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Jason C. McDonald
Jason C. McDonald

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I've Trained Programming Interns For 6+ Years, Ask Me Anything!

I've had the marvelous privilege of running an internship program in my area through my software company. I've worked with the computer science and career service departments of our local universities to continually improve this internship, and am proud to say that we've had a dozen graduates of the program to date, most of whom went on to full-time development and IT positions.

Interns work 6 hours a week (almost always remote) on actual projects in C++ and Python. They have opportunities to participate in team leadership, hiring, and standards authoring. Although remote, we're fully collaborative, and offer the same level of administrative structure you'd find in any full-time industry job (remote or otherwise). Ours is definitely an unusual program, but it works.

Since our company has between 3-10 active employees at any given time, I wear many hats. In running this internship, I've simultaneously served as lead developer, hiring manager, trainer, mentor, technical writer, code reviewer, IT, DevOps, you name it! I've helped interns learn to manage time, handle conflicts, solve problems, ask questions, review code, write documentation...and much, much more.

I've made a lot of mistakes over the years of running this program, but it's been an adventure I've loved every minute of. I've been taking the time to look back as I get things in place for (hopefully) the next round of interns next year.

Ask me anything!


Read the article based on this AMA...

Top comments (139)

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jmona789 profile image
Jimmy Mona

I have a ton of side projects I want to start working more on, but when I get home after 8 hours of work I'm exhausted and I feel like I don't want to do anything nevermind more coding. I'm also in a sort of long distance relationship and the only time I see my significant other is on the weekends so I don't want to spend all weekend coding. How do I manage working full time and still make progress on my side projects?

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

This definitely comes up a lot, as most of our interns are full-time students as well. Truth is, everyone gets the same 24 hours a day, and many people balance full time jobs and hobbies or side projects.

Here's a few tips:

1: Scale your expectations.

Even accomplishing four hours of work in a week on your project is progress. You don't need to put it all in at once either. An hour here, 30 minutes there, and you're still making progress.

2: Schedule your time.

I tell many interns, "time left unscheduled is time that will fill itself." You should deliberately schedule times to work on your side-project, time for family, time for housework, time for gaming or catching up on DuckTales. It is important to actually SCHEDULE both productive and relaxation times, or one will take over the other!

You can (and should) still be flexible, but having a regular framework for your schedule helps you "gear up" for the next task, and makes it possible for you to guard that time proactively: "I'm sorry, I can't do X right now, I promised myself I'd spend half an hour on my side-project. I have an opening tomorrow at 6, though!"

You can also swap things around this way. If your best friend wants to meet with you for coffee at 1 pm on a Saturday, but that's when you work on your side project, find what you'd be okay giving up that day ("DuckTales can wait"), move your side-project into that slot, and go for coffee.

That reminds me, you should never answer "when can you do (...)" with "uh, iono". Have your scheduler handy. Pencil something in. It's better to reschedule or cancel (in advance) than to leave something hanging indefinitely.

3. Maximize your productivity.

Give yourself a few minutes to transition from one task to the next. Establish a dedicated workspace if you can, like a favorite nook in your living room, or the corner coffee shop. Figure out your ideal environment for working on your side-project. Use Mynoise.net or your favorite music to help you focus. Block out distractions. Shut off social media. And then just work.

4. Rethink your approach.

All that might seem pointless if you're already exhausted, but there are still things you can do:

  • Consider becoming an early bird (YES, you can do that!) and setting aside some side-project time before work! Then you can get to the office still riding the high of doing something you love.

  • Part of your lunch hour may give you time to work on your side-project. I know many developers who do this, and they find it's a great way to refresh halfway through the day.

  • Look for other ways to reduce stress at work. Do you need to set better boundaries? (Read Boundaries by Henry Cloud) Should you rethink how you structure your workday?

  • Consider whether your side-project itself is contributing stress. If it is, you may need to restructure that as well. (See The Cranky Developer Manifesto and Why Is It Taking So Long??!?).

