This piece is for all of you SWE interns. First off: congratulations! You probably worked very hard to get where you are. However, like getting into college, your offer letter is just the beginning. Now you need to execute a successful internship. Below, I have compiled some thoughts on how to succeed based on my previous internships at Goldman Sachs and Yelp.
Here’s some low-hanging fruit for you. Don’t miss stand-ups or meetings, don’t ask questions that are easily looked up, and put in an honest effort in delivering on your estimates!
Set expectations and follow through.
You show up to your internship. Over time, you might unconsciously form bad habits. Maybe you start missing a few standups. Maybe you take a long coffee break with your intern friends in the afternoon. Maybe you’ve become insensitive to others at meetings. Your project seems to have no direction, and you don’t know what to do. Your team notices, but no one says anything or commands you to change, so you don’t. At the end of the internship, your mentor drops the bombshell that you will not be getting a return offer.
Don’t let this happen to you! Be proactive and continuously seek feedback on your performance. Depending on your company’s structure, maximize your one-on-one time with your manager/mentor. Be explicit with the people that have a say in your status, and tell them that your goal is to get a return offer. Then work with them to develop professionally at a pace that gets you there.
Specifically, this means at each progress meeting, discuss your growth and areas of improvement, and follow through on your action items from the previous meeting. You remember these items by writing down what was discussed that meeting. As you progress through your internship, your action items will grow with you. For example, early on my mentor pointed out I was mumbling during standup. Later on, as I grew as a developer, my mentor challenged me to take more responsibility by doing code reviews for my teammates. Don’t get caught off guard at the end because you didn’t know you were deficient in an area throughout the entire internship.
In general, it’s beneficial to write everything down in a notebook. For example, I logged the progress I made during the day, pain points, answers to questions I had, meeting notes, guest speaker notes, etc. This helped keep my thoughts together on the job, and became invaluable months later when demonstrating my work to recruiters.
You are a part of your team.
You’ve been a student most of your life, so it’s easy to slip into a similar perspective with your team. Don’t treat this as a blow-off class. Your team is not your teacher handing you assignments, and you are not there to barely pass. Your team wants you to learn something, but they are not there to babysit you and force you to do the work. If you aren’t being productive, they’ll probably avoid confrontation altogether and simply not hire you again. Remember that you are a paid member of the team, and you are there because you want to be there. The more you internalize the idea that you are a teammate, the more your team will accept you.
Taking this idea further, you probably won’t be handed a concrete specification on what to do. You are expected to have ideas, so share them and be respectful about it. If you see another way of doing things, offer it without putting your teammates down. Often, there is something you’ve missed due to lack of experience. By respectfully bringing ideas up, it is at worst a learning experience for you, and at best a valuable contribution to your team’s work. Communication style is something that is team dependent, so work on it with you mentor and actively seek to improve.
Think beyond yourself.
The past two tips have been focused on yourself. Of course, getting yourself together is very important! However, this internship is an opportunity to learn more about how the company and how the industry works in general. Interns often have the privilege of meeting high level directors and executives, who love to inspire the next generation of talent. These opportunities are valuable experiences, and you can learn a lot about how the company runs. However, my opinion is that the most relevant and applicable career mentorship comes from those around you — those who have recently gone through similar career transitions. Therefore, develop a good rapport with your assigned mentor. They are invested in your success, so you should be invested in theirs as well. If you have a close relationship, you can consider asking how they developed their career to where it is, and what their next steps are. This is an avenue for career insight beyond the “received a full-time offer” stage.
Beyond your team, meet other interns and employees in roles outside your own. It may be obvious, but remember that there is more to great products than just writing great code. You have the opportunity to gain an understanding of the different roles at your company, which allows you to be a collaborator on the product beyond pure implementation. I’ve made engineering, design, and product friends at my internships that I still turn to for advice. They are invaluable to me, because most of my peers at school are like me: backend/full-stack engineers.
Another way to think beyond yourself is to attend optional events. This will help you meet a variety of people and better understand what the company is about. For example, Goldman Sachs hosts a diverse collection of speakers at Talks at GS: professors, athletes, journalists, and executives. From these talks I reached the conclusion that Goldman Sachs is a company very invested in understanding how the world works. A better understanding of a company’s values will help you decide if you are a good fit professionally.
Keep the future in mind.
Internships are a lot of fun, and you should have fun at yours! Just remember that this experience affects your future. Even if you have no intention of returning to a company, the network you get from a positive impression will be very helpful later on in your career. If somehow you think you have no use for the network, it’s still good to practice being productive in a professional environment. The stakes are lower in internships relative to full time jobs, so putting in your best effort and making mistakes now will make it easier later on. Working hard and performing well could get you the return offer, and potentially give you leverage in upping your compensation package.
If you have further internships down the line, strongly consider switching companies. Internships are a time to try new things out. Every manager I’ve had has been supportive of this, and they have left the door open for me to come back for full time. That’s usually how good professional relationships work. Once you go full time, it’s expected that you stay at a job for at least a year or two, versus every four months for an internship.
Good luck at your internships this summer! If you have any comments or additional advice, please leave a reply. I am interning one last time this summer, and I’d love to hear what’s worked for you and your team!