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Planet Argon

We run several (successful) internships each year at our software consultancy, Ask Me Anything!

robbyrussell profile image Robby Russell πŸ˜πŸš‚ ・2 min read

Background: Our first intern reached out to us after we sent her an invitation to a workshop we were going to be hosting. She was curious if we might consider bringing her in as an intern while she was wrapping up school at a local university.

Our team talked through the possible issues that we might face if we invited someone in.

  • How much mentorship time might an intern need?
  • Can we afford to pay an intern?
    • ...and how much should we pay an intern?
  • Who on our team would make a good mentor?
  • What projects could we "safely" have an intern contribute to?
  • What experiences could we offer them? What would they learn here?
  • Do we have time to oversee those projects?
  • How do we avoid it being an internship like you see in television/film? (i.e., we wouldn't ever want to send an intern to get us coffee/treats. Right? That isn't us, right?)
  • ..but seriously, are we capable of running a successful internship program?

...you get the idea. Rarely has the issue been, "is the intern going to be good enough" but more of a, "how does this impact the rest of the team and company."

Our biggest fear was that it could be a big distraction for ourselves AND as a result -- the intern might not have gained much while here.

Fortunately, we decided that it felt like the "right time" to give it an honest trial. After meeting with her, we invited her to intern with us for a few months.

Their first project was to build a web-based timeline of the company's history, which is still up on our website today. She then proceeded to work at Planet Argon for five years as one of our most ambitious, detail-oriented, and reliable web developers.

Since then, we've conducted a few dozen internships and anticipate around 8-12 each year going forward. As we've gone through this process, we decided that we would "open source" our current thinking so that other businesses who might share similar concerns and/or aren't sure quite where to start. We'll be releasing that content in the near future.

Ask Me/Us Anything!

While we're working on that -- perhaps you have questions about either a) how to land an internship as a software developer? and/or b) how to start and/or run a successful internship program?

Am more than happy to help you out!

Posted on Sep 18 '18 by:

robbyrussell profile

Robby Russell πŸ˜πŸš‚

@robbyrussell

Robby Russell is the VP of Engineering and a foupartner of Planet Argon, a Ruby on Rails development firm based in Portland, Oregon. (and creator of Oh My Zsh & recently launched Maintainable podcast)

Planet Argon

Development agency specializing in maintenance and support for existing Ruby on Rails applications.

Discussion

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Can you please share how do you hire interns. Do you consider their side projects while hiring them furthermore do you look at their GitHub profiles. By the way As an interview process do they have to solve coding challenges like data structures problems or you give them a simple real-world problem to solve like building a web app.

 

Could you share stats about candidates?

Are they in school, college, do they hold a degree, are they in/out of a boot camp, is this their first job, are they switching jobs, how long is the internship, do they go full-time at the same place after that internship, etc?

 

Hi Nick,

Great questions but I, unfortunately, don't have great data on this. (insert excuses about how we're not a big company and tracking info about candidates over long periods of time isn't often on our radar)

Here are some anecdotal/gutstimate(tm) responses to the questions I think I can speak to.

" are they in/out of a boot camp?"

Yes, a majority (~75%?) of the ones that we have done are immediately following a bootcamp.

"is this their first job / are they switching jobs? _

A majority of our interns had a previous career track for a period of time. (We've had great success with people going through transitional phases)

"how long is the internship?"

We usually cap these between 6-10 weeks.

"do they go full-time at the same place after that internship?"

Rarely. Our aim is to provide interns with an opportunity to enhance their skills and get some more experience. We'd prefer to help champion them on into their next position (elsewhere)...and that gives us the ability to do that, again, for another set of interns. (from a hiring perspective, we are trying to focus on going back out to the wider/broader talent pool for long-term hires. We feel this is important as we cultivate a diverse team).

I've been developing some strong opinions about not doing this.

 

Okay, so I have two questions -- I hope that's okay. How do you land an internship as a software developer? And how do you get hired after your internship?

