Last month, I spent two weeks working with Bippit – a huge contrast to my other life as a prison officer in an almost 180-year-old prison, on the Unlocked Graduates leadership development programme. The programme includes an opportunity to take a two-week work placement outside of the prison service. Having enjoyed previous work in the start-up world, I was keen to spend my two weeks with a small, agile, early-stage team with a social mission. With a viable business model to create social good in tandem with financial return, Bippit fit my full criteria. Of course, we never met in person, but they were super welcoming through my laptop screen, and I felt a valued part of the team all the same. My brief was to design and run a user research project to understand how people across the UK feel about, and manage, their money. Here are my reflections:

User Research in the context of uncertainty

I was speaking with users in the midst of a lockdown, before any restrictions were eased, and before Black Lives Matter (BLM) had built the momentum it has today (and counting). If you’re talking to users and developing a product or service with any kind of valuable social impact, these contexts matter. I did not have to mention COVID-19 for it to come up in conversation. Whatever their financial position, all users were acutely aware of the uncertainty they live in, made even clearer by a global pandemic. Similarly, I wonder how BLM has impacted people’s outlook more recently. Perhaps, hopefully, we’d find an increased awareness of the ways that structural racism has shaped our lives in various ways. I haven’t done the research. I don’t know. But if you’re doing work that matters, these global events matter. That’s not just nice to know – it means that your work has a role in making things better by building new systems to create the change that 2020 is calling for.

Smaller team, bigger opportunity

While some may think that internships at big, well-known organisations are “good for the CV”, it is at smaller, early-stage, and fast-paced organisations where you will be given the most responsibility and likely have the most impact in a short space of time. The current size and stage of the Bippit team meant that from day one, I was exposed to all areas of the business and could contribute to conversations outside of my immediate work. Equally, this meant that I was able to develop user insights for multiple areas of the business, such as product development and positioning, UX/UI, language, and growth.

Treat your internship like a contract

Yes, an internship is intended for you to learn, but you’ll learn most if you treat it like a contract and do your best work. Unlike contract work, you don’t need extensive experience in order to simply have a go. Get the best out of both worlds by thinking about what you can offer and what you’d like to gain. Grace (CPO) and I prepared well by working together in advance of my placement to scope out a project that both Bippit and I would benefit from. I was then able to make the most of my time from day one.

I’m a WFH fan

I thought I’d get cabin fever, but it just so happens that I focus brilliantly at home. I know that this isn’t the same for everyone, but I’m hopeful that we’ll all now be more aware of our own best working practices, what offices are good and not-so-good for, and who should be working where for the best outcomes. This also means new opportunities to fill the shadows of past commute time with something far nicer. If you’re doing something that matters, even a later clock-off is a vast improvement, in my humble opinion.