What It’s Like to Be an Intern at Saildrone

Four high-school and college-age students share a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be a Saildrone intern, plus information about how to apply.

November 14, 2019

Saildrone is proud to offer paid summer and school-year internships in composites manufacturing, mechanical engineering, and computer science to high school and college students.

Is an internship at Saildrone right for you? Here’s what four students in four very different roles had to say about their experiences as Saildrone interns.

Why intern at Saildrone?

For some students, a summer or school-year internship at Saildrone is a stepping stone to a career in oceanography or software engineering, for others, it’s a new challenge and a more engaging way to spend the summer than at the neighborhood convenience store.

“I do stage crew at school building sets. I wanted to do something this summer that was hands on. I thought working at Saildrone would be a lot more fun than bagging groceries or babysitting,” said 15-year-old Taylor Teakel, a sophomore at a Bay Area high school.

Kaori Nguyen, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, wanted to combine her studies in marine science with manufacturing. “I began in composites and later moved to mechanical engineering and electrical. I wanted to learn as much as I could and gain a better understanding of how the saildrone sensors interact with the ocean, what kinds of data are being collected, and how it could be applied to slow down the rate of global warming,” she said.

For Matthieu Blanke, a master’s student in applied mathematics, physics, and computer science at the École Polytechnique in Paris, an internship at Saildrone combined his studies and a life-long love of the ocean (both of his parents are oceanographers) with the opportunity to spend a summer abroad and an in-company experience.

“I really wanted to experience what it was like to work in a computer-oriented company. It will be valuable in any kind of tech company I’ll work in because it’s cutting-edge technology, the highest knowledge one can have in a tech or science company. It will also be useful to my education because I’m definitely able to code better and faster now,” said Blanke.

Watch this video to see the scope of work that Saildrone is doing.

What types of jobs are available?

Saildrone designs, builds, and operates a fleet of autonomous ocean drones. The company is unique in that vehicle design, manufacturing, mission and data management, software engineering, UX design, and even weather forecasting all take place under the same roof at Saildrone HQ in Alameda, CA. Team members represent a wide variety of skill sets, all experts in their fields, many of whom have come to Saildrone from renowned public and private science, research, and technology organizations, not to mention quite a few professional sailors and boat builders. Regardless of your interests, the Saildrone team offers a pretty impressive source of knowledge.

A two-time summer intern on the Composites team, 20-year-old Connor Waterloo is a business student at the University of Oregon. “I read an article about the company and I thought what Saildrone is doing is pretty cool. I was just looking for a summer job, and I honestly had no clue, as a business student, what I’d do there. I didn’t know what composites was until I googled it a couple of days before, but the experience definitely exceeded my expectations.”

“I was under the impression that I would be in vinyl, applying the orange outer coating to the saildrones, but they started me in infusion, building the hulls, molding them and shooting them with resin, waiting for them to bake, and then popping them out of the molds and taking them over to where they get trimmed,” explained Teakel. “I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did, and I didn’t think I’d be given as much responsibility as I was since I was younger than everybody there. But pretty quickly, they trusted me to do the things they were doing, and I really liked that a lot.”

Saildrone intern at work
Saildrone interns may work in one or more areas of the company, from laying up carbon to sensor calibration to data quality validation.

Working on the Platform team, Blanke’s work was primarily linked with performing data quality checks and converting data to NetCDF format, which is the format used to distribute collected data to Saildrone’s science partners. “One of the goals of the internship was to check that the NetCDF that was exported is what we expected it to be. It was also very interesting to learn how the microservices are organized. It’s really complex. I knew nothing about this and I got to learn how it worked,” he said.

The company culture

We’ve got a big job ahead of us—building 1,000 saildrones to monitor the ocean at 6x6 resolution (that’s one saildrone per 360 nautical miles squared) to collect high-quality in situ data for fisheries, bathymetry, and climate science research—but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to have fun. All team members, employees and interns alike, are invited to participate in monthly themed barbeques (recent themes include a chili cook off, the annual crab feed, and a build-your-own-pizza party), as well as various employee-organized activities, from swimming and sailing to yoga and fantasy football.

“The company is results driven, but between the barbeques and the banter, it’s a really enjoyable work environment. The company culture is what made me want to come back for a second year,” said Waterloo.

Saildrone crab feed
Saildrone employees catching crab for the annual crab feed. Monthly themed company barbeques are a highlight of the extra-curricular social activities available at Saildrone.

Getting the most out of a Saildrone internship

Preparation is almost always the key to success, no matter if you’re building an autonomous vehicle to circumnavigate Antarctica or planning an epic company barbeque. Blanke suggests taking some time ahead of your internship to familiarize yourself with the job, if possible. “I think I lost a bit of time in the beginning learning the programming tools we use, spending some time with those tools before arriving would have been useful.”

And, whether you work in your educational field or develop a new skill, there are both tangible and intangible benefits to completing an internship at a diverse manufacturing and technology company like Saildrone.

“I probably won’t use the actual technical skills that come with composite work [in my business career], but I’ve learned a lot about teamwork, cooperation, and goal setting,” said Waterloo.

“You have to be self-motivated and assertive about what you would like to get out of your Saildrone internship. I enjoyed seeing a more holistic view of oceanic and atmospheric interactions, and the use of sensors helped me to understand how many factors we need to keep in mind when analyzing data,” said Nguyen.

“I’ve developed a different work ethic since my time at Saildrone, I work a lot more efficiently now. Working with all the people there has made me more confident,” said Teakel, who added that “everyone will eventually want to talk to you. Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

How to apply

Available internships will be posted on our Careers page.

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