I arrived in the office between 8:15-8:45 am and left between 5:30-6 pm. Even after I leave work, I do little things like clean out my email inbox, but that could probably be the obsessive side of me talking. I hate it when there are more than 3 emails unread, so imagine what I’m like when I see 12 unread emails…four times as crazy. Aurora, my former desk buddy, had more than 5,000 unread messages in her inbox, and I always flipped shits inside because I was dying to ask if I could clean it out for her. (Maybe we should add crazy to the list of how to describe me.) Australia has definitely mellowed me out, though, believe it or not.

Lastly, Australia is more about positive and constructive criticism while America is more straight-up-you’re-this-and-that-wrong. One of my previous bosses told me for my final evaluation that I worked too efficiently, making it seem like I was always in a rush to leave work. (Not true; I’m an efficient worker because my personality is I don’t like to dilly-dally.) I wouldn’t have cared so much about the comment if she had let me explain as to why I am the way I am, but she said it in a way that made it seem like I was in the wrong, At The Iconic, I researched a handful of topics and made PowerPoint presentations, and all I get is “interesting” and “good job”, which makes me wonder if there are comments they aren’t telling me. They had a template for presentations, and each slide included a title, subtitle, description, and actual information. Sometimes I didn’t know what to write for the subtitles, so I put random one-liners (i.e., for my citations pages, my subtitle was “Not MLA- or Chicago-styled citations, but Juliet-style”) and nobody ever said anything to me. I don’t have a style that I prefer more, but I am used to people telling me how it is, without having the intention of making me cry.

Surpassed Expectations and Mellowing Out

Like I said previously, I wasn’t expecting much coming into this internship. I figured I was going to get menial tasks like watch this and do this when it hits that or do a lot of copy paste and delete. The first day of the internship, Aurelien greeted and told us who we were working with. His final words were, “If anybody makes you get them coffee, just come find me.” He told me I was working with Angus, who wasn’t there yet because it was 9:30 in the morning, so I was handed off to Clare. My first task was to do research on online loyalty programs. I used to hate research because it was usually about a topic that I had little interest in, so my initial reaction was, “No yay. Let’s whip this out and move on.” It turned out to be interesting; looking at what other companies were doing made me think about what the Iconic do to differentiate themselves. I even found the other topics I was asked to research somewhat interesting too, which made me think about whether there were certain aspects of business where it was not worth a company’s resources to innovate and just stick with the norm; if so, how would you decide?

First three weeks I was struggling internally. I wanted to maintain my work attitude from America, but it really didn’t work well with the Australian environment. It wasn’t as if I could make it work if I tried hard enough, it was more like IT’S NOT WORKING SO YOU MUST CHANGE OR PERISH. Here are my thoughts on why forcing a circle peg (American Juliet) into a square hole (Australia) couldn’t work:

  • Couldn’t ask Angus questions whenever I wanted to because he’s a super busy dude. If I was given three tasks, then I would do as much as each task as I can and gather a cumulative list of questions. Then minimize the list of questions to ones that were extremely important, ask those questions and leave the rest for another time. Also, try to minimize question time to 5-20 minutes because the man has stuff to do.
  • Meetings don’t start at the time they were planned? What? You said the meeting is starting at 3 pm, and it’s now 3:02 pm and where are you? I picked up on that pretty fast and soon I didn’t go to meetings unless someone picks me up on their way to a meeting.
  • Finding a balance between work and play. Even if Australians are laidback, they are still serious about their work. It’s hard to think about playing at work because I’ve always been work work work work, okay, go home and play. I didn’t get the hang of it, but I did dance and sing in my seat a lot.
  • Smile? No smile? I love smiling. I smile at people on the streets, hoping that I made their day a little better. I didn’t know if Australians appreciated it as much as Americans, and I still have no answer. They don’t make funny faces, they give half smiles… I was confused. So sometimes I smiled, one time I made a face at Aurelien as he passed by…

I was getting the hang of it towards the last two weeks, but unfortunately, I didn’t have two full weeks and time zipped by pretty quickly. Now they’re replacing me with newbies and I’m a little sad.

Random Observations, Memories and Thoughts

  • There were three guys in the office that could pass off as brothers because they were all tall and European (at least I think they were all European): Angus, one guy that recently left, and another super tall dude.
  • Patrick and Jimmy (who worked with Patrick) were soulmates and it couple of the company. Whenever one was without the other, it was like hell broke loose. Jimmy was a bit of a player, though, and also had relationships with Tyler and Kaega. A couple of times we would see them talking to each other in the hallway and we would role play. Good laughs.
  • There is a gender divide in the company: the boys hang with the boys, and the girls hang with the girls. Sometime during the first two weeks of the internship, Jimmy, Sheena and I were invited to eat lunch with some of the boys. I didn’t mind because I prefer hanging out with dudes more than chicks, but I was more like, “Let’s all hang because that’s more efficient.”
  • I enjoyed cake of the week, which is surprising because I’m not a big fan of cake except for green tea and tiramisu. Sheena and I made Tim Tam Slam one week and it was a huge hit in the office.
  • One time I was super hungry so I ran out to buy some more food. I saw Tyler (who’s American) on my way out, and I asked him where I should go for food. We ended up grabbing sandwiches at this funky little place (I forgot the name of it). Spontaneous and cool.
  • Either Patrick or Adam (the big dogs of the company) mentioned that they were replacing the plastic tables and giving everybody their own table. It was a happy and sad thought. Happy because then they can get some bookshelves and drawers to organize their stuff in, but sad because the plastic tables kind of set the tone of the company for me. Alas, as the company matures, the look must mature as well.
  • Aurelien was a ball of surprise. I thought he would be a serious-all-the-time dude, but he isn’t. He always has a bunch of jokes ready to go. First my crippled state, then the supposed drunk hidden in me… a very pleasant surprise.
  • One day Angus rolls in a trolley full of Tim Tams, and it was like Christmas Day all over. It was the highlight of that day.
  • I was eating a bag of Starburst Babies one day, and Angus called them little Buddhas. And then Aurora turns around and asks me if she can get some of my babies. That’s probably why they’re called Babies, just so people can ask that question.

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Last Thoughts
I’m glad I interned at the Iconic, though, for several reasons:

  • Working at a company transitioning out of the start-up phase was interesting and suitable to my personality.
  • Meeting people with different accents! Not gonna lie, it was a bit difficult at times deciphering what people were saying (and I’m mostly talking about the Frenchies here).
  • Getting real experience and understanding more about Australian culture before starting classes at Sydney Uni, where I’ll probably still get culture shock, but less so because of this.
  • Friday beer and chips! They should start having that at American companies.
  • Meeting all the people in general. Different backgrounds, different stories to tell… I already miss them all.

It took Sheena and I a little over an hour to say all our goodbyes. Not exactly goodbyes because we’re planning on visit them while we’re still in Australia, so it’s more of a see ya later. But I already miss them, and kind of want to go back, strap myself into a chair and tell them they can’t get rid of me so easily. #separationproblems

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Catch you guys on the flip side,
Cheers,
Juliet

Photos by Juliet and Janus

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