The Interns’ Incubator Adventure: Learning to Ship More Than Code [SLIDESHOW]

April 26, 2013


It all started as a joke. The six of us – all interns from the University of Waterloo – were brainstorming ideas for our first hackday at LinkedIn. While we were commenting on our lunch from that day, we thought “Why not build an app to rate our lunches?”. We had the perfect name already picked out: EatIn. Our hack went on to win the “Best Internal Tool” award – a win at our first hackday!

The Winterns from left to right: Aliya Pazylbekova, Terry (Haotian) Lei, Lisa Huang, Bryan Hatton, Jintae (Tristan) Jung, Gary Guo

The \"food dudes\" aka the food services team heard about what we were doing and reached out to us to see if we could release EatIn to the company. The tool they needed was an end-to-end food management platform to publish the menu and display voting metrics. This was more than we could accomplish in a hackday so we applied for the Incubator program which accepts applications from anyone in the company.  If their proposal is accepted, the team is given access to company resources, mentorship from LinkedIn's world class talent, and dedicated work hours on the project.

We were excited and determined to take a shot at Incubator, so we submitted our application to build the EatIn Suite which included:

  • EatIn: an app to view and rate menus
  • OrderIn: a website the food services team uses to publish menus and indicate any allergens the dishes contain.

After passing through the first round of judging, we were selected to present a 2-minute pitch to LinkedIn executives Jeff Weiner, Kevin Scott, Deep Nishar, and Reid Hoffman. They approved our application and welcomed us into the third cohort of the Incubator program.

We had 3 short weeks to deliver EatIn during which we learned some important lessons.

1. Define clear roles

At the outset of our project, we decided what the main components of the project would be and who would take ownership of each. This allowed us to group related tasks and make accountability clear.

2. Always, always, have a succession plan

This lesson was perhaps most important for us, given our role as interns. Our Incubator project began development in mid-March. At this point, we had 6 weeks before our internship would end, setting a strict deadline on all project milestones. To ensure our project lived on, it was important to be able to pass the torch.

3. Start conversations early

When we started working on EatIn Suite we didn't realize the number of people that we'd need to connect with to launch our product. Acquiring devices for testing our mobile applications, procuring a server, and preparing a launch presentation were just a few of the tasks that required cooperation from other people in teams across the company. Starting a conversation early respects others' time, and provides more flexibility.

Each of these lessons reminded us that it takes more than code to ship a product.

When we return to school we will continue to work on EatIn, preparing to release it as an open source end-to-end food management platform.

Thank you to the Incubator team, judges, and our mentors for the support, encouragement and opportunity to build EatIn Suite, and to the many others who helped make our launch possible.

-Bryan on behalf of The Winterns