In short, it is possible to do this, but it may require you to rethink how your life is structured...and that's okay! Side-projects can be a good opportunity to improve your time management and life boundaries.

I myself run two companies, write both fiction and non-fiction books, and am a frequent fixture here on DEV.to and Freenode IRC. I also play music, volunteer with my church, and take care of the house (yep, I'm fully domesticated). Yet my life is typically in pretty good balance. I use these tactics myself.

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artisanasad profile image
Asad Shahbaz

Well I was in the same situation as you are but I have figured a way for myself.

Here is the thing, I always keep my work in a container and never let it flow outside it. Like when I am at the office, my focus is completely there not on the side projects and vice versa.
This helps me to keep my mind clear and focused.

Secondly I sleep early and gets up early to work on my side projects before going to work. By early I mean 4am ☺

Also keep in mind: never to get scared by the workload, because if you do you will loose focus in everything.

Good luck! πŸ‘

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simov profile image
simo

It's either one of the two .. well, unless you have energy for both right?

So it's about taking risk and following your dream. If that's what you want, then save some money to the side and quit your job.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

Oh, sure, and I'd put part of the blame on colleges for perpetuating Shiny Object Syndrome.

C++ is still a major player in the programming world! Yet most developers with only a passing familiarity with C++ are afraid of it. This is mostly a combination of the popular misconceptions about the language, paired with classic Hating On Languages You Don't Use, all poured over a serious case of suppressed imposter syndrome. In fact, nearly all of my interns started out afraid of C++, and wound up being avid fans of the language, just through reguarly working in it.

Of course, not everyone is going to like C++, and that's fine. It's still an important language to know, as so much important code is written in it. A lot of the skills can be carried over into other ALGOL-like languages, but more importantly, the habits developed in it of thinking about data type suitability, memory allocation and ownership, reliability, and algorithmic efficiency, are some of the foundational concepts for becoming an expert in ANY language.

In the end, I think my interns walk away with an appreciation for the concept that suitability, not popularity, is all that matters in a language. That understanding alone is the best safeguard against Shiny Object Syndrome.

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tylerthedevelopr profile image
Tyler Clark

Thanks for AMA! (hope I'm not too late) I am a sophomore studying computer science and I present two questions:

  1. How competitive is it for prospective interns?

  2. What specifically do you look for in an intern?

Thank you for your time!

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

Hi Tyler,

It's hard for me to speak to internships overall in terms of competition for positions, but I do know that there are a limited number of spots in any given internship program.

The main thing I look for in an intern is someone I believe will make a good programmer. An internship is a major investment on the part of the employer, and we want to know that we'll get a return on that investment, both in the intern's participation in our own development efforts, and their likelihood of succeeding in the industry as a whole. (When you succeed, it looks good for us too.) Hiring for an internship is like the speculative investing of recruiting...potentially huge returns, but major risks too.

The main things I look for are:

  • Teachability,
  • Humility,
  • The ability to learn independently,
  • Honesty,
  • Communication skills,
  • Respect for others.
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tylerthedevelopr profile image
Tyler Clark

Thank you for the thoughtful reply!

As a follow-up,

Is a portfolio a must-have or will it allow one to place ahead of the pack?

Again, thank you for your time.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

Portfolios are excellent! They definitely put you at the front of the pack.

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bootcode profile image
Robin Palotai

Might depend on what we mean under portfolio.

  • University projects mostly don't count.
  • Github projects with a single commit named "First", without any documentation and comments neither.
  • Projects you contributed to very shallowly are on the edge.

I suggest including a portfolio if it is truly relevant. Otherwise it is just noise, or worse, generates false expectations.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

I disagree with the first point. University projects might not count in a portfolio when applying for a regular development position, but they do most certainly count when applying to an internship.

It's all about reasonable expectations. Full time college students may not always have a bunch of personal projects. I've hired many interns whose portfolios contained only a selection of their best university assignments, and they turned out to be some of my best programmers. (And anyway, if an internship hiring manager is expecting a bunch of polished personal projects in a student's portfolio, the internship is not likely to have reasonable expectations about experience anyway.)

