“A Challenge I Would Not Trade A Second Of”

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For a few years, Smashing Magazine has been my first tab to start every browsing session (right after checking Gmail and Facebook). Assuming that the company was based somewhere in the US, I was quite surprised to discover that its headquarters are — from a global perspective — just around the corner from me. I was halfway through a “reasonable” degree in philosophy, politics and economics and still could not get the passion for Web design out of my head.

Aside from being a pure designer or developer, I had no idea how one could pursue a career in that field, and I needed some inspiration. With Smashing Magazine being so close, I emailed Vitaly and was kindly invited to visit the Smashing crew. I dropped by the office in October 2011 and gained many insights into the roles and backgrounds of the team members. I left Freiburg motivated with many ideas and plans for the future.

A week later, coincidentally, a tweet popped up announcing that Smashing Magazine was looking for interns in 2012, and I applied instantly. I had other plans for 2012 and was not sure this would be the right decision, but in waiting anxiously for a reply, I realized that I really wanted this position. The confirmation came a few days later, and my plans for 2012 were postponed to 2013.

An Encouraging And Friendly Work Environment

It is amazing how fast six months pass by. I started my internship in April 2012, when the final touches were being put on the Smashing Book 3 and the whole office was super-busy. Nevertheless, I was welcomed with flowers and a greeting card, and everyone made an effort to show me around and answer my questions.

Having to carry out many different tasks made it possible for me to work with nearly everyone on the team and to get to know my colleagues beyond work. This was also enabled by the little office parties we had and the Friday lunch tradition. From the first day, I was warmly welcomed and felt like a full member of the company. Having experienced other work environments, I know this is not a given, and it makes Smashing Magazine — and the team behind it — very special!

I knew my way around InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop as well as HTML, CSS and WordPress before starting this internship. However, working at Smashing Magazine, I always had an incentive and a responsibility to extend my knowledge and improve my workflow — including in my familiar fields of interest. Smashing Magazine is never satisfied with half-finished results. This puts you under reasonable pressure at some stages, but it also maximizes your learning and prepares you well for the future. Describing all of the tasks I carried out would take me beyond the scope of this article, so I will touch on just a few.

Some Of My Tasks

My first task was to create a GIF animation to promote the new book — something I had never done before. Together with team members Talita, Jan and Stephan, I was able to acquire techniques in film, animation and relevant software, and I learned how much effort it takes to produce such a tiny movie. We experimented with stop motion and with a GIF technique inspired by Jamie Beck1.

book-3-gif_version-7.5
One version of the GIF, after experimenting with many approaches.

Contributing to the Smashing Newsletter2 was also fun. You come across so many interesting topics, and knowing that your text will be read by over 50,000 subscribers is just a blast. At first, writing two decent paragraphs took me ages. But noticing myself become faster and better with every new topic was great.

One task I loved was developing the first in-house magazine, which I named SmashPost. The idea was initiated by cofounder Sven Lennartz and caused some psychological stress from me — not because creating an internal magazine is such a huge challenge, but because producing a document for such a creative environment and at the high standard that I imposed on myself felt like a real challenge. The first issue was finally published and got very positive reviews from the team. I enjoyed developing content for subsequent issues more and more.

smashpost
Cover samples of the in-house magazine, SmashPost.

SmashPost features in-house coverage of happenings at Smashing Magazine’s office. It introduces new team members, announces organizational changes within the company and informs everyone about closed and ongoing projects and new ideas. For every issue, I tried to find a current theme (like the European Football Championships or the Olympics) and mixed in-house content with cartoons, graphics, jokes and fun facts related to the theme. I also implemented ongoing features like “The Sheldon Quote” and quotes, like this one, from “Star Wars: Family Guy Edition”:

Soldier 2: Hold your fire. There are no life forms aboard.

Terry: Hold your fire?! What, are we paying by the laser now?

Soldier 2: You don’t do the budget, Terry. I do.

The “Redesign the Web” contest3 was another stressful yet exciting task. This time, I was challenged to develop an effective technique of organizing hundreds of emails and files and keeping track of everything. Being the first one to see all of this creative talent and to be directly in contact with the Smashing community was amazing. It also felt great to be entrusted to communicate independently with the participants and to be included in the selection process.

redesigntheweb
A selection of entries in the “Redesign the Web” contest.

The absolute highlight was definitely the first Smashing Conference 20124 in Freiburg. In conducting interviews, I got to know popular speakers such as Andy Clarke, Paul Boag and Jeremy Keith, and I had many interesting conversations about topics both related and unrelated to the Web. Seeing them now online is great; you can view my interviews with Stephen Hay, Rachel Andrew and Jeremy Keith5, and with Brad Frost and Andy Clarke6.

As a member of the organizational team, I always had a reason to talk to participants and to get to know many interesting people. Meeting the Smashing community in the flesh was also great, and I hope to see some of them again in the future.

P1010263
Me at the first Smashing Conference, in September 2012.

