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Advice for First-Time Interns

Here is some advice that I would have liked to have when I was first starting my internship. I hope you’ll find this useful.


Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Since you’re an intern, the team you’re working with will probably expect that you have questions. Most likely, though, no one is going to approach you and ask if you have questions: you’ll have to take the initiative, approach your team members, and ask them whatever questions you have yourself. At first, I was reluctant to ask my mentors questions for fear that I was “bothering” them, but whenever I came to them they were happy to help.

The primary goal of an internship is to learn: if the company needed someone to put out code as fast as humanly possible, they wouldn’t have hired an intern! So, provided you’ve first attempted to solve the problem you’re having yourself, you shouldn’t feel bad about seeking out help.


Ask for more work

Depending on the size of your team, they may be too busy to keep close track of your progress. If you finish something early and find yourself with nothing to do, before assuming there’s nothing to be done, approach your team and explain that you’ve finished your work and are looking for more. Sometimes, simply asking for feedback on your code can lead to more work for you if your team members have some ideas for making your work better.

This surprised me at first: I assumed my team would bring me assignments frequently, but instead I occasionally needed to ask for the next steps on my project. This was common among some other interns’ teams as well, so don’t feel strange about asking for more work to do.


Be productive in your downtime

For a lot of teams, some downtime in which you are waiting for work is inevitable. Maybe you’re waiting for a mentor to review your code, or to gain access to data. Whatever the case, instead of browsing Reddit during your entire afternoon, I advise taking this time to improve your skills. Can you go through part of your company’s codebase and look for interesting patterns or choices? Have you documented your project well? How about reviewing the basics from freshman year that you might be rusty on? Try to make good use of your extra free-time, because you probably won’t have it for long.


Speak Up

Relating to point 2: most likely, your team is not going to go through each line of intern code while taking note of who contributed what features. You’ll almost certainly need to be able to describe your contributions to the team.

I was initially under the impression that my code would “speak for itself,” but this wasn’t the case for me. You’ll probably have to get used to talking about what you’ve been working on. For example, my team had a daily scrum meeting as well as a demo every two weeks where I had to talk about what I had done over the previous days and weeks. Getting more comfortable with summarizing your code, and with speaking and presenting work in general, will likely help you out in your future career.


Remember to move

Sitting still for eight hours straight five days a week is not conducive to a healthy amount of physical activity. While it’s probably not realistic to expect to go to the gym in the middle of the workday, you can still work in some activity throughout the day. During my internship, I tried to get up and walk around for a minute or two during every hour.

Internships can be great learning experiences. I hope this advice will help you make the most of yours.


-Hannah Morrison, 2019 RTC Fellow

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