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Pressing Play

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Senior computer science student interns at streaming giant Spotify

by Carlos Anchondo '14

Imagine you are a free Spotify user and you’ve just created a new playlist, but with only one track. You click the shuffle-play button and the next song plays with a similar style and sound. The suggestion is immediate and feels intuitive.

As a summer data engineering intern at Spotify in New York City, Campbell Compton ’16 helped write the back-end recommendation service for free users and worked on the functionality behind the shuffle-play button, integrating new tracks into users’ playlists.

Compton is a computer science major from Bellville, Texas, who says he loved the culture at Spotify, where his coworkers were friendly and often travelled the halls via scooter. Compton was a member of Lambda Squad, a team of machine-learning, data, and back-end engineers. He worked alongside two other interns who were graduate students from Stanford and Columbia.

“I was honored to have this opportunity because I have loved music my whole life,” Compton says. “Spotify is such a cool company with a great work environment.”

At his internship, Compton primarily used the programming language Java, but says that Spotify also uses Scala, another language mainly utilized for general software applications, for their data pipelines and recommendation engines. Trinity teaches Scala to computer science students in their first and second semesters, one of the few universities in the United States to do so.

Mark C. Lewis, professor of computer science, says that his department felt it important to teach its first two courses in the same language. He adds that Scala does a “good job” explaining the varied content from each introductory course. Lewis says that companies like Spotify use Scala to make recommendations based on other users who have similar musical tastes.

During his 10 weeks at Spotify, Compton says he was able to learn extensively about the current state of the music industry. Interns attended lunches twice a week where different departments would present on their field, from legal and human resources to engineering and advertising.  

“It was neat because I was able to learn a little bit about everything,” Compton says. “It was exciting to be at Spotify because music has always been a field I’ve been interested in.”

Another bonus for Compton were the Spotify Sessions, where artists such as Shaggy or Nate Ruess would perform for the office.

Compton says that he loves working on back-end services because he is passionate about algorithms and determining the best way to make code run efficiently and quickly. He says that he first knew computer science was for him after taking Principles of Computer Science with Lewis, who made him eager to come to class.

“That class got me hook, line, and sinker,” Compton says. “Dr. Lewis is just so enthusiastic about what he teaches that it is hard not to get excited alongside him.”

Compton adds that he was particularly glad he was able to intern at Spotify because it allowed him to compare this experience with a previous summer internship. His earlier internship was at a more corporate company where he was entrusted with “less exciting” responsibilities. He says that the humanities side of Trinity played a “huge role” in why he got his internship and says that Spotify expressly looks for people who will fit into the company culture, even at the intern level.

Lewis adds that other computer science students have recently interned at Google, Amazon, the United States Automobile Association (USAA), Turner Logic, and various start-ups in the San Antonio community.

Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for marketing communications and a member of the Trinity Class of 2014. He can be found on Twitter at @cjanchondo or at canchond [at] trinity.edu.