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MIT student blogger Afeefah K. '21

8,726,400 SOS: A Summer With Tulip Interfaces, Inc by Afeefah K. '21

guest post by Sharon L. '21

*written by Sharon L. ’21 as a part of the 8,726,500 Seconds of Summer guest post series*


Have you ever considered how everyday objects like sneakers and computer monitors are manufactured? As it turns out, it’s a pretty involved process that involves passing components between various factory workers and machines, as well as quality control devices in between. Regardless of your role within the factory, whether it’s figuring out how many products are being made each day or even putting together parts, manufacturing can be disorientingly involved. Unfortunately, many manufacturing plants use fairly manual processes for figuring out these measures and relaying instruction changes.

 Tulip engineers demoing the factory workbench, along with the Tulip gateway and platform setup on the monitors.

That’s one of the problems the startup I’m working at this summer is tackling. Tulip, a spin-off from the MIT Media Lab LuminAR project, is creating a manufacturing platform to digitize factory processes. The tools include audit, quality acceptance, work instructions, tutorials, machine monitoring, and data insights for apps that factory managers can create to distribute to workers on the shop floor. I’m an intern with the IoT (Internet of Things) Systems team, where I work on building software that connects hardware devices and communicates information across the gateways.

I’ve been at the company for three weeks now, and every day has been exciting and full of surprises. I usually get to the office between 9am-10am, when most of the others are also making their way in. Each morning begins with a stand up, where everyone on the team talks about their progress the day before and what they plan on working on today. It’s really helpful to be able to express pain points explicitly and to have open discussions about obstacles, as well as to share victories with the rest of team. Work is divided into two-week sprints, where we organize ourselves into major projects in order to split up important work and keep the product moving forward. During the day, between snack and tea breaks, we work on individual “tickets”, or tasks that we’ve taken on from the previous sprint.

One of the Platform team engineers made homemade caramel-filled cookies as one of our intern gifts!

Generally, I’ve been able to bike to work everyday, which is definitely preferable to a long walk or commute. From the first day onwards, I’ve been able to work on ongoing projects and improvements to the company’s many tools alongside the full-time engineers and developers, and it’s really interesting to learn about best practices from code reviews and pair programming, as well as to tour the hardware labs and quality testing spaces to learn about what the other teams are working on.

I’ve already learned a lot about utilizing the Linux kernel and shell, building scripts for automating commands, concurrency, writing device drivers, building a custom operating system, and other topics I’d read about or learned in classes, but hadn’t had the chance to utilize on my own. It’s really convenient to be able to find the author of many parts of the codebase somewhere in the office if I want to ask a question about a method, or to easily be able to make contributions of my own.

The culture at the company is definitely one that reminds me of my friends and classes back at MIT. Everyone works hard and helps one another whenever problems arise – there’s always open communication about goals and expectations, and if you don’t understand how to use a tool, for instance, you can be sure that the person who does is willing to help you learn.

Every few weeks, we have a company-wide State of the Tulip, where each team discusses and celebrates successes and plans for the coming month. Even though I’m working in software development, I feel as though I’ve been able to meet and have conversations with anyone from Sales, Marketing, and Hardware, to the Customer Team. In addition, we regularly meet to discuss how we will work together with Hardware and Apps to test the products we’re building and how we plan on moving forward with projects. Hearing about new partnerships and upcoming trade shows reminds me of the ongoing momentum and growth the company is experiencing, and that our contributions are really adding to improving the product and growing its reach.


Candle Pin Bowling

This is also assisted by company-wide lunches that we have every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, as well as regular company events. For instance, we regularly celebrate “Tulipversaries” when full-timers celebrate another year at the company, birthdays, potlucks, and even an intern event at Flatbread, where all of the interns got to meet each other over candlepin bowling and JP Licks. Many of the employees also organize their own get-togethers afterwards, whether they include rock climbing, running, tabletop games, or even making food to bring to the office.

I can’t forget to mention the office is dog-friendly, so there’s never any shortage of adorable fluffy friends to keep you company during coding sprints. This, along with the fact that the company is located near the Taza chocolate factory, makes for some really great mornings.

I can’t begin to emphasize how much I’ve been able to learn about the business, operations, sales, marketing, and other divisions of running a startup just from speaking with the respective team leaders, co-founders, and engineers in the company. Being able to work alongside so many talented people and hearing about their past endeavors always makes my day, and I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of my summer at Tulip.