That said, interns, help us help you! Pin your best projects to the top of your GitHub profile. Include READMEs. Make it easy for us to find what you're proud of.

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bootcode profile image
Robin Palotai

Makes sense. I stand corrected.

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ozyosterman profile image
Felix Tso

How did you get into the role of a mentor?

How do you build enough knowledge to be confident enough to mentor or teach?

I find that I have a good amount of knowledge to share with other developers but not enough to take on a leadership role.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

I wound up in the role of a mentor somewhat unintentionally. I'd been planning to start an internship program through my company, but I was originally afraid I'd have nothing to offer. It was my computer science professor who assured me that I already knew plenty enough to mentor, and I'd learn the rest on the way.

I've learned that there are really only two rules about whether you're ready to be a mentor:

  1. You can only take people as far as you yourself have gone.

  2. If you keep learning more, you'll always be at least one step ahead.

Starting out, I knew how to write production-quality code and complete a project by a deadline, but that was about it. I learned a lot through mentoring...at least as much as my interns did!...and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. The trick was, I was willing to admit to my interns when I made a mistake, to listen to feedback, and to continually grow as a leader. As long as you learn from your mistakes, you can only grow in your leadership and mentoring skills.

I think Doctor Who (11th, if you're keeping track) unintentionally sums up the primary secret to leadership when he says to his companions...

Hang on tight and pretend there's a plan!

It works out surprisingly well.

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laserblue profile image
laserblue

Have you recorded what you have learned in some type of ASK system or ExTRA (Experts Telling Relevant Advice) system that junior programmers and developers could consult when they need help after office hours?
I'm looking for something better than YouTube subscriptions to numerous videos I am not interested in at the moment. socraticarts.com/solutions/technol...

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

I share most of my insights in my articles here on DEV, so I'd recommend through my profile.

In-house, we use Phabricator Ponder (which functions like a mini-StackOverflow) for asking and answering questions. I try to encourage interns to use that instead of email when they have a question, so the answers are available to other (and future) interns. There's not as much information on there as I'd like, but we're working on it.

We also maintain extensive documentation of our processes and workflows, including detailed setup and debugging instructions.

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laserblue profile image
laserblue

Would you say that your articles are well indexed on DEV? Can students easily find the specific information or advice you give that they need ASAP?

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

I'm not sure what you mean. In the context of DEV alone, one could probably browse my profile and search for specific tags, and some of my articles are series with proper topic lists, but I never intended my articles to be any sort of properly-indexed reference guide.

If you're talking about, in the context of my own interns, I do maintain an internal wiki page with a number of articles, some of them mine, organized by topic.

Of course, I don't really consider my own writing to be that important. I'd rather students and interns learn how to use search tools and do their own research. DEV's tags and search bar are quite good for that.

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autoferrit profile image
Shawn McElroy

I am taking a side job with a local bootcamp that does courses for teens and adults to learn programming. Ive only taught other programmers different tools.

What tips would you have for being newer to teaching teens/adults these new skills?

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

I have a few guidelines I follow in training interns:

1: Learn to put yourself in the mind of a beginner. Put effort into recalling those feelings of confusion, fear, and bewilderment you first experienced. Go over those memories often, and draw from them to help you empathize with your students. You can also build on this by actively answering questions in an online community where beginners frequent (such as DEV.to.) Learn to spot patterns in questions beginners ask.

2: Be patient. Expect to explain things multiple times, and in multiple ways. Asking the person to explain a concept back to you is a great way to check their understanding. Never belittle anyone for not knowing something, especially something that seems "obvious."

3: Learn to say "I don't know, but let's find out together." You'd be amazed how often you'll be asked questions that you've never thought to answer! A major part of teaching is in demonstrating to your students how to learn. Help them find the resources, "grok" the material yourself, and then walk them through it if necessary. (This makes for a great opportunity to teach a student how to read the documentation or use StackOverflow.)

