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Learning from the intern

My intern’s last day of work was this past week. While it seemed to have been very short, he was here for nearly three months. The experience overall was a good one. However, I don’t think I’m ready to be a supervisor. Sure, it’s “fun” to be able to tell people what to do, but it does take away from what I’m doing and right now I still like “doing” rather than “telling.”

I also discovered that I’m not a good teacher. There’s a reason the Wife teaches and a reason I sit at a computer all day. However, I also think that people going through internships should know that the people they are working for are not teacher or professors. Everyone is doing their job for a reason and unless you’re interning with a teacher, don’t expect too much one-on-one time. It’s just not practical. I felt kind of bad not being able to teach him all that he wanted to learn and all that I know he needed, but that’s the way it goes.

luke_skywalker.jpg He has quite a head up on some people I’ve met. My intern’s design skills were really good. He “got it,” which is far more important than being able to technical do things. Anyone can learn how to use Photoshop and other software, but I don’t believe you can teach good design or art. Of course, in my world, there’s no time for “art,” it’s all about making sure colors are correct, logos are where they need to be, and that the design communicates well. I was fortunate I could give him a task and could trust that by the end of the day he’d have it done and done well. Unfortunately, my method of teaching is “here’s your task, you have the tools, figure it out.” Trial-and-error is how I learned, so that’s the only way I know how to do it.

But perhaps the best part of having an intern was learning from him. I’ve spent most of my career as a one-man design team, and that leads to a lot of similar designs and results. You get comfortable with what you do and don’t work too hard to really push yourself. Afterall, if “just enough” keeps people happy, why waste your effort? But intern’s take on designs really opened up my thoughts to how to design and what can be done. If anything, that’s the benefit of the “just do it” method of teaching. I gave him minimal constraints and let him run free and the results were great.

I’m almost emabarrased to say that I now know how to use Photoshop brushes thanks to the intern. Since I was never formally taught Photoshop, I figured out how to do things on my own and just kept doing them without exploring what Photoshop really has to offer. The intern came in and when we were working over a design said, “why don’t you just use a brush?” And I was like, “huh?” I’m sure at the point the intern thought to himself, “and this guy is going to teach me?”

Brushes are a pretty simple feature in Photoshop that makes adding pre-made designs (think clip-art stamps) very easily. It’s something I never learned about so to get the same effect I usually relied on wingding fonts and editing found images. Honestly, learning about brushes entirely changed how I come up with and create site designs. There are tons of brushes out there that give you quick designs and all you need to do is drop them in the right spot. But this trick also showed me that all the cool sites and designs I’ve seen where I thought the person must have mad design skills could very well be faked. When used properly, brushes can make your design look twice as professional and twice as expensive.

I’m not sure if I’d take another intern, but I told people I would, so we’ll see if anyone knocks on the door. All I know is that I don’t have the time or skill to teach any skills. Any future interns will have to come with some knowledge and otherwise just need real-world projects to hone their skills. If they all come like this recent intern then I’ll be completely happy. And it should be known that my intern’s work actually got used. It wasn’t throw away work and wasn’t all shit work.

If you’re in a spot like mine where you aren’t really interested in being a “manager” but have the chance to take on a intern, do so. Keep in mind that no matter what your intern knows or doesn’t know, you’re the expert. They are there to watch and study YOU. Even if they’re older, younger, or come pre-loaded with great work and skills, you’re the Yoda, they’re the Luke. Simple as that.

Originally posted on Dec 7, 2008

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