Building and Breaking, and Building Again by Lea Sparkman


Starting the summer at Quicken—and generally immersing myself in the intern experience—is a lot like putting together a piece of Ikea furniture. All of the parts are there from the start; figuring out how to properly and strategically arrange them is the tricky part. In fact, it often takes multiple attempts, as I learned when trying to build a shelf for my dorm room. Swap a screwdriver for a computer, wooden panels with ReactJs and CSS, and you have the tools and components to construct my summer intern project: a web page that allows Quicken customers to manager their account, including easy access to editing their subscription, billing, and personal information. Simple, and deceivingly so.

The greatest feat in this process was familiarizing myself with the tools at hand; after all, React and Redux aren’t exactly household items that I had grown up using. I started the first day with all of my web contraptions in front of me, a set of tips from my mentor, and an extensive list of tutorials to help me figure out how the pieces of my project fit together. My mentor Kelly, who had already set up the framework of the account manager page, stepped me through the project, encouraging me to tinker with the code to learn how all of the little pieces fit together.

 I embarked on a journey of learning-by-doing—or, rather, learning-by-taking-apart—changing existing functions, adding new ones, and slowly building out entirely new features. “Edit-Undo” became my favorite feature; I broke API requests then retraced my steps to see what had gone wrong, and I chased one bug after another until I started to grasp the rules of web development. I tried dozens of ways to implement a feature, in each incorrect attempt a hidden lesson. Every so often, things would go right, and I would emerge from the trenches of coding with a shiny new feature.

This process is ongoing, and I’ve noticed it’s one with which most Quicken employees in product development are familiar. In daily team “stand-up” meetings, engineers share their non-linear progress underlying their programming accomplishments; they trade strategies on how to best construct the components they’ve built before, brainstorm new ones, and lend a hand when more support is needed. The design team iterates through various wireframes before arriving at one that’s intuitive to the user, and quality assurance finds bugs in features and must re-test fixes, continuously tweaking, iterating, and adjusting. Each of us at Quicken, in one way or another, is building some sort of Ikea furniture, inching towards a final product and figuring out the steps along the way. Quicken is a team of builders, wonderfully intertwined, always working together.

Even though I’m only interning here for a few months, I’m grateful that product development has given me a spot on their team. From welcoming me into stand-up meetings, customer care calls and bi-monthly paper airplane contests (maybe by the end of the summer my folded creation will actually take flight), they’ve carved out a place in their busy work days for me to learn, break things, and ask lots of questions. If things go right, by the end of the summer I just might have the website equivalent of a beautiful piece of furniture—I’ll keep you posted.