The Top 10 Things I Learned Interning @ ISL (as Expressed in Drake GIFs)


I never thought I’d learn so much from a single internship as I’ve been taught working for ISL this spring. I felt spectacularly lucky to be chosen to join my favorite agency in DC, and I feel even luckier now that I can call so many of them friends.

I feel like I started from the bottom and now my whole team’s here. #sorrynotsorry #yolo

And what better way to express these feels than with reactions from the boy? Here are the top 10 things I learned (though there are so so many more) as illustrated by the Internet’s treasure trove of priceless Drake GIFs.

1) Feedback that’s difficult to hear is the best feedback.


Another set of eyes is arguably one of the most valuable things on Earth, especially if those eyes come with an intelligent mind. ISL’s key cultural strength is the high value placed on honest feedback, including praise and criticism. Everyone here works for the best product for each client; often that means many (many) rounds of revision. But it’s all worth it for amazing final outputs like the Facebook Mentions Box.

2) Writing copy is a weirdly great way to learn new things.


Researching a brand’s products and associated cultural significance is key to writing relatable, effective copy. I’ve learned way more about barbecue, appetizers, engineering, and cocktail mixing than I ever would have expected from working at a marketing agency (and loved every second of it). Also, I got free whisk(e)y sometimes. So…there’s that too. 

3) Choose a better starting point than scratch.


Starting from zero is daunting. But at ISL and most other accomplished agencies, there’s usually a previous project you can draw on for inspiration, if not a solid foundation. Synthesizing ideas from past projects may seem like a cop out to being creative; it’s precisely the opposite. One needs inspiration to be creative. Capitalizing on the best pieces of projects-gone-by is an excellent technique to doing even greater work this time.

4) The team should have your back.


ISL accomplishes astounding work in short time frames thanks to a thorough task assignment system and amazing support staff. There’s a workflow for every deliverable, which means nothing is ever lost and everyone knows what’s up on a project. It also helps to have an office culture built on trust and responsibility! 

5) Take impossible tasks in stride.


I can’t even count the number of times a strategist approached me with a task I had no idea how to accomplish at first blush. So I just said yes. Lo and behold, I figured it out. Expect to be stunned by the seemingly huge mountain of work agency assignments require, and sometimes how to blow up those mountains (in a good way).

6) Accept that everyone knows more about projects, clients, marketing, and life in general than you do.


If you’re interning at an agency, you’ll almost certainly be the youngest person at the company. Expect to be overwhelmed by the circles your co-workers will run around you and ask them to explain what they’re doing (all the time).

7) Ask for help before banging your head against walls.


Remember those impossible task mountains (and subsequent explosives) from number four? The only way to tackle them is to enlist the help of your experienced co-workers. Experience counts for A LOT in client projects ranging from experiential stunt planning to social media analytics, so make friends and have a chat about that new assignment. There’s a solid chance you’ll get it done in one hour instead of six. 

8) Never coast.


If you want to constantly grow at your internship, no matter where it is, complacency is not an option. I try and ask for different kinds of assignments as much as possible and to ask questions even more. It’s how I pursued interesting work like drafting content, writing case studies, and creating pitch decks.

9) Work in your own way.


ISL does a wonderful job of embracing different work styles, so getting your stuff done well is all that matters as an intern (and an employee). But it’s important to say what you need and how you work so the team knows what to expect. Knocking assignments out from the couch? No worries, just make sure they’re awesome.

10) Being yourself is a lot better than being “the intern”.


Being yourself in a company full of strangers is hard, especially in your first few days. But at ISL, you’re hired for you, and encouraged to act as such, nerdiness and all (I played trading card games semi-professionally for a while). My passions didn’t make me “weird”; they made me human. Plus everyone at ISL is kind of a super nerd for something or other, so you’ve got nothing to lose. It’s a beautiful thing.

Bonus: GIFs are important.


So is smiling :)

-Spencer Swan, @spentronswan

Note: Spencer was ISL’s strategy intern of Spring 2015. You can now find Spencer crushing it in Texas for Facebook’s Community Operations Division. #LikeABoss  

What’s it like to be a student at General Assembly?

Photo by General Assembly

Since January, the DC tech/start-up community has been abuzz about General Assembly, an educational institution that offers courses, classes, and workshops in web development, product management, and user experience design, to name a few. Here’s the big question — what do you actually get out of these courses, and are they worth the price? I recently completed GA’s Front-End Web Development course, and I’m here to give my perspective as a student.

