by Maple Ong
How to be The Superstar Intern You Know You Are
Curb the Impostor Syndrome and get prepared for your upcoming Software Engineering Internship
I am a self-taught developer with a degree in Health Studies. Naturally, most of what I know about industry-level software development came from my internships.
I currently have two internship experiences and I am now at my last internship at Shopify. I have received return offers from both of the companies I have previously worked at.
You can bet that making the best out of an internship is on my home turf.
Most interns feel inadequate, especially if it is their first internship ever. Don’t fret, hopefully this will be a helpful guide for the journey through your internship.
As a Software Engineering Intern, you are getting paid to learn new technology. No one has the expectation for you to be proficient from day one. Companies are taking a chance on you to find out if you would be a good fit as a full-time hire.
The way you can stand out at your company is to have impact on the work you do, make meaningful connections and grow your skills. Above all else, enjoy your time learning and code away!
Depending on the company you work at, you may be assigned work that would otherwise be assigned to a full-time software engineer. This is a great opportunity to make important decisions and in turn, have some sort of (hopefully, positive) impact on the team or project. But, you may also be tasked to fix bugs that are long due.
If you are fixing bugs, you better make darn sure that there are no bugs left when you’re finished. If you are building an experimental project, build it for the long term.
Regardless of the work assigned, you want to maximize the impact you make on your team and project. As always, there is more than one way to make an impact. You could share your ideas in team meetings or take the initiative to learn something out of your scope to contribute to your projects.
If you’re having any doubts on how much work you feel like you are contributing, don’t hesitate to bring it up with your mentor or manager.
Having an impact on your team and project is one of the biggest factors that affect your internship and how you can shine as an intern. This is especially true if you want the opportunity to work at the company full time.
As a Software Engineering Intern, you will likely have a mentor, a manager, or both — and you will also be having one-on-one meetings with them.
One-on-one meetings (sometimes called sync-ups) with your mentor are valuable opportunities.
It is time you can use to ask your mentor, someone with experience working in the field, anything you please. Typically, this is also the time you can talk about any blockers you may be having, any issues you may be experiencing in your day-to-day, or just anything interesting you learned.
I have had the pleasure of being mentored by thoughtful and smart engineers, which made me look forward to my one-on-one time with them. In our meetings, I was able to talk to them about my goals, set any expectations (for both parties), and get to know them better on a professional and personal level.
Don’t take your one-on-one time for granted!
Get to Know Your Team
Aside from that, it is important to make connections with your co-workers as well. They can give you a good idea of how it’s like to work at the company full-time. Also, they are a good resource outside of your mentor and manager for work-related questions.
I found that having a strong relationship with my coworkers made me feel happier going to work every day. It also increased my work satisfaction.
Although it may seem intimidating to approach full-time coworkers, people tend to be inclusive regardless of whether or not you are an intern. A great way to get to know people is to show up to social events outside of work, like board game night or the company’s indoor soccer team playoffs.
Another tip in making connections is to ask questions to learn more about what their role is in the company. People will feel more comfortable answering specific questions about their role and chatting about how their day to day would look like.
This is especially useful if you want to gain a better understanding of how the tech stack at your company works. Which, by the way, will be helpful in gaining more insight for the systems design portion in your full-time software engineering interview.
The Growth Mindset
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” — Carol Dweck on Mindset
Technical growth is a factor that is proportional to the impact you have on your team and project. However, you could be making some level of impact and not be growing as a software developer because you aren’t absorbing anything new.
With that said, I find that asking myself, “What can I learn next?” or “Where else can I apply this knowledge?” can show me what I need to do to keep taking my technical skills to the next level. The simple act of asking questions and learning continuously will be beneficial to your growth.
Science says that learning styles, despite being around since the 1950s, are a myth. However, expanding your knowledge and learning efficiently is a productive habit to have — especially as an intern. So how can we learn more efficiently?
One of the first things I noticed about my learning style during my first software engineering internship was that I preferred watching a tutorial video to reading a tutorial. My mind gets easily distracted when I try to read a tutorial and then implement something.
On the other hand, I also enjoy reading articles that are written by experts in fields I am unfamiliar with. Unlike in tutorial-focused articles, general articles provide a different level of detail and examples that cannot fit into a 3-minute video.
Fortunately, the internet is overflowing with well-written articles. A quick Google search on a topic of your interest would prove this point.
To learn more efficiently, it is best to focus on the medium you enjoy the most. Perhaps your favorite YouTuber covered a topic you are unfamiliar with. Or a famous CEO wrote an article on that new technology you are curious about. Be open and explore new ways to learn and stick with it.
The key is to self-reflect and learn more about how you absorb information. Don’t be afraid to change things up if you find that reading boring API documentation makes you want to rip your hair out.
Ask Good Questions
People say there are no dumb questions, but for goodness sake — don’t ask your mentor something trivial you can solve with a quick Google search.
Make sure you try to understand and solve the issue to the best of your ability before reaching out for help. There should be a balance between asking for a spoon feed versus having a discussion on the issue.
Which brings me to my next point: you should always be ready to discuss your thoughts and ideas. Don’t just ask for the answer, show that you have done some thinking and research! After all, you want to use some of your brain power to do the solving.
Regardless of your technical skill level, the effort you put into your internship will be proportional to what you get out of it.
Stay positive and keep learning — your time as an intern will just fly by.
📣 Action Items:
- Set expectations with your mentor/lead for the term: What is your goal for this internship? How can we achieve that together?
- Speak up in meetings, don’t be afraid to contribute!
- