Mastering the Internship

Tips that Guided My Summer Experiences

Background

I’m a senior at Yale studying Computer Science. Over the last few summers, I’ve been in the bay area at Fitbit and Google as a software engineer. Recently, I dabbled in product management as well. During that time, I’ve been lucky to have incredibly helpful mentors. Here’s some of the career-related advice I received which were the most helpful to me during my internships:

Goals

Set long term goals for yourself before the start of the summer and update them weekly. Time will fly by, and unless you have tangible things to work towards, it’ll be hard to focus on what matters in the long term rather than the next bug to fix or assignment to complete. Companies will usually tell you to make SMART goals, and while my personal standards aren’t as strict, being more clear usually pays off. If it makes you more accountable, find a close friend, share goals, and periodically check in on each other.

Possible Goal Types: Personal, Career-Oriented, Social, Family, Learning
Tools:
Google Keep, Pen & Paper, Many Todo Apps
My Personal Goals:
Have lunch with someone new that inspires me at least once a week

Use your Freedom

As an intern, you can do anything. Ok, maybe not everything, but you certainly have much more flexibility than full-timers at the company. The hard part is taking full advantage of it. So to make things more concrete here’s a non-exhaustive list of things you can do as an intern:

Try multiple hats —You’ll hardly ever get the chance to spend 40% or more of your time doing something you weren’t hired to do. Try product management, or UX design. It’ll be hard to justify spending that much time as full timer, but as an intern, it’s much easier as long as you actually finish your intern project as well.

Request meetings with CEOs— Often, it’s helpful to get advice from industry leaders. Higher up the pyramid, the scale of problems changes significantly. There is no single right or wrong answer, and every decision becomes a series of calculated risks to navigate a complicated ever-changing industry. As an intern, it’s amazing to even be able to talk to these leaders in person and probe their knowledge and experience. Usually, if they have time, they’re more than willing to have lunch; the only caveat is that you might have to schedule weeks in advance.

Ask tons of questions — It’s a useful time to learn and ask questions. It can be about something not even related to what you’re working on. See some of the questions in the 1:1 section below.

1:1s are your time

Take advantage of your weekly 1:1 time with your host, mentor and others. Do not ask about your intern project. Do not waste minutes on just smalltalk on the weather or the food. (Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of these in the past.) Ask about things that you want to know that wouldn’t be appropriate to ask if you walk over to their desk during the day.
Possible types of questions: Personal, Career-Oriented, Growth

Favorite questions:
What are you worried about, what do you stay up at night thinking about?
What advice would you give yourself if you were in my shoes?
What’s something you believe in that almost no one else does?*

Meet People

Talk to interns. Talk to your boss’s boss. Talk to that guy/gal sitting alone at lunch. People love interns. As an intern, you‘ll also have much more free time to actually meet people and learn about their interests, their career, or hobbies. It’s a good chance for you to approach mentors that are a few years ahead of you in your career path. Just as you right now would probably have advice for mistakes you’ve made in the past, they would also have advice for someone like you who is following the same path they did.
Ways to find people: Internal Groups, College Alumni, Word of Mouth

Brush up on Interview Skills

Don’t forget that after the end of the summer you’ll still need to interview for different companies, different positions or perhaps just for negotiation leverage. It’s helpful to grab a friend and practice mock interviews one or more nights a week. It’s tiring but really pays off in the end. In the tech sector, another full-time offer can get you 50k+ more in salary or equity your first year. That’s about two summer internships! Check Glassdoor for more accurate salaries, but of course, that’s not all that matters.
Interview Guides: Cracking the Coding/PM Interview, Leetcode, interviewCake, ThePmInterview

Fun

Okay, this one isn’t really a career tip, but don’t forget to have fun! Don’t stress too much about little missteps. In the tech world, there’s a wealth of activities, company outings, group activities. It would be terrible to not take part. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you how to enjoy yourself :)

Follow what works best for you. Each person has their own unique personality, if anything doesn’t seem appropriate for you, carve your own path.

*A modified version of Peter Thiel’s question from Zero to One

SWE @ Nuro | Formerly Facebook/Google | Yale ’18 | alanliu.dev

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