Students give advice on landing internships
A COMING-OF-AGE STORY
The startup internship has become an integral right of passage for college students interested in pursuing a career in the tech world. During the weeks leading up to and immediately after summer break, a palpable buzz begins within the University’s computer science community. A rigorously updated Google Maps displays the locations and details of dozens of student internships around the nation, from New York to Seattle to San Francisco.
Suffice to say, an internship at a hot startup is validation. It’s reputation. It’s sexy. But it’s not always easy to land. Over the past few years, the application pool has grown leaps and bounds, and applicants have stepped up their games to match.
We interviewed several students who have worked as interns at high profile companies to see what it’s like to apply for and work at an internship at a tech startup. We explored the factors fueling the popularity of internships at tech startups, and identified the reasons why they’ve become such an important resume item.
READY, SET, CODE!
Surprise, surprise, if there’s one thing most students agreed on, it’s that a whole bunch of coding is necessary to land a top internship. And it’s not just about coding for class projects — it’s about coding for the sake of coding and demonstrating that you can take initiative.
“When I was interning at Meetup two summers ago, there were freshmen also working there,” said Daniel Borowski, a School of Arts and Sciences junior studying computer science and cognitive science, indicating that he was initially shocked to be working alongside other highly inexperienced developers.
Borowski said students don’t particularly need a lot of experience to acquire an internship.
“A lot of startups are demanding skills that you don’t develop at school, like web design or user experience design, so being able to learn on your own is often more important,” Borowski said. “My boss at Meetup didn’t even graduate college.”
Chintan Parikh, a sophomore studying computer science at Georgia Tech, agrees. Parikh, who is also the director of Startup Exchange, has a guide on his blog outlining the steps he took before getting internship offers. Many of the steps include independent coding.
“[Breaks from school are] great because you’ve got a lot of time for unstructured learning,” Parikh said. “Find a problem you have and code a solution. ... Try to build up your GitHub with some cool side projects.”
A NUMBERS GAME
When it comes to tech internships, the old adage still holds true — It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Kenny Bambridge, a School of Engineering sophomore, said he tried hard to find an internship during his freshman year.
“I got a bunch of technical interviews but got rejected a lot,” Bambridge said.
Fortunately for Bambridge, his friend got an offer at NextDoor and was asked to refer other candidates. He introduced Bambridge to the employer and helped him get the position. Shortly after the internship ended, NextDoor raised $60 million in venture funding, making for a nice notch to have on any resume.
Bambridge attributes much of his success to networking and competing at hackathons.
“You meet a ton of people, learn a lot of new technologies and display the sort of independent dedication a lot of these companies are looking for,” he said.
For this upcoming summer, Bambridge said he didn’t have to fill out a single application.
“[A recruiter from Pinterest] found me on LinkedIn and asked me if I wanted to interview for an internship,” Bambridge said. “After two hour-long technical interviews, I got the position.”
Nevertheless, most would agree that Bambridge’s experience with Pinterest is unusual and believes a proactive approach should generally be practiced.
“The ratio is different depending on the experience you have,” Parikh said. “I emailed 50 companies every day for a week, which translated into five to six on-site interviews.”
That can sound like an uphill battle, but in the end, Parikh wound up getting what he wanted.
“Eventually, I got two to three offers and landed an internship in New York City, which is where I wanted to be,” Parikh said.
MASTERING THE ART
Although coding and expertise is arguably most important, illustrating that you are a good fit at the company is also critical.
“I didn’t just copy and paste when I sent emails,” Parikh said. “I had a standard template but I’d add a personalized paragraph about why I’d want to work at the company and why they would probably need my skills.”
Borowski said your job isn’t done once you get offers.
“When I got into the hackNY summer internship program, I had my choices of startups to work at,” Borowski said. “I wanted to be with a company that wasn’t too small because I wanted to see the workflow of a large company and not feel like I was ultimately working on an independent project.”
Borowski ended up selecting BuzzFeed, where he not only coded, but also published several “listicals,” including, “30 Signs You Went To Rutgers.”
So what’s driving the craze? Why is working at a financial institution or as an independent developer not as cool as working at a tech startup?
“There seems to be this stigma against working in finance or at a big company because it’s as if you sold out,” Borowski said. “It’s not necessarily that working at a startup is more substantial, but many people look at it that way.”
Not fully agreeing with the stigma, Borowski did acquiesce.
“The truth is, you probably learn much more at a startup when you’re personally involved with your boss and your team. You’re not just treated like an intern,” he said.
Borowski said he was heavily invested in BuzzFeed, unlike other interns at some massive corporations.
The experience isn’t the only thing going for those who work at tech startups — Bambridge said the job pays well.
A rough survey indicated that interns could make upwards of $20,000 over the course of a summer.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
“You need to start looking for a summer internship pretty much the day your current one ends and you begin the fall semester,” Parikh said.
Finding an internship isn’t always easy, but it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your college career. It’s important to remember that there’s a lot of competition out there. Time is of the essence, and the best time to get started is yesterday.