Another highlight was revealed two months after I had completed my internship at Smashing Magazine. During the summer, the editorial team was working on a new book publication titled The Mobile Book7. Vitaly asked me to come up with some ideas for the book’s layout. He was aiming for a modern yet classic look that was different from the usual Smashing Books. After many drafts and revisions with the illustrators, designers and layouters, we developed a quite satisfying result. Just before Christmas, my copy of the book arrived, and I was more than stoked to find my name in the imprint. Seeing your name printed and your ideas captured in something as lasting as an actual book — or, as Jeremy Keith puts it, “an artifact of [this] time” — is absolutely amazing!

I also enjoyed my many other tasks, such as creating the eBook covers, implementing the Smashing Media website and so on. The best thing about the internship was definitely the abundance of very diverse tasks.

Conclusion

I am really grateful for my time at Smashing Magazine. It was a challenge I would not trade a second of. While working at Smashing Magazine, I was given a lot of freedom to find my own solutions to challenges, but there was always support and constructive feedback when I faced difficulties and got stuck. I was always encouraged to give my honest opinion and to initiate new projects. Furthermore, the various tasks enabled me to express and develop my skills and interests in very different ways.

Before starting at Smashing Magazine, I was a little concerned about whether I could live up to the high standards. But I got very positive feedback for my work and gained a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities. I am now back at university completing my degree, and my future after graduation is still completely open. However, I am now confident that I am on the right track and that the right opportunity will open up when the time comes.

Smashing Magazine is always looking for talented trainees to join the team. Usually, two positions are available starting in May and October for six months. I certainly enjoyed my time in Freiburg, and if you’re looking for a great experience as well, then what are you waiting for?!

Apply now!8

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Former trainee Melanie, completed her degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Otago University, and is now back working in the Smashing Editorial Team while freelancing and being a part-time politician. She's interested in many things like writing, web design, politics, travelling and underwater rugby, and tweets as @mel_in_media.

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  1. 1

    “just around the corner”: between Germany and … New Zealand? Either Melanie is an international student in NZ, or that was an attempt at sarcasm that just didn’t work! (More on point, if you were a Kiwi, how did you fare with all the visa stuff?)

    -2
    • 2

      @Vicky

      Sorry for the confusion. I’m actually German normally living in Germany. However I study in NZ but in my second year I was at Konstanz Uni in Germany and that was the time I visited Smashing.

      As a kiwi you might be entitled for a work and holiday visa.

      3
  2. 4

    Very nice article, Melanie. It was a pleasure meeting you in Freiburg. Hope we meet someday again! All the best for everything you do from now on.

    /marc

    3
    • 5

      Thanks Marc. It was nice meeting you too. Probably see you at some Meetup, Workshop or at Smashing Conf 2014.

      1
  3. 6

    Chathura Asanga Kulasinghe

    April 17, 2013 7:01 am

    “Smashing Magazine has been my first tab to start every browsing session”

    This statement is valid for me as well. ( Right after checking gmail ; but before visiting facebook ) :-)

    2
  4. 7

    Kelvin Castelino

    April 17, 2013 7:39 am

    Wow! That did really inspire me to join this team now! But place and region would always be a concern, while I am in India, I dont think it would be so easy for me to relocate :(

    2
  5. 8

    Nice article Melanie! I think what we can all take away from your experience is that with a little bit of creativity and motivation, anything is possible. There are always challenges along the path but the outcome is always worth it. Your designs are something to be proud of; and the possibilities can only get better from here on out. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future! Good luck at university!

    2
  6. 10

    Hi Melanie,
    That’s some internship you had there! Sounds like you had a blast!
    I have some part time work that may interest you? It could fit quite nicely around your studies. This looks spammy doesn’t it? Ive looked for other ways to contact you, but I cant find you on Linkedin or Facebook. I suspect that if I put any kind of address in here the the spam filters will pick it up. What is the best way of contacting you?
    Rachel Probert

    1
  7. 12

    Lovely article and very well written. You did a fantastic job at Smashing Conf 2012. I don’t think i ever saw you without a smile on your face. Good luck in whatever you decide to do in the future, whatever it is I’m certain you will be a massive success. Maybe see you at a conference in the future.

    2
    • 13

      Thanks Chris. Haha, well it wasn’t too hard to keep up the smile with great people like you around ;o). I really wanna attend more conferences in future. It’s always great to meet so many like-minded people.

      1
  8. 14

    Jessica Bordeau

    April 21, 2013 6:15 pm

    It’s great to read this article Melanie. As a previous intern myself, it reminds me of an exciting time! I am sure you will keep beautiful memories of all this, I sure do and even still miss it sometimes, though i was two years ago already ;) Good luck for the future.

    1
  9. 15

    Thanks Jessica. Your article on your internship was one of my inspirational sources to strive for high standards and push for great outcomes. That time will always have a special place in my memories. Moreover, it also showed me what values are important when choosing a work environment and that life is too short to put up with shit conditions ;o).

    1
  10. 16

    It seems like a good place to work at, I think I should apply :)

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  11. 17

    Smashing dreams… quite inspirational article… thanks for sharing this all Melanie Lang

    :) :)

    0
  12. 18

    Hi,

    Thanks a lot for sharing this nice post with us…….

    Thanks
    Vparas

    0

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