4: Don't be afraid to say "I was wrong." I've stuck my foot in it more than once, and it always hurts my pride to admit I misunderstood something. I always have that lurking fear that my credibility will be harmed, but in fact, admitting I made a mistake builds credibility, rather than destroying it! It tells the student "you're safe with me."

5: Don't stop your students from making mistakes! Be available to answer questions and to help if asked. Make it clear from the start (and remind often) that the student needs only ask, but resist the urge to rescue them if they don't. It is better to let your student dig themselves out of their own hole, rather than one you dug for them.

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autoferrit profile image
Shawn McElroy

Great tips! That will help a lot thanks. One thing I realized I need to do is setup a notebook (I use notion.so) for tracking students (non identifiable), the course, and any other notes.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

That could work, although real notebooks are worth considering too. (I'm drooling over the TUL discbound notebook system.)

As you teach, you'll notice some topics come up a lot. When I notice these patterns, I like to write down the essentials of a difficult topic in an article and publish it here on DEV.to. Then, I can refer the intern right to the article, and I've saved myself 30-45 minutes per student. (They can always ask additional questions after reading the article.)

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autoferrit profile image
Shawn McElroy

Oh writing is great too. I do bullet a journal too.

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sahajranipa1 profile image
sahaj ranipa

Sir please give me suggestions regarding how can I think like programmer and please suggest me some Android development books for my career and also suggest me some programming related books and what should be my roadmap for good programer who can think differently and work like some good programmer.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

I don't know anything about Android development, unfortunately, but I did post a list of recommended books in reply to @justaguy on this article, so I'd recommend checking those out.

You may especially be interested in "Think Like A Programmer" and "Dreaming In Code".

There's no cut-and-dry "roadmap" for becoming a good programmer, other than to say Just Start Writing Code! Read books, take courses, talk to other developers, and apply all that knowledge to the code you write. Lather, rinse, repeat. If you keep doing that long enough, someday you'll look back and realize with some astonishment that you're not a newbie anymore.

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sahajranipa1 profile image
sahaj ranipa

Sir please suggest some books about design patterns, data structures and algorithms.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

Replied on your other comment. ;)

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Can you talk a bit more about the internship? I'm interested in what kinds of projects interns have worked on and how experienced the students are when you take them on. Also, do you take on folks that aren't part of the universities in your local area?

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

Interns have worked on various components of our open source game engine project and its supporting libraries. They've developed data structures that beat C++'s standard library on performance, and created the C++ string class that fully supports both UTF-8 while remaining compatible with std::string. They've laid the groundwork for a programming language, an educational content engine, and a vector animation engine.

Our only prerequisite knowledge for the internship program is working proficiency in at least one programming language. Most come in with a background in Java basics, although we've had a couple of Javascripters, a MATLABer, some Pythonistas, even an Air Force IT. The one thing they have in common is that they're relatively new to the field of programming.

The most amazing part of this for me is watching first- and second-year CS majors come in with minimal knowledge of, say, Java, and become skilled C++ developers as time goes on.

We typically bring on interns from the local area because, although we're remote, I believe in the value of the team being able to meet in person from time-to-time. However, we do have a few completely remote workers. We're also an open source company, so even if someone doesn't join as a formal intern, they can still get some experience by being a regular contributor.

Also, we don't require students to come from the universities. We have good working relationships with the faculty at two of the biggest, which means we can offer college credit to their students for the internship, so most of our interns come from there. However, we've been known to bring on folks from elsewhere.

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jboy_oye profile image
unwanted idiot

can I apply for an internship with your company, but I don't have a CS background, but i build fairly complex web apps with javascript and python.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

You're certainly welcome to! You'll find the name/link to my company on my DEV profile. There's a section dedicated to internships, with all the information and instructions you need to apply.

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quesmin profile image
Quesmin

Hi! Right now I'm looking for a starting point in cybersecurity. I've bought some online courses but I feel like there's so much theory and nothing practical, for me it seems like I don't learn anything useful from them. Can you recommend me some trusted sources like a 'hackers playground' or useful books to start with? I know cybersecurity is a very large domain and there are many paths to take but I want to experience all of them so I can eventually focus on one. TIA!

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laserblue profile image
laserblue

If you want a practical Cyber Securitycourse check out Dr. Roger Schank and Schank Academy.
schankacademy.com/information-secu...

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

I'll have to defer to @laserblue on this one. Cybersecurity is outside of my domain of expertise.

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dah00 profile image
Obed

(I hope it is not to late to ask a question)
I am a sophomore college student, I would like to get an internship but at the same time, I am still worried that I don’t have a decent knowledge for an internship yet. I am about to finish my Data Structure class now. My question is, what is the minimum knowledge required to get an internship? What else should I do to be confident enough in coding.
Thank you.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

It depends on the internship, really. Some (like the one I run) only require basic proficiency with at least one programming language, and familiarity with either object-oriented or functional programming; all of that you'd get from your typical CS-101/102. Others may want you to know a particular language, or have other knowledge; look at the posted requirements for any internship you're interested in.

As far as gaining coding confidence, you only gain that by working on real projects. In lieu of an internship, start a side-project of your own. Make it about something you personally care about, something you would actually use. Then, build it, learning as you go. This is the single best way to gain confidence in programming, and it makes an excellent addition to your coding portfolio, especially if you put it on GitHub or the like.

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dah00 profile image
Obed

Thank you for your respond, it is very helpful.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

Pointers are definitely high on the list, along with references, addresses, memory management, and segmentation faults. At this point, I plan to write a "Memory Management For Mere Mortals" series here on DEV.to soon, and then point (pun intended) interns to it.

Templates are also quite high on the list of things that confuse newcomers, especially those coming from Java and its ill-conceived generics system. Yet, once they're understood, templates are one of the biggest reasons why C++ devs love this language!

Surprisingly, OOP is usually only confusing to interns coming from Java, and that's mainly because many of the bad habits that language allows, and even encourages at times, become more clearly bad as soon as they're implemented in C++ (with all warnings enabled).

And then there's my personal pet peeve I have to break almost every intern of: don't use double where a float will do! (That wastes sooooo much memory.)

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haseebshout profile image
Haseeb Munir

Hello Jason,

I just read your post and I thought that I should connect with you as I am seeking advice regarding the career switch I want to make. I am a Mechanical Engineer and most of my life I have lived in Middle East, hence most of my 12 years experience is on Oil & Gas Industry projects. I was more towards Projects Control department.
I moved to USA 3 years ago, and now I have my work permit here. I have been working on different contractual jobs but I always wanted to make a switch to IT industry as I don't enjoy Oil & Gas anymore.
Obviously I had to do some research about what I want exactly and it seems that I am gravitating more towards Data and AI.
After digging in deeper I found out that any coding language is something that I must know in order to move forward.
I would like to ask you what exactly is the path in your opinion that I should follow in order to learn the basics quickly and then later land a job.
I am 36 now, Someone recommended me Udacity Nanodegree but I am not sure if 6 to 8 months course can help me find a job.
I know that the first step is learning a coding language but I would like to learn by working on a project. I know about many online institutes and recruiting agencies that would offer a crash course worth hundreds of dollars or even free and would promise that they would place the candidate and land a job. But what happens actually is that after the course, they would prepare a Resume that would have 5+ years of fake experience and the candidate would be told to prepare for the interview accordingly.
To be honest, as mentioned above, I would like to find a way where I could learn the language by working on a project, polish my skills and even start on a basic level job.
What are your suggestions.
Thanks in advance,
Muhammad Haseeb Munir.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

Hi Muhammad,

Thankfully, formal education is not always a necessity! It played such a minor part in my own professional journey.

Here's what I recommend:

  1. Start learning a language. Given your interest area, start with Python. Automate the Boring Stuff with Python by Al Sweigart is an excellent place to start. After that, check out my own Dead Simple Python series to dig deeper. While learning any language, focus on strengthening the fundamentals.

