In August 2021, our in-house writer, Peter, sat down with the CEO of longtime VI partner, Popular Robotics. CEO Sotirios Stasinopoulos has been taking virtual interns since the pandemic hit and has taken on remote interns even after restrictions were lifted in China. We wanted to hear a bit about why he decided to stick with a remote internship program and what he believes makes his remote internships successful.   P: So tell us a bit about your business for those who don’t know you,   S: Alright. My name is Sotirios Stasinopoulos and I’m the founder and CEO of Popular Robotics. We have our headquarters in Hong Kong, and our main operations are in Beijing, China.   Our company is in the field of robotics and AI, we have services and products that are meant to help people that are interested in the field. Help them enter, get more resources, get online education, and then get relevant hardware that can help them in this journey. Our main product is called Robociti.   Through Robociti, you can get news, projects, and online courses in robotics and AI from other members. We also have our own test environments so you don’t need to have expensive hardware to run simulations or applications.   The platform is built for everyone with an interest in robotics – whether someone wants introductory knowledge, more in-depth knowledge, and entry-level professional knowledge in AI and robotics.   P: How many sessions have you done with Virtual Internships?   S: I think it’s around 10 different internships now.   P: How did you find out about Virtual Internships?   S: About a year ago, I think that it was. It was either right before the pandemic hit, or around that period. I was contacted by your staff and told that you guys offer virtual interns.   I remember that in the beginning, we were okay with virtual interns, but after the pandemic hit, of course, it became the norm. It was the only way that we could have interns.   [Getting virtual interns] was mainly about us getting to broaden our reach for talent because we couldn’t have interns come to our offices. We wanted more options and we wanted to be able to set criteria for interns so that they produced work we could actually use.   
Working with an organization that can provide better moderation and a way of dealing with the admin parts of an internship is quite important
  Around Beijing and through different WeChat groups, student organizations, or startup organizations, we already got interns. But how we cooperated with them was a little bit unstructured. And it wasn’t that well moderated.    If the intern was, let’s say, very self-motivated, then the results would still be good. But if the intern was not so sure or just wanted to try things out, we didn’t have a way to hold them accountable.    We had interns dropping out of our programs after two or three weeks because they had a change of plans, or they hadn’t scheduled their time correctly, or their motivation went away, or they hadn’t really thought about what they wanted to do.    That’s why working with an organization that can provide better moderation and a way of dealing with the admin parts of an internship is quite important.   P: So what made you finally decide to go through VI?   S: We really thought that Virtual Internships would be very helpful for us was during the pandemic after February of 2020.    Especially in a period where we could not have any physical presence from interns, Virtual Internships was like the only solution. As I mentioned, we still could find some remote interns from groups, but it was still up to us to organize everything.   You guys also have a good framework for arranging internships. The way you set up internship periods, do reports and catch up with everybody in order to make sure that everybody’s on the same page. That is a big reason why I think Virtual Internships has been quite useful for us.  
I think it doesn’t require a pandemic to make us motivated to keep using VI interns
  The third quite important reason for me is because it doesn’t limit you in your intern pool. Since we’re a company here in Beijing, for example, we could use our local resources to find interns. We could find international talent here in Beijing, but it would still be talent based in Beijing or China.    But with Virtual Internships, you can actually target a global audience and find interns in good universities with good skill sets from all around the world. So it doesn’t limit you.   P: What made you stay on with Virtual Internships after the pandemic?   S: So for us, all the reasons I just mentioned were still there even without the pandemic. I think it doesn’t require a pandemic to make us motivated to keep using VI interns.   P: So what does a typical virtual internship look like with Popular Robotics?   S: So for us, we have had some technical interns who worked with our development team for the platform. We also have used a lot of internships for marketing purposes and, right now, we have some interns that are mainly helping us do legal work.   For example, currently, we are trying to update our terms of use, privacy settings, and user agreements. For this, we don’t have somebody in the core team that is specifically in charge of this task. We instead have interns majoring in law that update documents and do research on other platforms.   Later, we will have a look at it with a legal representative. But the main bulk of the work is done for us without having to outsource a huge amount to a legal firm to update.   With a Virtual Intern, we can do some work that we don’t have somebody in the team to do, and then we can check it by outsourcing to an advisor. This really minimizes costs.   P: So for a specific intern career field, what kind of projects they could expect to have done in one session?   S: I’ll give you an example for the platform development team:    We had one intern that was in charge of creating assessments for Robociti. They first had to get questions created by our content creation team, then they would use node JS – that’s a development language like JavaScript – to create entries in the backend of the platform with these questions. After that, they made an interface for these questions in the front end using UJS.   So over the course of the internship, they learned how to create and code new assessments based on the content we gave them.   For a marketing intern – like I just mentioned – it depends on their skills.    For example, let’s say it’s a graphic design intern. They would go under the design wing of our marketing team and they would work on promotional content. They would have to design templates – maybe on Canva or using Photoshop – for us to publish on Robocity and other media accounts.  
