Intern Experiences: Maria

My name is Maria, and I’m nearing the end of my summer internship here at SpanishDict. I’m studying Computer Science and Linguistics at Carnegie Mellon, so a tech company that specializes in language has been a great fit for me. Before starting here, I didn’t have much of an idea of what things would be like, but the experience has been better than I could have expected.

I came in with two other interns, Hari and Zach, and from day one we felt extremely welcome in the office and were treated as real members of the team. I think it can be difficult for students today to find internships that are both challenging and relevant to their interests, but the SpanishDict team has done a great job of fulfilling both of these needs. We were each given a project that was suited to our individual interests, which for me meant natural language processing research.

I had a decent background in Linguistics and a basic understanding of some machine learning algorithms coming into the summer, so I was excited to get to further explore the strategies and applications of NLP. I got to spend time learning about the Natural Language Toolkit, which is a great NLP library for Python. I also did quite a bit of research into the world of linguistic data, and it quickly became apparent that even the most basic types of NLP may not be as solved as we might think. While I do not have a finished product coming out of this project, I’ve had the chance to see some of the amazing things that can be done with language technology.

After finishing my NLP research, I moved into the world of web programming, which I had only barely touched on in the past. If you had asked me before this summer if I wanted to be doing web programming, I probably would have told you no. It seemed like such a limited technology to me, but now I realize that’s only because I had no idea what kinds of things could be done with web applications. SpanishDict had me working with some of the most cutting-edge technologies such as audio recording within the browser, drag-and-drop interfaces, and icon fonts as replacements for images. Now that I’ve seen what kinds of things can be done with only HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, I’m excited to see how the web experience becomes more interactive and eye-catching over the next few years and to have a chance to potentially be a part of that.

In addition to learning so many new technologies this summer, I’ve been lucky to be a part of such a motivated and engaging team. When I first saw how small the team was, the impressive numbers of how many people use the site seemed unbelievable. However, after spending a few months hearing about everyone’s hard work and creative ideas, it’s easy to see how the site is so successful. Everyone at SpanishDict holds their own work to such high standards, and bringing a quality experience to the users is the first priority. At the same time, there’s still a fun and laid-back atmosphere in the office, and I’ve had an awesome time getting to know my coworkers both at work and while exploring DC during our group events.

Overall, this has been quite an eye-opening summer! I’m grateful to have had the chance to work on a product that will help so many people learn a foreign language. My skills as an engineer have definitely improved, and I now have a much better idea of how large code bases are maintained and organized in the real world, which is something my coursework has not exposed me to. Finally, working in a small team has taught me so much in addition to the engineering side of things, such as advertising strategies and search engine optimization. This has been a rewarding experience for me, and I’m excited to see the great things that will come from SpanishDict in the future!