Key to Success? Work Like You're an Intern -- Every Day

Key to Success? Work Like You're an Intern -- Every Day
Image credit: Derek Bridges | Flickr

“My 1st Song," the last track on Jay Z’s 2003 masterpiece, The Black Album, opens up with a snippet of an interview with the late Notorious BIG.

“Just stay busy, stay working. Puff (Daddy) told me, like, the key to this joint, the key to staying on top of things is to treat everything like it’s your first project...Like it’s your first day like back when you was an intern. Like, that’s how you try to treat things like, stay hungry.”

It so happens that I began my tenure at Waze as an intern in early 2012. I was supposed to be there for three months, but I'm about to hit three years now (whoa) -- probably because I worked every day like I was an intern.

Waze was my first foray into the startup world. I didn’t have an engineering or design background, so I felt out of place. I couldn't code, and I couldn’t make pretty graphs.

But I could hustle.

Related: How to Know When to Say 'No' to a New Opportunity

It was daunting at first, and at times I wondered if I was cut out for it, but I was determined to make it work. I loved the product, and I loved the smart, selfless and purposeful team. So as an intern I added value by saying "yes" to everything.

“Hey, we need someone to crank out blog posts.” I’ll do it!

“Can someone run down and pick up lunch from Sprout?” On it!

“The swag hasn’t gone out to the users. Can someone help me send it?” Of course!

For those of you just getting started -- especially those in a non-technical role -- you need to embrace the hustle. You have to be absolutely sure that you love the product. Whatever you do, it doesn’t have to be glamorous. It just has to be valuable. Those early days when you’re starting out, you're working late and trying to touch as many parts of the business as you can.

Michal, our former head of PR (and my first boss) would come in every day with a list of bugs and errors he would encounter on the app. Over the course of weeks and months, that’s alot of errors that if fixed, would make the app better. That’s the sort of the dedication you need when you’re starting out. Even if your title isn’t “intern” and even if you’ve grown into a more advanced or high-level role, you still need to have that mentality.

Related: Gen Z: Coming to an Internship Near You

After I became a full-time Wazer, I began selling advertising there. It was a role that grew out of necessity. Although I had no contacts and no prior experience in tech sales, I was determined to own it. I began coming into the office at 6 a.m. to call on east coast companies. Bit by bit, with the help of my mentors, both at Waze and from a distance, I began having success. 

“My 1st Song” was supposed to be the last track on the last Jay Z album. It was supposed to be the swan song of an illustrious rap career that saw the young man from Brooklyn's Marcy Projects become a hip-hop legend and a Forbes top man. But Jay couldn’t stay retired and came back three years later with Kingdom Come. Some say his comeback ruined the legacy of The Black Album and subsequently the legacy of the album’s last track. But “My First Song” is still a poignant and succinct reminder that hard work and hustle will get you places.

“When you think back, you thought that you would never make it this far. Then you, take advantage of the luck you handed. Or the talent, you’ve been given. Ain’t no, half stepping, ain’t no, no slipping.”

I didn’t have the prototype “startup” DNA when I began my career. I was an outsider looking for a way in. I couldn’t code, I couldn’t design, I could only hustle and try to make things happen. 

I work hard every day to show the crew at Waze that they made the right choice by giving me that opportunity. So I approach every task like I’m still an intern, like it’s my first project.

Maybe you should too.

Related: You're Never Too Old for an Internship