Most people my age seek summer internships in New York, D.C., and Los Angeles – cities with an almost unavoidable allure for 21-year-old college students. I’ll admit, it was difficult not to take that path and it certainly would have been the more comfortable choice. However, while those cities have so much to offer, I wanted something else. Obtaining valuable work experience was a top-priority but immersing myself in unfamiliar territory so I could grow more confident in my knowledge of myself and my goals was equally as important. Somehow, someway, I boarded a plane in early May to commence my summer internship in…Finland?
Believe me, I was as surprised at that result as you probably are, but my time in Finland and at Innofactor provided me with all the insight and perspective I had hoped for. From boat tours and seaside restaurants to discovering my new hero Michael Monroe, I’ll carry the memories and stories of my trip with me for a long time. The real value of my Finnish experience, however, was harvested from my daily work at Innofactor. Hands-on work and lengthy training in operating web-tools will certainly help me going forward but more enlightening were the larger lessons Innofactor instilled in me that I will apply to my educational and professional ventures for years to come.
The priceless value of a good working environment
It took just minutes to sense the first-class working environment when I arrived at the Espoo office of Innofactor on my first day. Spatially, desks are big enough to provide all the personal space needed but aligned in a way that promotes interaction and communication. From marketing and sales to tech support, various teams within the company share space which facilitates both a holistic understanding of company processes and easy collaboration. I was constantly learning, and not just about my own department and from members of my own team.
Although the spatial setup of the company is something to admire, the exceptional employees are the real driving force behind the extraordinary work environment. Kindness is a constant and questions are not only acceptable but encouraged. My co-workers instantly welcomed me to the team and took a genuine interest in learning about my life, interests, and more. This was not just because I was the office American, they share their lives beyond work with each other, plan after-work activities, and have personal relationships that I believe truly brings out everyone’s best work. Walking into a friendly and motivating office each day and feeling comfortable asking questions as well as offering my own opinion allowed me to work at the best of my abilities no matter the task. Work days felt shorter even when they ran long, and I never walked in or out of the office with doubt – a feeling I will no longer take for granted.
Things will get messy
Innofactor is a remarkable melting pot of culture, language, personality, and technology. Together these ingredients help create innovative products, partnerships, and solutions. Collaboration on projects between people who are from multiple countries and backgrounds, speak multiple languages, and offer various skill sets is an advantage Innofactor has that is unlike anything I have seen before.
However, technology can be messy, and a multitude of people means a multitude of thoughts and opinions. Disagreements and malfunctions are inevitable in such a unique process, but how you respond to these issues is the real question. You can’t be stubborn and narrow-minded, nor can you panic when something goes wrong and things get messy. It sounds simple but learning to be open to outside opinions and ideas without allowing yourself to be stepped on as well as mastering how to direct your focus and energy in difficult circumstances are abilities that go a long way in any situation.
Appreciate opportunities to learn
I hesitate to admit that it took me over 21 years of life and a trip to a country 4,000+ miles from home to truly appreciate learning outside of an academic setting, but I guess it’s better late than never. I’ve always valued learning in school because, well, it’s important and necessary. Working at Innofactor and traveling throughout Finland and neighboring countries has made me look at learning in a new light. You can truly learn from anything and anybody, and the more you choose to do so, the more you will grow and develop as a person. At work, if you have the opportunity to sit in on a meeting or work on a project even though it may have nothing to do with your specific responsibilities, don’t hesitate. Whether or not it gives you concrete knowledge, perspective or appreciation, it will benefit you and your work in one way or another if you allow it to. Take time and reflect on your experiences and interactions, however little they may seem, to see what you can learn from what you did or saw, from your success or failure, from anything - it doesn’t matter.
If nothing else, try new things and don’t fear being uncomfortable. Comfort is momentary but what you learn could be permanent.