Alice Zhao

3 things I learned in 3 months at Notion

This is a long overdue post, but with so many people asking me to share my experience, I couldn't wait any longer to reflect on my incredible internship journey at Notion! I was grateful to be one of the five interns in the first engineering internship class, on a mission to make toolmaking ubiquitous.

Here's 3 things I’ve learned in those 3 months! 👇 👇

1. Your career is your story to write, not a template to follow.

Many computer science students, including me, envision success through the gates of a FAANG company. While going the big tech route definitely has its perks, taking your own path, one that doesn't follow the usual big company script, can lead to remarkable personal and professional growth.

Notion is a perfectly sized company where it’s not a tiny startup but not a corporate behemoth either. I found myself engaged in projects that held impact. During my internship, I was part of the Data Sync team within the broader API Platform organization. My mission? To enhance the experience for third-party developers looking to integrate with Notion, offering both API functionality and link preview capabilities.

The result? A game-changing feature enabling external developers to construct a single integration that allowed data to seamlessly flow in and out of Notion. This feature unlocked powerful possibilities, such as creating widgets capable of parsing Notion databases and generating charts within link preview blocks.

In the dynamic settings of a smaller company, I can rapidly iterate from design to implementation. Sure, there were moments of ambiguity to navigate, but each challenge was like a golden ticket to pave my unique path and become an expert in an area that I could share with others. For example, after diving deep into OAuth, I was able to explain to a room full of engineers how a 3rd party application and Notion are able to exchange tokens to access user data.

Go after roles that light a fire within you, regardless of whether they're in a big-name company or not. Your path may not be the usual one, but trust me, it can be astonishingly fulfilling. It's a chance to grow personally and professionally while making a real impact along the way.

2. When you bring your true self, you make space for others to do the same.

Transitioning from sales to the tech world at Notion, I initially felt like an outsider among brilliant engineers who were not just technical whizzes but also entrepreneurial spirits. Little did I know, my initial perception couldn't have been more off the mark. Notion showed me that authenticity is the key that unlocks the door for everyone to bring their best selves to work.

One of my favourite memories at Notion was our Friday lunchtime ritual, where Notinos would volunteer to share their life story. Without budging from my seat, I embarked on captivating journeys through tales of growth, college escapades, and the defining moments that had shaped lives. Witnessing this vulnerability inspired me to open up and share my own life story, forging deep connections with my teammates that I never thought possible.

Notion wasn't just a workplace; it was a community. Together, we fed > 200 families at a women's shelter, raced go-karts, and crafted delectable bowls of ramen. As the internship came to a close, 2 engineers organized a heartwarming farewell party, complete with the most mouthwatering Birria tacos I’ve ever had.

These experiences, along with the friendships I've formed at Notion, have instilled in me a sense of belonging. It’s a place where I can be myself, roll up my sleeves and contribute my best work. And you know what’s even better? I hope to keep on making room for others to do the same!

3. Embrace Eudaemonia and own your journey, including mistakes.

At Notion, one of the values that stuck close to my heart was our commitment to “eudaemonia”, a Greek concept that champions fulfillment through hard work and continuous learning. To me, embracing eudaemonia meant taking ownership, even as an intern. One of the scariest moments during my internship was when I caused an incident that required a hot fix. Making a mistake felt devastating. However, it served as a reminder that setbacks are part of the journey, offering invaluable opportunities for learning and improvement.

I came to realize that true ownership meant taking responsibility not only for our successes but also our missteps, using them as stepping stones towards continuous improvement. At Notion, our shared mission is to create an exceptional product that empowers users. With that in mind, it's not about avoiding mistakes, but how we respond to them, regardless of where we are in our career journey.

So what are you waiting for? Notion’s internship applications are now open!

I frequently get questions about interviews, and one thing I'd like to note is that the assessments at Notion are not like the typical Leetcode-style challenges. Instead, they lean more towards practical challenges that assess your debugging and problem-solving skills.

Check out these resources for navigating the recruitment process at Notion!

➡️ Internship Application 🔗 Link

➡️ Notion's values, recruiting, and office activities: 🔗 Link

➡️ Notion's public API. I recommend building an fun integration as a quick side project to understand how to programmatically connect to Notion pages and databases. 🔗 Link

➡️ Don't just trust my experiences, hear from the other interns on their takeaways! 🔗 Link

🚀 Want more insights? Check out my previous post on 8 lessons I've learned in 8 months at Rivian. Also stay tuned for my upcoming post on my experiences at Stripe!