Interning at a Big 5 Bank at 17!

This summer I got to work at one of Canada’s biggest banks, CIBC. Interning as a junior product analyst on the Digital Delivery and Product Team.

I am grateful, crazy grateful. It’s not normal for teenagers to work at banks. It’s extra not normal for teens to work remotely at a bank during a pandemic when millions are struggling to keep their jobs.

I was not entitled to this opportunity, my gratitude is through the ROOF!

This article is for myself to reflect on the experience, to show gratitude to those who made the experience special and for others to learn from.

People ARE the company.

Growing up banks were these big buildings, with their famous logos and ads.

But ̶b̶a̶n̶k̶s̶ any corporation is much more than a logo and name, it’s the people behind the corporation, the products and the experience. The people you interact with when you walk through the door. The culture and dynamic are what sets the stage for the experience.

CIBC is big. Over 40,000 people big.

Every person plays a role in your experience, every small detail has a team of people working behind it.

When you talk to the people behind the products and experiences, always ask why — why did they create something the way that they did? There is almost always an underlying intention behind the way they designed or tackled a task.

Doing this, you’ll learn more about the way you interact with products and what others are subconsciously drawn to in an experience.

It’s not just the people who play a direct hand in creation you need to talk to, it’s everyone because one way or another everyone in the corporation can influence an experience. From feedback or the way, their facial reaction is perceived when they’re told about an idea.

Not to mention, everyone you meet can add value to you, regardless of where they are in the company or what team. People have unique experiences and data points, they can look at problems from a different angle and offer unique advice. You just have to ask the right questions, specific > generic questions.

Set up dozens of coffee chats, come with an intention or curiosity. Ensure you add value back to the person.

Make the details satisfying…

Working on a product team, the attention to detail was insane; every extra space in a PowerPoint, defect in the code was caught.

It wasn’t done alone…

Team discussions and feedback let us see beyond what we individually could see.

Because people’s brains are built differently, having a diversity of thinking allows you to fine-tune details and those easy to look over mistakes. For our team, this was a bi-product of communication and frequent reviews.

User and employee testing is where you fine-tune. Analytics are extremely useful, but the power of a one on one test is invaluable, so much data can be pulled about the product from the tester without them saying a word. The way they move their mouse around the screen, the time it takes them to complete a task, their facial expression.

Ask the user, what’s the most and least satisfying part of the experience.

A key learning from a UX designer was that products are more psychological than physical. You need to understand what triggers positive chemicals in humans and what does the opposite. You want the user to leave the experience feeling good and like they’ve been taken care of. The type of language, colors, fonts, and waiting indicators can massively influence engagement.

Communication Asymmetry is the root of most problems.

Every day our team had standup and update meetings and we often invited others. By giving others transparency on the project, it sparked dozens of new thoughts and ideas. On the other hand, having transparency on projects that I wasn’t involved in, sparked ideas and insights for my projects.

Often, majority of company problems stem from miscommunication. You need to make sure everyone's on the same page on what work is allocated to who and what direction the project is going in. You need a transparent system to track this.

Everyone on our team could see each other's roadblocks, what they had to get done, and where we planned to be marked by date. During our standups, the meeting pm would ask about progress from the day before, what we planned on doing that day and identifying roadblocks. Then problem-solving during the meeting to mitigate the roadblock or schedule time after the meeting to take the problem offline.

Tracking changes is crucial. It allows you to measure progress and have a record to look back on, you can use this to pinpoint past mistakes and learn how to avoid them for the future. For others, it makes it easier to understand what you’re working on, and when passing on projects to others it reduces friction.

Be Clear.

Every company has its acronyms and lingo, but it’s magnified in the cooperate world.

Every team has its own play on language. Lingo’s awesome because it makes communication faster and creates a sense of community. But lingo can also be a barrier for people just starting out or listening in from other teams. CIBC does a great job of documenting lingo, creating repositories for people to look up and add terms.

This is a massive takeaway for me when working on projects with others I have to cognizant of their understanding of language and that I have background information that they might not.

The action item: create simplified explanations or playbooks that make sure everyone’s on the same page and comfortable.

Ask questions, if you have a question chances are someone else has a similar question. Make sure you pause when you talk to make sure people are understanding. Encourage them to ask questions. After mentioning a complex topic follow up with an analogy or “i.e”.

Give a Pat on the Back!

After sprints, we’d hold debriefs going over, what worked and what didn’t during our sprints, as well as giving each other appreciation shout outs. Members on the team were publicly praised.

This celebration culture went beyond our team, there were community events with hundreds attending. Given COVID-19, these celebrations were virtual but normally they would book out a fun space and turn it into an event.

Celebrating others whether it be one on one or publically, comes at no cost. It makes people’s days and results in them being more dedicated to their work.

You are going to be around these people for the majority of your day in some cases more than your family. Start treating and supporting them like it.

Measure success.

From everything to user testing and early product presentations, people want to know, how do you know what you’re doing is successful? What metrics are in place to determine that. Why those metrics?

Having a set of predetermined metrics can alert you of red flags when things aren’t sailing smoothly and when things are on doing better than expected. This helps you also further pinpoint the reasons why they are or aren’t successful for future projects.

Figure stuff out!

As a highschooler, school is nothing like a job.

Coming in as an intern you have to be resourceful. But remember you’re not the only intern or newbie the company has had before.

There are resources to help you. Internal organization charts, playbooks, articles you just have to look for them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in addition to being resourceful.

If you don’t know how to do something before you ask the question do a quick google search. Sometimes it gets you information faster, but more importantly, it trains your skill of figuring stuff out.

This was an amazing learning experience! My manager gave me some great advice to use every experience as a chance to understand yourself better. To learn about your likes and dislikes.

When looking for future work, think about what aspects of the job you felt most fulfilled in and what aspects you didn’t. Recording these will help you reflect and make future decisions. This applies not just to work but all aspects of life.

Massive thanks to Clementia Andam and Alex Kleiser for being my mentors and supporting us throughout. The power of mentorship is underrated.

Highly recommend setting up bi-weekly syncs with a mentor to update them on your progress, roadblocks and learnings.

Thank you to everyone I got a chance to meet with and for making this experience possible!




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Eesha Ulhaq

Eesha Ulhaq

Playing around with blockchain and machine learning. 17. Trying to understand my self and the world.