My Experience Working @ one of the Big Five Banks
Hey!! 👋 I’m a 16-year-old who’s way too passionate about using emerging technologies like Blockchain, Machine Learning and Nanotechnology, etc. to solve important problems in the world.
This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to apply my skills and learn A TON by interning at TD Bank, on the Digital Identity team implementing interesting Ai and Blockchain projects.
To say the least, this summer was insanely crazyy (in a good way). Here are some key highlights:
- Met Ugo Wallet’s Team & learned a lot about the FinTech market
- Met the Layer 6 Team, watched a review from the creator of ODE-RNN Time series and developed a good relationship with the CEO of Layer 6, Tomi!!
- Gave a Tech Connect Presentation & Lunch and Learn to over 160+ TD Workers!
- Built strong relationships with the CEO of TD (Bharat Masrani), EVP of Digital (Rizwan Khalfan), VP of Digital Channels (Franklin Garrigues) and Head of Innovation, Technology and Shared Services at TD (Michael Rhodes).
- OH — and pretty much made besties with most (if not all) of the team in Digital at TD and other parts of the bank like mortgage, insurance and data analytics.
- Learned about and developed skills in, market research, UX/UI, graphic design, design research and front-end/back-end web app development.
- Developed basic banking, finance knowledge and got deep into the FinTech space. Check out this article I wrote on my knowledge ;)
- AND more….
But first, here’s a picture of my team aka my favourite people in the world!!
If you ask me: I’d say this was a pretty successful internship & the best summer I’ve ever had. I’ll try to highlight my key takeaways and learning points without breaking my NDA ;)
This is basically a mix of what I learned but also what I wish I knew before I started the internship.
A New Culture: The Corporate World
I’ve worked with a lot of different startups but the corporate world is very different. I think getting corporate experience (especially early on in your career) is important because it allows you to understand how the world works by working with the big players that shape it the most, you get a lot of market understanding + you understand how to work with other big governments, & institutions.
My intention going in was to understand these few things + identify inefficiencies that I could possibly innovate in. In my small role, I wanted to optimize and add as much value as I could.
This leads me to my first point about adjusting to the corporate environment and priorities.
My biggest personal takeaway was to:
1. Talk to everyone & ask genuine questions which AREN’T generic. The goal is to understand each person and have thought-provoking conversations about things like controversial opinions, achieving happiness and purpose, journeys and mental models/frameworks, as examples.
2. Become easily adaptable and adjust your topic of conversation, and tone to the person you are speaking with. This might seem obvious but there is different value that each person can add to you and being able to gauge, adapt, then set specific intentions for meetings is so important. Having intention allowed me to be memorable which was the biggest reason why I developed such close relationships with most people.
Take notes on your progress, the stuff you’re working on, and things that you like and don’t like.
Establishing clear metrics to measure progress and success is just as important as delivering.
These can be personal (for ex., gaining technical knowledge, understanding your work style, etc.) and also set with your manager (for ex., providing a fresh POV on an implementation, helping advance market research, etc.)
One of my metrics which fall into both categories was to be able to leave a lasting impact. I wanted to do work which would continue even after I left.
After establishing these clear metrics, the next step is to take notes on your progress by self-assessing and asking for continuous feedback from others. I wrote this down in a journal and then would highlight things I’m doing well, and create action items for things I wanted to work on.
This is basically what my journal looked like:
Personal Success Metrics: (check off as you go)
Success Metrics set with Manager: (check off as you go)
Things I’m doing well:
Just do more of this.
Things I need to work on:
Maybe get this validated, collect more data points, then create action items, or JUST create action items.
Learning how to work in a corporate environment from 9–5.
During my internship, I played around a lot with my schedule and environment to understand how I work best. I realized that working 9–5 required some schedule adjustments and I had to learn to communicate better and schedule my time in-between projects.
I figured out that there is a window of time in the morning where I can be most productive for 6–7 hours with a few periodic breaks, doing emails in those breaks work well, then usually right after lunch is the best time for all of my meetings, and right after I can work for a few more hours if I still need to get work done.
This is actually really important for your lasting work impact. Various studies have shown you can save more than 20 hours a week if you optimize better for yourself.
I developed a mental switch to be able to activate “work zone” when I need too and switch to “stories/activating zone” when I need to have meetings or hangout with someone. It’s important to be all in on anything you do.
This study talks a bit more about this but having a pre-made rough template for my day’s structure was helpful in understanding how I operate at my best.
Ask Questions (Lots of Them!)