 

_ How do you land an internship as a software developer? _

Counter-question: does Flat Iron help set you up with an internship toward the end of your program? (I cheated and looked at your profile). We get a number of interns that come through a Portland-based code school. We get to interview a bunch and rank our candidate preferences -- and they do some magic to assign interns to different companies. So, we don't get full say in some of those ones.

Having said that...if I were starting to explore an internship at that stage of a career, here is what I would approach this.

  1. Research ~5 companies that I would love an opportunity to intern at -- (while a job would be nice don't get attached to the idea of trying to land a full-time position, it'll only make it harder for both sides to consider this)

  2. Document what it is about their business (i.e., the type of projects they work on, the types of technology they're focused on, etc.) that you think would be valuable to be exposed to.

  3. Figure out if they've hosted developer internships before (and/or any internships). If they do it on the regular -- find out when they're next doing it and/or apply to an open internship position.

If they haven't -- this is your moment to propose something new to them.

  1. Figure out who is a lead/sr dev at the company... and try to figure out how to contact them directly. Follow them on Twitter if they tend to share thoughts on software/technology (if it's mostly personal -- maybe not)

  2. Write to said people, individually... with something along the lines of.

Hi Pat, my name is Jeremy; you don't know who I am.
{COMPANY} came across my radar the other day while researching companies that have been using Ruby on Rails for a number of years. As a budding jr. developer, I'm wrapping up at a coding school (Flat Iron) and am hoping to find a company that might be open to considering a ~ 8-week (paid and/or non-paid) internship with me. While I wasn't able to find any mention of internships on {company.com}, I was hoping you might be able to answer a few quick questions.

  • Are you aware of any similar companies that offer internships that I should reach out to?
  • Do you take on internships from time-to-time?

To be honest, you're on my shortlist of five companies that I'd love to gain some experience. Why? (...list off a few of the areas that you really think would be beneficial to)

Thanks a million,

Jeremy

A few key points.

  1. Narrow the scope of the commitment. If you mention this is ~8 weeks (or 4 or 6 or 10 weeks)... this gives them something tangible to consider. "Can we afford to do this for two months?" vs "Can we afford to do this?" Constraints can be really helpful for being open to an idea.

  2. Don't focus just on the technology, itself, as a reason to intern somewhere. I have a lot of interviews with jr. devs and if the main reason they want to work with us is that, "I love Ruby and your team uses it" ... that's not really saying anything unique about my company. What is it about the type of work that we do, the types of projects that we specialize in, etc... that makes you think you'd be a good (temporary) contributor to.

  3. Follow-up 2-3 days later, if they don't respond. "Hi, again! I'm sure you got a lot on your plate. I was curious if you could help point me in the right direction here." You're asking for some advice.

  4. Don't attach your resume and/or link to your portfolio at this point in time. Don't ask them to go read anything external. Save this for later on. Sending a resume -- is a quick way to get ignored. They got a lot on their plate, too.

  5. Be patience... but persistent. Keep nudging until you get a no! ;-)

...and then rinse; lather; and do that to another five companies.

 

Thank you for the awesome advice! To answer your counter-question, Flatiron doesn't place students in internships. They provide 1:1 interview prep and career coaching but they leave it to us to apply, and hopefully secure internships and/or jobs. I find it empowering. I like that if I want a career as a developer, it's up to me to make it happen.

That being said, I know how valuable advice is from people who have done what I'm trying to do, so thanks again. I'll definitely be referring back to this in a couple months!

 

Would you say an β€œinternship” different from other terminology, such as apprenticeship or other titles?

 

Great question! There is definitely some overlap between the two.

When we say an internship at Planet Argon, we define that as a fixed period of time (i.e., 1-3 months) where you'll get experience working on projects...whereas we'd consider an apprenticeship as a longer-term period (i.e., perhaps a year?) and is always paid. (and I think that an apprenticeship would be closer to us hiring them as a jr. developer)

With our internships -- we do both non-paid and paid depending on whether they're trying to earn school credits or not.

Some of our usage of "internship" is due to that being common vocabulary amongst the education world. (also, we prefer having a firm timeline for how long the period will last so that we can open up space for the next group of interns)