Arthur Tkachenko

@arthurtkachenko

How I Built My Startup Team with Interns — Part 2

Be aware …you cannot expect immediate results when you start working with non-experienced people.

By including intern/interns into your development process (or any other professional/commercial projects) - you’ll make your Project Manager very busy.

I don’t like the term babysitting, but a lot of control and organizational work should be applied in order to have a good time on both sides. So if you don’t have free time/energy — it’s a bad idea. Try it later or be prepared.

If you don’t have steel rules or processes that are set up in your company and works (important!) — don’t do it. You will just add more chaos into the dish of chaos. I think you understand my point.

Be ready for average, it will take about 1–2 months before the intern will learn “how to work at your company”. (I don’t mean coding skills, the whole working process)

Only after that time he/she will be ready to make nice progress on his/her own, without spending additional time. (Sometimes I still amaze myself seeing how students have learned from me and became independent coding machines, in just six months.)

Questions and Answers

From which countries do I get applications? Are they are local or not?

I have interns from all around the globe.

The “difference” is the main word. I cannot remember all the countries, but Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, and North America were covered. A lot of different countries and cultures. There was a time when we had a video chat — 4 people — different places, different accents. It was very funny.

The most fascinating and motivational people for me are from China, India, African countries as Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria (in no particular order).

Damn, one of our interns gave birth in the summer. And I was stressed and waiting for her message. I really care about these experiences that I got for some reasons. Because people that are applying to work want to have a better life and they are fighting to succeed. It energizes me every time when I think about it.

How to manage interns

It’s hard. You can explain to everyone workflow and rules. They will try once and abandon them. Because they don’t know how to work and don’t feel comfortable with the new approach.

And this is OK, it’s normal.

They like to use Messenger and call me Bro. And I like to use email. So please be patient, don’t be nervous. And wait until they will open their emails and find your message. What is cool — they will reply very fast (after reading your message).

Details about how I manage my projects can be found here.

How to search for interns? How to find the right one?

I think the basic way is to search for skills. But this takes a long game of scrolling. You can also view them through technical education. You can search for people, that somehow are knowledgeable in some parts of your work.

Example: If a student completes a custom course work or completes a “famous course” at Udacity at image recognition software. He can be a fast choice if you have similar work to do. (Actually, Udacity has their famous self-driving course, not OCR)

You can try and apply different methods for search. Like custom “key” searches. It can help you to reduce the number of interviews.

Example: You start searching for “Machine Learning” title and Skill “Python”.
It’s a common term and you’ll have a lot of results.

And yeah, you will need to teach your interns.

Be ready to reply to their simple questions. Or catch them before they fall into the sea of trouble. At some point, I was bored to reply to default or similar questions and I started to write articles. And it’s hard because you need to prepare a piece of necessary information before sharing.
That information should also be in a format that will be easy to understand.
And if I did it well — they will be ready to do what I need to be done.

Sometimes, students “cut loose”.

And later they are shy to come back. It’s OK and it’s also part of the process. You need to be connected and make them happy too.

Each team member is different. There is no rulebook.
Different cultures, different ages. People can be active, or passive.

  • Some people are mature enough and ready to work. They find their goals.
    And tools to archive them.
  • Some didn’t find their way yet. And it is OK.
  • Some people just want to try. They want to explore something new. How it will work for them. They can leave you quickly too. And this is fine.

What is uniting us?

Passion for technologies.
They are as hungry for new stuff as I am.
And they want to learn more.

One more thing!

They are ready to chat and explore opportunities. I was in this situation a lot of times:

I have a good interview with our future intern, we have a great talk, etc. I spend time and prepare a task with details. When the task was assigned, something suddenly changes and they have hard times to implementing it.

This is why they usually ask for timeframes. It will be better for both sides to have a deadline. Otherwise, it’ll be buried in their heads. Because it’s not easy to start a completely new “thing”.

For instance, a setup is always a breaking point for a lot of people. Because it’s hard to understand how to set up and start a project locally for the first time. If it will be hard to set up your project — you’ll waste that student, in most cases.

Be ready, that they will request an official job-offer, an experience certificate. Below you can see examples from my work, for your inspiration or use it as a template.

Experience certificate
Offer letter

In order to give them more “freedom” and “fun”, I created a common Slack channel. But I don’t use it quite often. And this is bad. Because as you didn’t give them a lot of attention — they became sad and unmotivated.

So you usually should keep an open-connection with them the whole time.
I have a hard time with this.

All these observations came from trials and errors. I’m learning how to manage people better with my students. After 16 months I still prefer to use, create and assign coding tasks at GitHub. It’s safe for me. Because I’m spending my own time preparing tasks, and imagine this student will leave — I still have that task to assign to a new person.

Sometimes interns get scared by looking at a big repository with 600 commits before they start or see a lot of “scary” code that they didn’t understand (same with me, actually)

Usually, I’m not making any guesses after a few interviews about:

  • how interns will understand you
  • what is the level of their motivation
  • an ability to deliver results
  • quality or quantity of work

A lot of Developers are mastering first skills from video tutorials or step-by-step articles. (and usually, spend a few weeks by coding something doesn’t mean that they have learned it. Or can apply this knowledge at a different situation in your project) Debugging process is a king.

So you shouldn’t make any assumptions too from the beginning. Just give them some time. Because people can behave differently and the first impression can be wrong (shit, why do we need resumes, then?) especially in the software development field.

Personal screening, resume review, checking LinkedIn profile - cannot tell you how he/she will be able to deliver. Also, it’s always a personal thing. Can the teacher and intern be a good match or not? It’s very important

At their age - profiles in professional networks are usually not maintained well. for about 50% of the cases. Check Instagram instead!

Summary

Students don’t have the experience to show their experience and present themselves.

What is matters to me - their intention to learn and WILL to complete the task and figure out how and what to do?

And their ability to adjust. This is just another skill, for working as part of a team.

Usually, a verbal task explanation doesn’t work well. What can be as bad as it? Maybe explain what to do in a long chat where other people are interacting too.

I prefer to use a text explanation at separate GitHub Tasks/issues.

Interns should realize that this is their “safe” place. It’s a place that they own, where they can ask questions and receive answers.

Initially, please don’t share the same task between a few users. They will be conflicted.

If an intern is stuck or didn’t start a task - then they are stuck because of you.
And your work is more complex than you think. You’ll never get a real feeling of what is easy to do and what is not. Usually, it also correlates with the time that they spend with you or another manager beforehand. After a few months of working together and as an active participant intern it only requires time in order to “unfreeze” and feel comfortable.

Thanks for reading!

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