What makes a great internship experience? This is the question that is always in the back of my mind, as a member of ISE's Internship Committee. We know that there is no single, cookie-cutter answer to this question that can apply to every single intern we bring on. Every person seeking an internship position has a different technical and cultural background. The last thing we can assume is that our potential interns will all want the same kind of experience. Now, I don't mean to brag or anything, but ISE was awarded with CBJ's 2016 Best Internship Program for a small company, so we know a thing or two about how to have an award-winning internship program. When it comes to maintaining that status, it mainly boils down to three principles: Trust, Trade, and Transparency, and who doesn't love alliteration?
It is now officially story time. I would like to briefly share my internship experience here at ISE. To provide some context, I worked as an intern at ISE for two consecutive summers, before being hired on full-time the following January. The very first week I was brought on as an intern, I immediately felt like a part of the team for my project. The two other interns and I joined in daily stand up meetings, sprint planning, review and demo, and just about everything else the team participated in on a daily basis. The second week, we started coding and expanding upon the primary testing tool used by the team to test the product. By the end of the summer, we were integrating new API features into the product.
Since this was my very first professional work experience in the field that I was studying, this was a lot like being thrown into the deep end, hoping that I can stay above the water. Thankfully, I'm a decent swimmer, as were the other interns. That summer at ISE was exciting for all of us because there was so much learning, collaboration, and hands-on experience. These are all perfect ingredients to a rewarding job, right? Yet, it's important to note that none of these ingredients would be accessible if ISE didn't put trust in the interns to work efficiently alongside full-time employees in a team environment. This, coincidentally, leads us to our next "T".
This one is a bit more obvious. A rewarding internship, for both the company and the intern themselves, must have an equal trade of benefit. Leading up to the summer before our internship program starts, the ISE Internship Committee takes careful thought into what will be the best path for each of our interns individually. We ask each one of them what kind of technologies, practices, processes, and team roles that they would be interested in developing. With that knowledge, we then look inwards at what upcoming projects inside ISE would best align with their desired internship path. It's a win-win situation. The interns walk away with a fulfilling, achieving, and learning experience, and we walk away with a successful project thanks to the help of the interns.
This principle should be a clear and resounding "duh," but sometimes, other companies fall flat on it. I've heard terrifying tales of summers spent drowning in hundred-page-long books and taking an exam (exams? outside of school?!) before even touching a keyboard. Others I know have spent summers doing unappealing and uninspiring work during their internship, and came back from the experience learning nothing. It's crucial to encourage an environment that interns can thrive in, and that can't happen if they're stuck doing chore-work that is not satisfying or related to any project work.
The main point of hiring an intern should be to form early professional relationships with them and to carve a pathway for them to work full time. With that in mind, the interns should get a complete, 360 degree view and experience of the company's culture. To achieve this, we simply just have to treat the interns as we would treat all employees. You also shouldn't put boundaries around what they can do, who they can talk to, etc. Our Fun Committee, bags tournament, Lunch & Learns, ping-pong matches, casual environment, and small-company charm are all components of ISE that we want on full display during the internship.
As part of the planning on the Internship Committee, we even try to coordinate with other committees to plan events geared towards the interns' interests. For example, if some interns have shared interest in expanding their knowledge in Machine Learning, we will ask the Lunch & Learn Committee to coordinate scheduling a presentation on that subject matter. All in all, when it comes to translating company culture to the new interns; if you've got it, flaunt it.
And there you have it, three simple principles that are a sure-fire way to have a successful internship program and experience. It really all boils down to simply just treating interns as if they were full-time team members. Do what you can to make them feel welcome, challenged, and inspired throughout their experience. And if you think to ask an intern to fetch some coffee for the team, perhaps the whole team should grab coffee together instead.