DEV Community

Cover image for Help me understand unpaid internships!
Chinmay Joshi
Chinmay Joshi

Posted on • Updated on

Help me understand unpaid internships!

Photo by Matese Fields on Unsplash.

Disclaimer - Using this discussion thread, I am not promoting paid/unpaid internships. I am not justifying right or wrong between any type of internship. I am simply trying to understand what the DEV community has to offer.


I feel there are many occurrences when students or individuals seek an internship; while pursuing education, career change, or maybe some other reason.

To my understanding, the internship is an opportunity given by the employer where the employee or an intern for a specified tenure (a month, 3-months, 6-months, or a year), where more experienced individuals mentor an intern. Some employers provide paid internships; some employers offer unpaid internships. Here are a couple of examples of how an intern position might look like in different companies. If you find some other examples, please do post them below, I will update the list.

  1. Google - User Experience Design Intern, 2020 - link
  2. Wix - Playground - link
  3. x company - Product Designer Intern

In the mentioned examples,

  1. We all know, Google is a very well-settled company in the industry, financing and planning an internship is a pretty easy job for them.
  2. Wix is another mid-sized company, providing an extensive and pretty informative program for a solid career headstart. Of course, that program is unpaid, but the return on investment would give a headstart to one's career.
  3. In the third example, we can see a startup company working on a product that's not in the market yet. The same company is looking for an unpaid-internship where they would be treating an intern as a full-time employee, which is an excellent opportunity for an individual to get his hands dirty with real-time products.

I want to ask the DEV community,

  1. Is it okay to pursue an unpaid internship? And how would you justify an unpaid internship? How do you measure the worth of an internship?
  2. And, is it ethical for an employer to hire an unpaid intern?
  3. How would you convince the employer for a certain amount of pay?

Alt Text

Top comments (26)

Collapse
 
timjung profile image
Tim Jung πŸ‘½

There's no rational. Unpaid internships are immoral, unethical, exploitative, and usually illegal. All the people justifying them in the comments below are grifters and should feel awful. Ignore them. And never allow them to normalize this exploitative practice.

You'd be better off spending your time shipping a small personal project or contributing to open source if you want to spend time growing skills but cannot find a paid internship.

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

You'd be better off spending your time shipping a small personal project or contributing to open source if you want to spend time growing skills but cannot find a paid internship.

This is what is coming to my realization now.

Collapse
 
eavichay profile image
Avichay Eyal

If you work for someone, you should get paid for it.
In most countries it is illegal, should you cooperate with slavery it is up to you.

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

I completely agree, and I believe the same.

Collapse
 
gayanhewa profile image
Gayan Hewa • Edited

My point of view is, for most companies intern's are just people with raw skill that needs to be moulded, add some direction so they can set some career goals and direction for the future. So most companies and intern's take this as compensation over money. End of the day it boils down to ethics and what the company beliefs are and the beliefs of the intern as an individual.

For me personally, unpaid labour is a form of slavery. And I would rather pay something than nothing, for someone regardless if we are aren't getting much back from the intern in terms of experience.

In my experience, there are instances I have learned a great deal from intern's while mentoring / pairing. Because they add a new perspective to a problem. This is very likely because they are young (in most cases), come from a different sociao-economical background.

Interm's of the three questions you ask at the end. I think I managed to answer the first two. But the last one is purely up to the companies belief system.

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

I highly appreciate your perspective. A very strong point -

For me personally, unpaid labour is a form of slavery. And I would rather pay something than nothing, for someone regardless if we are aren't getting much back from the intern in terms of experience.

And this is very true,

there are instances I have learned a great deal from intern's while mentoring / pairing. Because they add a new perspective to a problem

I worked with an intern before, and he had a better understanding of the problem than me. And at the end of the discussion, I learned a lot from him. Interns do bring new perspectives to the problems. Thank you so much for your inputs.

Collapse
 
mccurcio profile image
Matt Curcio

This is a really good question and it has been getting some play recently to boot.
To answer your questions one by one...

  1. Is it okay to pursue an unpaid internship? Yes, it is now considered okay to consider an unpaid internship although it was not always like this. Before the days of wealthy and privileged kids going for internships, there used to be a very small salary for very simple work. It was something you set up for the summer or winter break to help you get some experience to break that 'No work/No experience/No work'... run around. But now that many 'richer' families consider internships the leg up on everyone else students are willing to say they will work for nothing. Actually, I have even seen some people lead with that point to make employers interested. How do you justify the unpaid internship? Easy, if it helps you get a job or an 'in' to the company then it worked. How do you measure the worth? Did you get a leg up? If yes then 'Good on-ya'. If no, you get the point.

  2. Now, is it ethical? Hell, if I know. Many states and companies are starting to think that it is less and less ethical considering what some employers do. I am sure that if you wait around here long enough someone will have a story about working 15 hrs on some project that the company thought was crucial for a free doughnut in the morning and free sandwich for lunch. As I said, some states are enacting laws to make unpaid internships unlawful while others could care less. See: dol.gov/agencies/whd/fact-sheets/7... There have even been court cases recently about students demanding compensation from abusive companies. See: propublica.org/article/unpaid-inte... There have even been cases where Us Senators and Congressman have taken sexual advantage of interns. See: salon.com/2018/12/13/house-and-sen... Umm, Are you registered to vote???

  3. How do you convince your new employer to pay you? Cite the laws in your state. Cite your strengths. You are not chattel. I suppose you have some knowledge. State that. Presumably, you have a work ethic? State that too. In the best circumstances, it should benefit both you and the employer. State that.

This is a test for you and for them. Is it worth it in your situation? Is there a greater benefit over risk? Can you keep looking? Also, consider this? Do you want to work for a company that may cheat you for your time and skills? If the interns are poorly treated is that a place you really want to work for anyway?

Tell them, "I know you need to get this pile of cow manure out of the office, I think I can stay focused enough and won't mind the smell. In turn, I hope that I will learn about the quality of shite you have here."

Be Strong,

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

Hey Matt, thanks for your insights. I am definitely going to take a look at those links. Also, really good strategic points on convincing the employer to pay the intern.

I know you need to get this pile of cow manure out of the office, I think I can stay focused enough and won't mind the smell. In turn, I hope that I will learn about the quality of shite you have here.

Good one.

Collapse
 
mccurcio profile image
Matt Curcio

Hey C,
For that last sentence, I have used that argument many times. I just have to remember to change the bad words with their product names.

Thread Thread
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

Got it. πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ€žπŸ»

Collapse
 
crs1138 profile image
Honza

Call me old fashioned but there were people literally dying, being shot at and standing in the picket lines for days on and on. All this to put an end to the exploitation and to guarantee workers' basic rights such as wage, regulated working hours, sick pay, etc.

I find unpaid internship to be a spit in the faces of our ancestors who fought hard to achieve all those goals.

To be clear, I'm writing this as an entrepreneur, not as an employee.

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

Totally agreed. Thanks so much for your insights.

Collapse
 
steelwolf180 profile image
Max Ong Zong Bao • Edited

It comes down to who the student or person is willing to work for. If they are looking to work for free or for the knowledge and the network under the guidance or mentorship for a person they admire or company that is good.

It's alright if there's little to no expense for the student, if not ideally some form of monetary payment should be enough to cover it as allowance. It should never be more than 3 months if it's for free under a great company or someone you admire cause it's really not worth the time and effort to do it if it's more.

Lastly, if your interning for the sole purpose of becoming an entrepreneur, it's alright to not take a salary for less than 3 months or more. Especially If you are under the guidance & advice of a person you admire but the interns must choose with due diligence. Since being an entrepreneur really do require you to constantly raise capital or gather resources. It forces you to find creative ways to find money or resources to allow you to survive.

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

Right. Got your point.
Thanks for sharing Max.

Collapse
 
natbach profile image
NatBach

From my very first internship which was unpaid I was able to figure out what I liked and what I would be willing to work sometimes even for free. The project I was working on with the team leader there helped me to create a porfolio for myself which I used it to get in for my current internship which is PAID :)))). I have been working on the "Final Exam" which the HR staff said I would be able to work as an official employee once I can handle and finish the project myself.

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

That’s great. Thanks for sharing.