Whatever the amount of time, it’s very important to have a very clear idea of what the intern will do for you. And not just have the idea for yourself. You need to also communicate your expectations very clearly to the intern
  So they would learn how to visualize how a good promotion looks on Instagram, or Facebook, or LinkedIn and create templates according to the specifications of the platform.   And – most recently – for the legal interns that we have, I’m in direct communication with them.   I tell them our plans for what we want to do with our users and they take that and work on things like our Terms of Use. For the first week, they would research other educational platforms, or robotics and AI platforms and see what those include in their terms of use. They would then make suggestions on whether or not these are useful for Robociti.   During the second week, we go ahead and update the terms of use of Robociti. They would first update them on their own and then we would have a meeting with them to go over those updates and give them feedback for edits. These would go to a finalized document that we could use directly on our platform.   P: What advice would you give to other businesses that are taking interns through Virtual Internships?   S: One methodology that we use with our interns is tailoring out internships to their duration.   We’d love to have eight weeks and above, but we sometimes have to comply with the requirements of universities or the availability of the interns, which may not be exactly that. Some can only do maybe six weeks, we’ve even had an intern that could do only four weeks which isn’t optimal but it’s doable.   Whatever the amount of time, it’s very important to have a very clear idea of what the intern will do for you. And not just have the idea for yourself. You need to also communicate your expectations very clearly to the intern.   My next tip is to put your goals into a task management tool. So, for example, we use Asana for this. Before the intern starts their work or during the first few days, we also have a discussion with them about what we think they can do and what they think they can do or what they are interested in doing.    The person that is responsible for that intern also needs to know exactly the tasks that they will be in charge of. They not only need to have a list of tasks but also have specific deadlines as a goal for each week.   If we have an intern for eight weeks, then we break down all the tasks that we think they can complete within that amount of time into 8 subtasks, and then put them as a goal for each week. This is easier for the intern to understand and easier for the supervisor to know what they should be expecting each week.   For task management, we also make sure to have one catch-up with them every week. I think that’s also suggested by Virtual internships, but you need to stick to that because sometimes you will get busy. However, at least have one person with the team needs to catch up with them, just to keep them on their toes.    We also try to include interns into our weekly meetings where either the entire team or their specific sub-team discuss strategy.    Interns can feel a bit disconnected if they are only in charge of one task. We have seen that if interns are not aware of what other people are doing their results may not be that suitable because they had a different idea of what you want. We try to include them in their entire team’s tasks so they can understand what other people are working on in order to get a better idea of what the main goal of the team is.   Remote interns are also not easy to collaborate with sometimes because of time differences. For example, we have interns from the States right now and we are in China’s time zone. It’s not really easy to keep them all in one meeting and it’s quite hard to arrange the times.    But as I mentioned, Asana also has offline messages that get sent to their email. So it gives them notifications all the time. I think it can be done with other tools as well. We also use instant messaging apps. We’re using WeChat, for example, because sometimes, Asana or emails are too slow.    So we use a combination of task management tools and emails for assigning the tasks and deadlines. And we put all the information there so that it’s not lost. We use instant messages to inform them of changes or messages that need to be communicated fast.   P: Thanks for doing this interview Sotirios, it’s been a pleasure hearing about your business.   S: Thank you, Peter. Nice speaking with you.  
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