Internship during lockdown: a lone wolf experience?

A TechWolf Tale by Paavo Van der Eecken

The culmination of my studies was when I joined the pack at TechWolf, a company that uses the power of AI to map data-driven strategic workforce planning. During my internship, I got to research automatic text classification. Using probabilistic language models, we set up a system that could select the passages within vacancies which contain useful information on skills. Not only did this experience teach me a great deal on a technical level, I am convinced that my time at TechWolf also helped me grow as a person.

The start of my experience at TechWolf coincided with the first wave of measures against Covid-19. Much has been said and written about how the virus complicates matters at work, and my experience was no exception. Working from home was not how I had imagined kicking off my internship. It certainly did not make matters easy. Becoming part of an existing group is always somewhat stressful, so getting to know my colleagues over a daily stand-up call, was considerably more difficult. The threshold to reach out when confronted with seemingly silly questions is also higher, when you cannot just glance at someone’s desk to see whether they are busy. It became even more troublesome when I realized that a large part of my day as an intern boiled down to overcoming problems which afterwards seemed trivial.

Despite this far from ideal starting position, the people at TechWolf managed to adapt and make the best of the situation. Due to their technical proficiency, they made the switch towards a digital workplace virtually without a hitch. What I found even more impressive, however, was the extent to which they also succeeded in limiting interpersonal difficulties. Among other things, they invited me to join after-hours boardgame sessions, which allowed me to get to know my colleagues. Even from a distance. My coach, Jeroen, also went above and beyond to what you could expect from a mentor. His passion for the subject was so great that he always seemed glad to answer all of my questions, any time of the day. I am incredibly grateful for how Jeroen managed to set out a possible path for me to take while allowing me the freedom to experiment with the actual implementation.

This mentality, to me, lies at the core of what makes TechWolf a great place to work. The adaptability and willingness to let people find their path while simultaneously providing vital guidance. Their focus on individual responsibility on the one hand and collective support on the other, allows people to go beyond the apparent answers when confronted with a particular problem. This mindset permeated every aspect of my experience at TechWolf. When I mentioned regretting not taking up more classes of mathematics in high school, I immediately got directed towards several self-study resources. The message was clear: you can do something about this if you want; and while we won’t be able to do it for you, we can certainly set you up on the right track. In this way, my colleagues taught me not to let inertia win the day.

Even though I will now commence my travels as a lone wolf, I will always be grateful for my time with the pack. And wherever this path might lead me, I hope I will be able to uphold the values I learned at TechWolf: the ability to be a real go-getter, while simultaneously striving to make the people around me do better.

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