Collapse
 
askeridos profile image
Adam AUTUORI

Consider an unpaid internship as a trial period to be hired.

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

Thanks Adam.

Collapse
 
florincornea profile image
Cornea Florin

Hi,

I started my career as an unpaid intern

5 years has passed from that moment and my opinion is that it was worth the effort. Back then i was studying computer science at some university in Romania and after classes i went 3-4 hours/day at a small company where i was given learning material and small tasks

I wasn't at all productive and didn't added value to the team as an intern but after 3 months they offered me a junior dev position

So in my opinion i gain more than money(they would gave me) could get in the first 3 months, i got to learn from a team and work directly with experts

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

This sounds like a convincing story to me, considering the absorption in the same company. And the amount you are getting paid is also good.

So in my opinion i gain more than money(they would gave me) could get in the first 3 months, i got to learn from a team and work directly with experts

Collapse
 
tomcounsell profile image
Tom Counsell

As a dev manager and frequent host for unpaid interns, this is the approach we take:

  1. Consider all their work disposable. This is actually a good thing. You don't put the business at risk if a new and unskilled intern makes a big mistake. And it gives the intern more autonomy to experiment and learn how to approach problems without being too scared of making a mistake.

  2. An unpaid intern has a lot of costs and you should make it clear to them how much you are spending on them up front. Our interns receive desk space, office supplies, free coffee, snacks, and many lunches, gym membership, and many hours of 1-1 mentorship from their supervisor.

  3. Set them up for success. There are 2 super valuable things interns should get from you that will help them launch their career. The first is college credit hours or some equivalent credit like public contributions to open source. The second is a LinkedIn recommendation.

During the last week of our internship program, we do a LinkedIn workshop. In our case, our interns are study abroad students, so they return back to USA to finish school or find jobs.

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

Thanks for your insights, Tom. I appreciate your time writing your thoughts.

  1. I believe, despite your role in the company, no one should be afraid of making and learning from their mistakes. So to me, it doesn't matter even if the person is the junior-most employee or founder of the company. I believe in a collaborative environment, where everyone's opinions are valued and taken into consideration.

  2. "Desk space, office supplies, free coffee, snacks, 1v1 mentorship sessions" are basic needs inside an office environment. I think the rest of the facilities, such as catered lunch, gym membership, or even travel allowance, does not qualify as a salary to me. I think these are the perks company should provide despite the pay. (Of course, that depends on the company's policy.)

Collapse
 
sorincostea profile image
Sorin Costea

(There might be a correlation between the unpaid internship and the smallest minimum wages in the respective country, as a concept that being able to work is a privilege or something?) I see a lot of opinions floating around that as an intern you tap into that company's pool of knowledge and coaching and whatnot, so your internship wouldn't be free work but a valuable training bootcamp. Now if this was the case, the I'd fully agree to the unpaid internship as a huge trampoline to success. But really, IS THIS THE CASE? Reality check please. Are your interns really that dumb that they don't produce anything of use? Are your interns so privileged that they are all day pairing with your greatest developers? I don't think so. Reality is probably somewhere in between, so their pay should also be somewhere in between, recognizing that interns are humans too who need to put food on their tables, that Udemy is just as good as your star ninja coaches and your company is not really Cambridge.

Collapse
 
nicolasini profile image
Nico S___

The rational behind an unpaid internship is that the intern should get, in return for its time and effort:

  • experience in a professional environment
  • learn skills that will be valuable when looking for a job
  • receive mentorship to start/progress its career path

However, this is not always the case. Providing these desired outcomes for the intern required time and effort from the company employees. Not every company is willing to sacrifice "velocity" to train an intern, and often they use interns to do menial tasks.

In my opinion, internships should receive monetary payment, as well as provide the above mentioned outcomes for the intern.

Having said all this, I think it is still worth pursuing an unpaid internship, provided that you are guaranteed to get a favourable outcome, in whatever shape and form.

Collapse
 
joshichinmay profile image
Chinmay Joshi

Thanks for your insights Nico.

Totally valid point,

In my opinion, internships should receive monetary payment, as well as provide the above mentioned outcomes for the intern.