Almost two years ago, as a high school sophomore, I joined a program run by my local school district (Oakland Unified) called the Jr. CEOs (a.k.a. the Jr. Community Entrepreneurs of Oakland). The goal of the program was to take in teenagers with zero knowledge of how the world of business operates and shoot them out with a full-fledged business plan for a model company.
The twist of the program was that the model company we created had to benefit the community (specifically Oakland) in some way, which made it a lot more interesting. I started off by thinking about Oakland today, and all of the amazing “distinctively Oakland” small businesses popping up (from clothing stores to coffee shops to grocers). These merchants really meant something to me because I felt like they represented my home and my culture.
I wanted to help the small businesses of Oakland take on the big-name stores of the surrounding suburban areas somehow. The business plan I ended up developing was aimed at taking on just that: a payments company, dubbed EasyPay Oakland, which would bring big-business loyalty tactics to the small guys. The method was a single card that would reward locals for shopping at Oakland merchants, while eventually eliminating the need for punch-cards, coupons and even cash.
Right around the time of my final presentation, when my idea won first place in the teen competition, I saw a postcard in the offices of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce (which sponsored the youth business program) advertising something called “The Explore Oakland Card.” The details were still fuzzy (as it was still “coming soon” at the time), but I knew this couldn’t be much different from what I had envisioned. I was excited and, at the same time, amazed that the timing could be so perfect. After the competition, I ordered my own “Explore Oakland Card,” which I soon found out was a campaign of the Marqeta Card. After a couple of uses, I fell in love with Marqeta and I knew I wanted to at least learn a little more about how they made this idea a reality. Not expecting much, I contacted the customer support team to ask if I could come visit one day and just get a feel for the company.
As a high-schooler with little to no knowledge of how the payments industry works (“just swipe the card and ta-dah, everything is paid for!”), I was shocked when I got an email back from Marqeta’s CEO, Jason Gardner, last April. I had reached out to a number of companies before about the coveted summer internship, knowing that my chances for anything, even just a response, were slim (college internships are hard to come by these days, let alone high school gigs). I was fascinated by the concept behind Marqeta and I knew from the get-go, that of all places to work, this was where I wanted to be.
When I walked into Marqeta to “check out the scene,” I was astonished to find that there was a lot more going on than I ever could have expected. Facebook, Jamba Juice, Subway . . . so many big names! And of course I was nervous when Jason’s first question for me was, “Do you write code?” No, I didn’t “write code,” and I still don’t (although I have learned a ton about payments technology and what happens when that seemingly simple piece of plastic is swiped). Even so, the incredibly generous executives asked if I’d like to stick around for the summer, and, still in awe, I accepted the offer immediately.
Coming in to work at Marqeta was a little intimidating at first. With so many client bases (consumer, small business, enterprise, grocery, etc.), and so many different jobs (from technology to marketing to customer service), Marqeta is definitely what you might call a multi-faceted company. Everything felt like it was moving at light-speed, with new partners and projects opening up daily (not to mention numerous staff members who were newer to the team than me!). After learning about the expansive vision Marqeta has for the future, I knew I had found the most interesting summer internship a high-schooler could ask for.
Now that the summer is coming to an end and my time here at Marqeta is counting down, I want to reflect back on what an unbelievable summer this has been for me. I’ve done the jobs you’d expect an intern to do like writing handwritten notes, but I’ve also done things most high-schoolers would dream about doing, like printing credit cards (okay, I admit it never actually worked as payment, but still…)!
The learning curve for me has been tremendous, and I’m not just talking about when it comes to small, practical things like learning what an API is (that’s application programming interface if you didn’t know) and why it’s so important – I’m talking about learning how different departments within a company work together, how team leadership and cooperation impact the end result and how a company takes an idea and turns it into a real product. These are the things I will truly value because these are the fundamentals to business as a whole; I will take these lessons with me no matter where I end up.
To everyone at Marqeta: thank you. This has been a truly incredible summer – not only did I get to work for a startup that does work in a field that I’m so excited by, but I got to work in a startup that’s going somewhere, full of inspiring and dedicated people who really care about what they’re doing. There aren’t a whole lot of places that can say this, and I’m still amazed that I got the opportunity to intern in one that can. I’ll miss working here, but to be honest, I’m not too worried – because if there’s one thing I’d rather be doing than working at Marqeta, it’s being a Marqeta Cardholder. I can’t wait to hear what’s next.
–Rafael Sands, The Summer Intern