In my opinion, you get two things out of a GA course: 1) a set of hard skills that you can’t get from a traditional academic institution, and 2) a network and community of people invested in the tech/start-up scene. I enrolled in the front-end course after a frustrating experience trying to teach myself coding and programming using various online tools/courses.

Photo by General Assembly

GA’s classroom environment supports collaborative learning; you don’t feel like you’re the only one struggling with the material because you have the support of your classmates. We’d often break out into groups of 2-3 people to work on a challenging assignment, or meet up for coffee and code sessions to tackle homework over the weekends.  You also have knowledgeable instructors, who are available 24/7 inside and outside of class. And finally, you’ll be surrounded by passionate, creative, and tech-savvy classmates who share your interests and are also looking to learn new skills. The community of people you meet is indispensable.

If you’re curious, go to an info session, scope out the scene, and see if one of their classes is right for you!


Photos by General Assembly.

Mac Pro-Tips for Power Users


If you read my last post on the value of upgrading your Mac to an SSD to push the performance of your computer to Ludicrous Speed and you’ve “gone plaid,” then you’re ready for the next step in your quest to become one of the greatest power users of our time. Alright, I’ve undoubtedly oversold the tips below, but I can tell you I’m an experienced user and these tips will bring you to a new level of efficiency.

Leveraging Spaces:

It’s been known for some time now that when deployed properly, using multiple monitors has a positive impact on user productivity. It’s also known that too much screen real-estate, when deployed improperly, will start to reduce these gains in productivity. Enter Spaces, a feature of OSX that allows you to leverage nearly infinite desktop space without the hassle of daisy-chaining an absurd number of monitors, and adds the functions necessary to protect against screen real-estate overload.

To start using Spaces, press control + up; from that shortcut, you’ll be in “Mission Control” which is essentially an overview of your current spaces and open windows. To add more spaces, mouse over to the top right corner of your screen and hit the “+” icon that slides into view. Congratulations! You’ve just doubled your desktop area. My recommendation is to try 4 separate spaces, which is 8 desktops when used with a second monitor. To become a master of Spaces, check out this post from If you’ve used Spaces in the past, but were not totally sold, try it again but this time make sure each desktop is housing a full screen app; you’ll likely find this is a much more efficient setup than stacking countless windows on top of each other.

Desktop Zero:

This is the zen art of never storing even a single file on your desktop, at least whenever possible. Desktop Zero is probably both the easiest tip to execute and possibly the most difficult, depending on how much of slob you are when it comes to file management. This practice will force you to create a deliberate and well-organized file structure for all of your most important working files, which increases your efficiency across the board.

My approach to Desktop Zero is simple: Anything I’m actively working on for a period of time can live on my desktop, but as soon as it becomes disposable it’s trashed, or if it’s finished it is filed away safely. There are instances where a project can span weeks or even months; in those cases, I pack up my files at the end of the day and remove them from my desktop and then work out of that project folder and continue to use my desktop as a temporary holding area for working files that are currently being use to augment the unfinished final documents. You’ll become a better, more focused user and your computer will thank you by booting faster and responding more quickly because you’ll have freed up a good portion of its active memory.


For ZERO dollars you can have a personal butler that responds to your commands using simple key strokes; Alfred can execute files, open applications, open web pages, and do just about anything you can imagine. Gone are the days of hunting through app folders or even Apple’s new Launch Pad. Simply tap two keys and tell Alfred what to do. It’s difficult to describe the value that Alfred can bring to you because it can do so much and it can be easily customized depending on the user’s needs. Check out Alfred in the App Store to learn more.

Siri… Learn to Love her/him/it

I’m the first to admit that Siri is not exactly the “amazing” digital assistant Apple thinks SHE is, but she’s always getting better. Within the next decade, Siri will become smart enough to actively monitor your habits and make decisions without requiring input from you. Because of this, you better learn how to leverage your relationship with her, otherwise you may end up becoming her human play thing. Perhaps that prediction is not totally accurate, but the point is that Siri is just a small taste of what our interactions with computers will be like. That being said, here are a few input commands that Siri is competent enough to carry out now that iOS 6 is out. For now, I’ll use her to keep tabs on football’s greatest quarterback, Drew Brees.