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One motto of our company is that “we want people here, who want to be here”. If a sports team buys a skilled player who will leave at the first sign of hard times or the first tempting offer from somewhere else, they won’t do your team much good in the long run.

A creative company can be compared to a sports team on many levels. If you look at soccer in Europe for example, you will notice that some of the most successful teams are pouring money down the drain to keep up their success, while some of the teams that are competing with them at the highest level, are being run on a shoestring in comparison.

This phenomenon shows that the key to long term success is not primarily to spend money to buy stars off the market, but rather motivation and youth development work to create and forge your own talent. Here at firstborn, we pride ourselves in our internship program for this exact reason.

Talent alone is not enough

One motto of our company is that “we want people here, who want to be here”. If a sports team buys a skilled player who will leave at the first sign of hard times or the first tempting offer from somewhere else, they won’t do your team much good in the long run.

If you identify with your team and fight for the whole idea of it instead of purely your own personal gain, you’ll always push yourself to the next level.

I started at firstborn as an intern in 2006, while I was still studying “Interactive Media” in Germany. The way I approached my search for an internship was to aim for my dreams and only sent a few applications out to the companies that were (and still are) my absolute favorite web design outfits in the world.

Since I had been visiting it regularly back then already, the FWA turned out to be my main tool to pick the companies I was interested in and whose work I could identify with. One of them was Firstborn and I was extremely proud and motivated to find out that I had the chance to become a part of what I thought was one of the best teams out there.

After accepting me into their internship program, they helped me out a lot with getting everything together for my visa and put me in contact with one of their current interns back then, who was from France and answered many of my questions about life in New York as a foreign intern.

I immediately had the feeling of being welcomed into a big family, which made me want to prove my worth to them even more. Looking back at that time now, I have to admit that when I started I probably wasn’t the most skilled intern of all time, but I think I can safely say that my motivation and work ethic made me extremely valuable to the team.

Having a mentor

From my own experience I can say that the most efficient way to improve your skills is to work closely with a more skilled and more experienced person and then add your own personality and style to what you’re learning.

A good sports team will usually have a well balanced mix of older, experienced players as well as younger talents. The later often bring the drive, the passion and the pure will to fight and win into the team, while the more experienced players are able to lead the team with their experience, teach them the tricks that have proven to be effective and guide that somewhat uncontrolled power of the youngsters in the right direction.

That is why the truly great characters in sport always improve the whole team around them and make every single player look better than you would have them expected to be.

During their internship at Firstborn, trainees work very closely with mentors, who are senior employees in the intern’s particular field of interest and responsible for the trainees’ work and progress. In my own case, my Flash development mentor back then was working on a big website and she would assign smaller parts of that project to me and oversee my work.

As interns learn from senior members and prove their skills, they will be trusted with more responsibility and eventually get to manage their own little projects. Today I see that the teacher/student relationship works both ways though, because you can’t teach what you didn’t master yourself.

The role of a mentor forces the senior employees to constantly cover their groundwork and improve their own game. The interns will ask you questions that you haven’t thought about for a while and they will always bring a fresh perspective to the table that helps you reflect on your own methods.

In addition to that, an extremely motivated apprentice is something that can in return motivate the mentor to always go the extra mile.

See beyond your own nose

A player who is versatile and – if need be – can play well on more than just his standard position, will always be valuable to the team. In my opinion, you need to be, to a certain degree, a jack of all trades in our industry to create truly amazing work.

It comes with the multidisciplinary nature of what we do. Luckily, as an intern you have the chance to easily explore all different aspects of our daily work and you should make use of that possibility to try to get involved in as many different things as you can.

This is easier said than done of course because we live in a time, where the nature of projects we do and the type of applications we use requires a higher and higher degree of specialization. For this reason, it is very easy to lose sight of what is going on beyond one’s own nose.

It’s the reason why internal communication of the team is more important than ever. An important tool we have for this at Firstborn is our called “Group Therapy”, which we hold on a regular basis. We all meet up in our conference room and each time a different employee holds a one-hour presentation about a random topic of his or her choice.

The interns contribute to this as well and one of our latest presentations consisted of a variety of their recent school projects, ranging from product design to interactive flash pieces. It is the diversity of the team that makes these sessions so interesting, because the topics will vary a lot and always stay interesting.

Sometimes a developer simply explains the latest technologies in ”lay terms” to the less geeky half of the team, but then there are also presentations that psychologically analyze magical illusions for example.

And that’s the most interesting aspect about our Group Therapy; to see how sometimes things which might seem relatively unrelated to our daily work at first, can somehow be the most inspirational ones.

No place for divas

Sports teams that are simply built around one or two stars rarely will be successful in the long run. What happens if your superstar gets exhausted by having to play all the time, suffers from an injury, has to retire one day or leaves you for a better offer from a different team?

What if instead the players around the star begin to leave, because they feel unappreciated or the play style of the team that focuses on one player doesn’t allow them to play with their full potential?

The German soccer trainer Richard Girulatis once said: “If you want to win, you have to be 11 friends.” And whilst the German National Team was never really renowned for their superstars, they became one of the most successful teams in history through their team effort.

At Firstborn, we have some big names working for us. Mathieu Badimon (Five3D) and Zeh Fernando (Tweener) are two good examples, who have made a name for themselves in the Flash Community.

But the reason why we’re glad to have them is not only because of their huge reputation; it’s the fact that they are humble team players, who –instead of making other employees and interns feel smaller – will always take time to share their experience and skill. For our interns it’s like going to basketball camp with Michael Jordan.

And maybe it’s because of his extensive sports background that Firstborn’s owner Michael Ferdman works hard to keep the team spirit intact like that. Regular extracurricular activities like the gotoAndPlay()-tournament against Big Spaceship or the upcoming annual “Peter Lugers” Steak House visit strengthen the bond between the team members.

The fact that the overall atmosphere resembles a family more than what you’d traditionally think of as a company is crucial for our workflow. If you’re under a lot of stress due to a tight deadline, people will know you well enough to give you the little bit of needed extra space and be a bit more forgiving and supportive than usual.

But more importantly; if interns come up with brilliant ideas, they can be sure that there won’t be any egos ignoring it to keep up some false feeling of superiority. And that is how neither the involved art director, nor the producer, nor the senior flash developer, but rather me, the young and inexperienced, but hard working intern back then managed to get two amazing front row tickets for a NY Knicks game as a reward for my work on a cool project.

After the internship

Many internship experiences of people I know ended up being terrible. Some have been the coffee maker of the company while others become nothing more but exploited slaves, who for six months end up doing the dirty production work no one else wants to do.

The perfect internship program though, is the one that was created with the thought in mind that every single intern could possibly be the next ingenious playmaker of the team. At Firstborn, senior employees spend a lot of time mentoring the interns, but it pays off in the long run, as the trainees grow stronger and become a true part of the family.

Many of them get hired after their internship here, with me being a good example. I started as an intern here and am now mentoring the new ones. We all know through our own professional experience that nothing is more rewarding than to see hard work pay off and it’s just the same for a company with their internship program.


About the author, Jens Fischer
Flash developer, Firstborn

Jens Fischer works as a Flash developer at firstborn in New York City. He is one of the mentors for the internship program and the host for Firstborn’s “Group Therapies”. Whenever he has a little bit of free time (read: never) he posts stuff on his blog (http://www.artofrawr.com).


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