One of the main things that my co-workers remember about me is that I asked a lot of questions and always asked: “Why?”. Like “Why does this app not have this functionality?” or “Why can’t we change this and do it this other way?”.
You’d be shocked to see how many people don’t have a clear answer to this, which is why it’s okay to push on answers sometimes. You wanna be respectful though and do it in good faith.
The biggest thing I realized was that: Companies with a culture where all employees are encouraged to ask questions, cross-pollinate with other teams will naturally end up being more productive and making fewer mistakes.
Generally, asking questions works in most settings to show that you’re engaged and are following the discussions they’re having.
Building a Web App or Product
When you’re working on a project, you often have to collaborate with a lot of people and pass it off to other teams before it gets officially released. This is especially true in the corporate structure where a task is carefully divided amongst various people. Which is why you have to keep other teams in mind while doing your role, but also don’t overstep where you don’t need too. For ex., while doing design, think about how feasible it would be for a developer to create that feature.
One TD worker I met said it the best:
“By the time you release an app, it looks nothing like what you started out with and that’s okay”.
When developing a product or idea, you need to find the most optimal way to do so, which is usually easiest to implement, easy to pick up by another team, requires the least amount of time and provides you with the same [desired] result.
One of the biggest hurdles I noticed with other projects was the lack of accuracy when it came to resource prediction. Basically, projects ended up needing more resources (or less) than they had intended but requesting this mid-project is very difficult. This is why it’s important to predict things like timeline, resources needed, and labour needed for a project way beforehand.
You want to be customer-focused. This allows you to create something which has value-added and something people actually want. This is key because the goal is for you to stay relevant/accessible throughout the entire customer journey.
UX/UI: User Design is so Important!!
Here are some more design thinking specific things I learned about user experience:
- Usability is simply the idea that an average person should be able to use your products without finding the process frustrating or annoying. This is making sure things work, work well and are really easy to use.
- If you make people think, you make them unhappy. People like to have control, which means they want to know what they should do immediately and then do it.
- When a user opens an app or a web page they should be able to tell right away what it’s for. This comes from really understanding the value it is adding but also making things simple.
- Doing lab tests are important. There are a lot of factors to consider when designing a product. There are also a lot of different people you can target but you want to make something that everyone can use. It’s easy to get tunnel-visioned when you are designing something but doing lab tests on any person (without bias) you can find issues that might have slipped away.
- People will stick to things as long as they work well. This means you have to make your app “sticky”, so that 1. users keep using it after downloading it, and 2. it works well so people don’t move over to something else.
Take Ownership & Figure Stuff Out
Having an intention is so important. You always want to know what exactly you want to get out of working on a project. For me, one of the skills I wanted to develop was my technical knowledge.
So guess what?
We were doing a research project until I realized that this was something TD could build in-house as well. It was a technically challenging project where we learned full-stack web development in just around 14 days.
You want to always feel in control of the work you do, impact you have and what you gain out of it. Might sound obvious, but most people would rather wait around for instructions in which they might not have as much flexibility. Don’t be lazy, be proactive.
In just 2 weeks I learned all I could about web-development (like Node.js, React.js, Google Visions API, etc.). Now trust me, this wasn’t easy at all. I spent hours searching the web, messaging other developers for help, watching videos, and now StackOverflow is my new bff. 👯♀️
Regardless, I figured it out and delivered a PoC which the bank might work on implementing into their existing app!! Pretty sick. By far I think this is the most important skill needed to learn & actually enjoy the process.
Really everyone I met during my stay at TD deserves a shoutout but I’ll try to showcase my gratitude here (hint: this won’t be short):
- Rizwan Khalfan — for always popping in last-minute time during your lunch to chat with me & giving me awesome life advice.
- Nancy — for helping do all paperwork to make our onboarding and offboarding as smooth as possible.
- Summee & Kevin — I can’t thank you guys enough for making this my best summer yet. You guys are the greatest managers EVER, and your constant feedback & help meant a lot!!
- Tomi — thanks for allowing me to visit Layer 6 and get a glimpse at the awesome work you’re doing. Our conversation was very useful and it definitely helped me understand some more problems in the world to tap into!
- Dave — for organizing an awesome Tech Connect and for all your appreciation.
- Zuhair— I love seeing someone with a fresh perspective in the company, and you were exactly that person. Your experience with startups, our lunches and deep conversations about changes we want to see in the company helped me better understand how the world works.
- Imran Khan — thanks a lot for your constant support and help with better understanding the wallet market space like Ugo.
- Matthew — you were one of our very first friends on the team. You’re were constantly here to support us and give us constructive feedback, that meant a lot!!