Making the most of your Internship

intern Sep 08, 2019

So you got the internship, congrats! You are there, the intersection of preparation and opportunity and how are you going to make the most of it? I've interviewed some friends who have interned at companies like Shopify, Amazon, Github, Twitch, Wealthsimple, Yelp, etc. and will be drawing from my experience and theirs to provide the most suggested ways to make the most of your internship.

By no means am I an expert and you have probably heard some of my suggestions before but my goal with this 5 minute article is to leave you a little more prepared than you were before, let's get started!

Tip #1 - Imposter syndrome is real! 🙈

"I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people."
- John Steinbeck

Even the most successful people suffer from this feeling of not being enough. You know all your strengths but you also are hyper aware of all your weaknesses and it can be this awareness that makes you think your so far behind your peers. Furthermore you are just starting your career whereas the people around you have years (or even decades) of experience, keeping up with them could be an aspiration but shouldn't be the metric of success.

Ways to keep imposter syndrome in check:

  • Keep track of the tasks you work on and things that you learn
  • Compare your current impact to your previous impact (not peers) to know if your improving
  • Let your manager know if your feeling imposter syndrome and they should be able to help you out of that mindset!

Tip #2 - Have a tight feedback loop ↻

“In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, oh, I’m going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here’s a chance to grow.”
-Carol Dweck

The last article I wrote was on being "blind without feedback" and in the context of an internship it can't be more true! The best way to make the most out of a short internship is quickly iterating to identify what your doing that works and what doesn't. Generally your feedback loops relies heavily on your manager/mentor/lead and their ability to help you grow but this can be aided tremendously by avidly requesting feedback and discussing actionable goals to improve.

Ways to keep a tight feedback loop:

  • Ship small and frequently, once a week should be the goal
  • Voice to mentor what you plan to do to iterate and improve
  • After a milestone in a project ask those you worked with for feedback on what went well and what didn't see this article for tips

Tip #3 - Keep moving forward 👩‍💻

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The most valuable skill you can have as an intern is knowing when to ask for help. Throughout (almost) 4 years as a Software Engineer I began it as an intern, had the opportunity to work with other amazing interns, experienced interviewing and hiring interns, and eventually mentoring interns directly. It did happen overnight and it was extremely frustrating at times but I kept moving forward and when I got stuck I asked for help.

Ways to keep moving forward:

  • Ask questions and learn from it, as a mentor I am more then willing to answer questions as long as I know you're learning from it
  • Set stop gaps on progress, "If I dont make any progress in X hours I will ask for help"
  • Ask questions publicly (group channel), it will reduce the load on your mentor and possibly get you a faster answer (or maybe more than one 🎉)

Tip #4 - Take pride in your wor‍k 💪

"Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success."
-Swami Sivananda

Depending on the company this might be difficult, at Shopify my days are spent empowering real people to build a business and follow their dreams. As entrepreneur myself I can absolutely align with the goals but it hasn't always been that way, no matter where you work you need to be motivated to make great things to succeed.

How to stay motivated:

  • Talk to your team and be part of picking your tasks, you feel more motivated to do well if you picked the item yourself
  • If you don't see the impact in the task your doing, ask questions, there is likely value you just don't have context to see
  • When working on a tasks with minimal visibility or impact find how you can learn from it, having impact is good but learning is better

Tip #5 - Make Friends 👫

Not only will you enjoy your internship much more when you enjoy the people around you but you will pick up context you didn't know you needed, I can't tell you the number of times I found out something really valuable I wouldn't have known otherwise by eating lunch with new people or walking to get coffee with people from my team. Additionally if you're relocating for your internship these relationships can help you get exposed to more parts of the city more quickly.

How to make friends:

  • Talk in public channels often, share cool articles, ask questions, suggest grabbing food/drinks after work
  • Reach out to somebody at least once a week for a 1 on 1 coffee or lunch, people love taking breaks and this is a great opportunity to get to know somebody
  • Look for events around the office and if there isn't any then make some! See if there is a knitting/book/bouldering club. If there isn't then buy a couple boardgames and make a boardgame night of your own!

Bonus Tips (in no particular order) 🎉

  • Explore the city if you're there temporarily; this doesn't happen often in life and you might consider working here full-time later
  • Dig deeper into things than what your job requires, it will pay back later
  • Be open to trying out a role you’ve never done before, because that’s the best chance you’ll have to experiment
  • You're making money, learn how to save it!
  • Don't burnout (I have an article about my experience with intern burnout coming up!)
  • Do you have a tip? Leave a comment below or tweet me and I will add it here!

I want to thank all the people who provided their experiences for this article, through the research phase I have identified a few other intern related topics I think it would be interesting to explore so if you're interested make sure to Subscribe to my newsletter!

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Nicholas Lewanowicz

Hello World Expert and Web enthusiast! Software Engineer at Shopify 😄

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