  2. Plug into developer communities. The #python channel on Freenode IRC is an excellent community to join! That was the crowd that first broke me in as a greenhorn, and I continue to learn so much from them. Make yourself a part of the communities you're in. Ask questions. Answer questions, or at least try to. Write articles here on DEV, especially #devjournal posts initially, documenting what you learn. Communication in all forms is essential to success in programming, and it also builds your skills in English and whatever other language(s) you use.

  3. Find an open source project to contribute to. One possibility is Mycroft.ai, a fairly mature open source personal voice assistant project, developed in Python. You can start by writing simple skills, and working your way up to the tough stuff. Challenge yourself!

  4. When you encounter a problem that seems too tough, learn what you need to solve it. Talk to people in your programming communities. Experiment. Break things, and then fix them! You learn more from these moments of being "stuck" than you could from any book or course.

Lather, rinse, repeat. If you dedicate yourself to this process, soon enough, you'll have gained enough provable knowledge through your open source participation to earn a spot in an entry level position. Bonus, the friends you make over time in the communities you're in may even be willing to recommend you, once they've gotten to know you, of course.

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haseebshout profile image
Haseeb Munir

Hello Jason,

Thanks for the swift reply. I will start following the steps and might again ask you for your help if I need some help.

Thanks once again

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kbmasiya profile image
KBMasiya

Hi,

I have an Assessment coming right up, it is for an "Developer internship" position. What preparations can you recommend?

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

Different internship programs have different expectations, so it's hard to really say what they'd be looking for.

My best recommendation is to brush up on what you already know, especially as it concerns the language(s) the internship focuses on.

It may be tempting to try cramming more knowledge before the assessment, but I wouldn't actually recommend that; assessments are meant to ensure you have the minimum prerequisite knowledge to thrive in the internship, and if you don't have that, a few days of cramming won't make up the difference. If you turn out not to be ready, take heart and try again in a few months, once you have some more knowledge. Internships aren't like normal jobs in that, if you aren't ready the first time, you're usually welcome to try again later.

Skills aside, the main thing internships look for is someone who is teachable and able to learn. As long as you present that attitude, and can write some code, I suspect you'll have a good chance.

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kbmasiya profile image
KBMasiya

Wow thanks 😁 this will surely calm my nerves

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sriggsss profile image
sriggsss

Hi I just found your ama. I got motivated to make an account to ask as a student trying to find a internship for my next semester. I wanted to ask what do you look for in an application like a cover letter for when you are hiring an intern?

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

There are a few things I look for from an applicant:

  • A resume, of course. This doesn't need to be long or impressive β€” in fact, I assume most applicants won't know how to design a good resume β€” but it should include your work history and existing skills.

Most important point with a resume: write like a real person would talk! Using 'magic' HR phrases like "motivated self-starter" usually get the application rejected. I want to hire a human being, not just a good actor.

  • A cover letter written specifically for our company! This should show that you know something about our company and internship program, and where you'd like to fit into it.

  • The internship application. You'd be amazed how often this gets ignored. Read the instructions for applying for any internship thoroughly, and follow them to the letter. If they want you to fill out an application, fill it out.

On that note, if there's a field that says "signature", print the form off, SIGN IT, and scan it in (or else use a tablet to sign). Typing one's name in a script font is not legally binding, and yes, we'll know. (That happened.)

  • References from former employers, supervisors, or professors (just have these on hand.) Family and personal friends don't usually count for this.

  • A portfolio of code you've written β€” GitHub is fine for this β€” just to show that you know some basics of coding. Don't worry if it isn't technically advanced or overly impressive. I'm mainly concerned with a personal dedication to quality, a consistent style, and the ability to problem solve.

  • Politeness. Just because we're moving towards a more informal society doesn't it's okay for an applicant to get chummy with me right off the bat. In emails back-and-forth with applicants, I should be addressed as "Mr. McDonald" until I give the cue to switch to first-name basis.

