Memrise has been delighted to have Irina Usenko interning with the Language Learning Research Team over the past six weeks. We caught up with her to find out about her experiences, and whether she’d recommend doing an internship with us!
What was going through your head as you were on your way to your first day at Memrise?
It was on the night before I started that Memrise had scooped the Best App trophy at this year’s Google Play Awards, so I was thrilled to begin my internship amid an especially festive atmosphere at the office. I’d never been an intern before. Needless to say I was nervous, so I got jacked up on unholy amounts of coffee and arrived long before the working day began. Not yet familiar with the idea of ‘start-up casual’, I came hilariously over-dressed. I also called up my old Classics teacher that morning, as she was the one to first introduce me to Memrise as a revision tool for Latin A-Level. She was supportive and thrilled to hear about it.
What has surprised you most about working at Memrise?
I joined the Language Research team – a division of incredibly intelligent young people – and I guess what surprised me most was how willing they were to put their own (very demanding) tasks aside to answer my questions and introduce me to the ways of the company. As an intern, I didn’t expect to be taken so seriously, nor did I think that my contributions and ideas would be so appreciated. My supervisor Anne was especially lovely and attentive, as she would always patiently offer her time and ensure that I had the relevant resources for any given task.
Even those who weren’t immediately associated to the team would approach me in the kitchen to introduce themselves and welcome me to the office. As cliché as this may sound, Memrise really is like a family.
Last but not least, the fridge and the snacks department. I find the ‘healthy’ snack selection very interesting. Since starting, I’ve consumed more complex carbohydrates, nutrients and fibre than I have throughout my entire university career. Hats off to Lien.
How many cups of coffee have you been asked to make since you started your internship?
Zero. Not a single photocopy either 🙂
What has your internship taught you about life at the world’s most joyful language learning startup?
Having sat through numerous meetings and ‘dive’ sessions, the most prominent element of Memrise’s progress is the importance of setting, communicating and monitoring goals, for both teams and individuals. The framework of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) holds a bit of a cult status around here when it comes to engaging and aligning everyone’s perspective and creativity. Having seen OKRs discussed and devised, I witnessed just how much collaborative effort and inter-team communication is behind what may seem like a tiny feature of the app. I found this kind of team spirit very inspiring.
In terms of creating a product, I found it endlessly fascinating to see just how many factors and forces are considered when creating new and better courses, or even just enriching the existing content. The most crucial elements of these discussions concern the learner, be it user-testing feedback or the psychology of language acquisition. The guys at Memrise are really groundbreaking in establishing what it takes to learn a language as efficiently as possible, whilst making use of all the technological resources at their disposal. It’s been an honour to be part of it, even for a brief while.
Would you recommend doing an internship at Memrise?
Absolutely. The variety of tasks I was given was immense, the regular meetings offered very practical insights into the day-to-day of the team and other professional fields. People here are hard-working, motivated and genuinely love what they do. Ed is fantastic – friendly, hands-on and very inspiring in his passion for languages and Memrise itself. I’ve enjoyed every single day of my time here and am endlessly grateful for this opportunity!
Irina grew up in Dnepropetrovsk – a proud industrial city on the banks of the Dniepr river in Eastern Ukraine. She was sent to boarding school in rural Suffolk, not long after her 9th birthday. She arrived speaking minimal English and struggled to cope with living abroad on her own, while trying to understand and keep up with schoolwork. She picked up the language quickly and thoroughly, and then was introduced to Latin and Ancient Greek, which made her realise she wanted to pursue languages on an academic level.
Currently she is at UCL, reading Classics as an undergraduate, along with Farsi at SOAS and studying translation as an affiliate at the Chartered Institute of Linguists. She is fluent in French and Bulgarian, with conversational Mandarin. In her degree she has focused on Homeric texts and ancient philosophy. Besides university stuff, she’s been trying her hand at Russian – English translation on a freelance basis. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the piano and exploring London.