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What it's like to intern at Runway

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Peter Michael and Sharon Lee
March 29, 2022
A glimpse into the days of Product Design & Research Interns at Runway.
In this interview, Sharon Lee and Peter Michael share about their experience and insights gathered throughout their internships at Runway. Sharon is a product designer who loves good typography and design systems. She is currently finishing up an MFA in Interaction Design at SVA. Peter is a master’s student at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington working with Prof. Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman and Dr. Soumyadip Sengupta in GRAIL.

What was the interview process like for the internship?

SHARON: For me, the interview process started back in the summer. It all started when my current manager, Alejandro, reached out via LinkedIn. Alejandro had came across my portfolio online and thankfully liked what he saw, and wanted to chat about my interests and experience so far. By then, it was my first time hearing about Runway so I did a little bit of research on my end prior to our chat. When we hopped on a Zoom call, he briefly talked about what the team was looking for, which set up nicely for a walk through of one of my projects on the portfolio. At the end, he told me about about designing at Runway and set up a time for me to speak with Cris, which was mostly me asking him questions about the future and the vision of the company. The whole process took about 3 weeks and I joined Runway shortly after that.

PETER: My experience was a little different! I was working with a postdoc at my school on research in virtual green screen technology. Anastasis and Cris reached out to him and he recommended me for the opportunity. I hopped on a Zoom call with Anastasis and discussed my work and interests, which ended up being a great fit.

What does your day-to-day look like?

SHARON: Aside from my internship with Runway, I’m currently finishing up my 2 year Master’s program. Juggling work and study can be difficult but my team has been accommodating of my class schedule. The remote-friendly environment makes transitioning between work and school much easier, and I’ve been going into the office at least once a week.

PETER: I’m also currently finishing up a Master’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Washington alongside my work here at Runway. I absolutely agree with Sharon that Runway has been one of the most accommodating companies I’ve ever worked for. Although almost every member in my group is in a different timezone, we have very few issues syncing up with each other.

What projects have you been working on?

SHARON: Since day one, I’ve been in charge of building the Design System from the ground up. I’ve been interested in working on Design Systems and had experience working on a similar project in the past. I was glad that this time, I was able to lead not only the visual design aspects but he end-to-end of the project from research, auditing the existing design system, defining the strategies for scaling the current design system, to experimenting with colors. I really appreciate the ownership I was able to have over this project and the flexibility that allowed me to iterate as much as possible, ultimately resulting in a better outcome.

PETER: I’ve been leading the efforts in improving the Green Screen feature to better handle fine-grained and semi-transparent details such as hair and glasses. For this project, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Anastasis, Soumyadip, and Patrick, a research scientist at Runway. I’ve had a great experience improving the real-world performance of Green Screen through developing new machine learning models to better utilize human input. Hopefully, I will soon be able to present this work at a conference and help integrate it into a final product!

What are some of the challenges you faced?

SHARON: Things move fast at Runway and everyone here is constantly looking to improve ways of working. This also means the way teams used to work a couple of months ago might not be the case today. Especially for the Design and the Product team, our priorities often shift based on user feedback. During my 6 months here, the Design team have been experimenting with various ways of documenting team meetings and keeping track of the design tasks. I personally think we’ve set up a really nice weekly cadence where we share our plan for the week on Mondays, add a ticket for these tasks, and re-align on Fridays to share our progress for the week. This new ritual has been really helpful to see what everyone is working on and for getting the bigger picture of where the team is headed.

PETER: Real-world performance is a central focus of research at Runway; the work done here is expected to be deployed to users around the globe to help them create the unimaginable. Often, research that's done performs well given an unreasonable set of assumptions, such as input to the model being extremely similar to that on which it was trained. However, when given real-world data, such as that from users, it fails spectacularly. This is something we experienced with previous research works we studied, as well as in the development of our work, especially due to the lack of real-world training data available for virtual green screening. We were able to find a great solution to overcome this hurdle by utilizing more abundant sources of real-world data available for other tasks.

What’s one of your most memorable internship moments?

SHARON: Back in November, we had a company-wide off-site where all Runway team members gathered in the New York Headquarter for a week. The week was packed with fun team-bonding activities and fireside chats that really brought the team working all around the globe closer together. I particularly enjoyed the team specific sessions where the Design team got together to align and plan goals for the coming year. Being part of the session made me feel included and heard even as an intern. We also have a nice office ritual going on where everyone grabs coffee after lunch together!

PETER: The hackathon this blog post was created in! It’s great to get to meet people outside of the Research group, such as Sharon from the Design team, and learn more about their diverse perspectives.

Check out Sharon Lee and Peter Michael's work. And explore current career opportunities at Runway!

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