I usually let applicants off the hook for a "Hi Jason" in the first email, but if they don't pick up the social cue from my responses always starting with "Dear Mr./Ms. So-And-So," and ending with my full name, they're out of the running.

That last point may sound pedantic and overly fussy, but I've learned that if someone cannot use polite formality with a potential superior when applying for an internship, he or she is not likely to have respect for said superior in a work relationship.

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ParrotTastic • Edited

Hi there. Totally psyched to read this post and the responses. <3

I'm an older college student going back to school for my BS in IT with a software development focus.

Is there any additional advice you'd like to give me as an older student just getting into the field? I do have a background with Front-End technologies and have been coding on and off my whole life. Right now, I'm mostly doing Python and Java/Android projects and reading a lot of programming books off of the lists I see recommended.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

Congrats on returning to school! "Non-traditional students" are the coolest people going! (I tutored a lot of older students back in my college days.)

There aren't many significant differences between a younger intern/student and an older one. One of my interns is a retired veteran with a background in binary programming with punchcards!

I've really only noticed two issues that are somewhat unique to older students:

  1. Some have difficulty having someone younger as their teacher or supervisor. It's important to remember that you can learn from anyone, and we all have more we can learn as long as we live.

  2. You will almost certainly have experiences that your supervisors, teachers, and fellow students/interns don't. Hold onto these, and don't be afraid to share them. At the same time, remember that computer science evolves continually - what was true ten years ago might have been superseded. It's a balancing act.

In the end, age doesn't mean much. I've learned things from my own interns, even those several years younger than me.

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Blake North • Edited

How old should I be and what kind of experience should I try to get while I'm in college to get an internship? (I'm going into my senior year of highschool.)

Thanks in advance

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Jason C. McDonald • Edited

It really depends on the internship. As for us, we've had interns as young as 19, and we only require some basic working proficiency in a programming language, along with essential familiarity with either the object-oriented, functional, or generic programming paradigms.

In other words, if you're (1) 18 years of age or older and (2) have written at least some tiny project in any language, you're probably eligible for an internship.

A good programming internship should be all about learning how to develop software in the real world, and is intended as an "on-ramp" to the industry. It shouldn't require prior programming employment history.

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poweruser64 profile image
Blake North • Edited

Thanks for your response

I have a few more questions:
How do I go about getting a internship? Are there websites that I look on? Should I reach out to the company that I want to get an internship at, or will they reach out to me? Or should I talk to people I know who work at companies that I want to get an internship at? I live in Seattle, so I am friends with lots of people who work at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.

Sorry for bombarding you with all these questions 😁

Thanks again

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited

From what I know, it never hurts to reach out to companies you're interested in interning at, either directly or through contacts (although you're likely to have the best chances with the latter.) Companies will virtually never reach out to you first.

You can also check job boards for internships. If you're a student or alumni of a college or university, their career services department would be able to point you in the right direction.

However, whatever you do, you should make sure the internship you take is legitimate:

  • According to US Labor Law, internships should almost always be paid at least minimum wage. (The same is true in other countries.) There are very specific regulations for unpaid internships, so you should look up your country's laws regarding this. (P.S. Ours can legally be unpaid because our company has no income yet, and even I'm not getting paid; we're just building FOSS.)

  • Whether paid or unpaid, an internship should never cost you money, either up front or "if you don't finish." There are a number of (legal) scams that claim to offer internships, but require you to pay them back if you don't fit some criteria. These are never okay.

  • Any internship should have you working on a real project alongside actual developers! There should also be training involved. An internship should be the same as a junior development position, but with more on-the-job training.

  • ...it should not involve you fetching coffee, sweeping floors, or doing any other menial jobs shuffled off on you by more senior devs. Contrary to popular belief, interns are NOT gofers. Any internship that treats you like one should be shunned.

In short, programming internships are real development jobs, and should be treated as such, both by you and your employer. You should ask questions about internship you're thinking about applying for. Find out what you'll be working on, who you'll be working with, what the training is like, who you'll report to, what the expectations are, and yes, if it's paid (and how much) or unpaid.

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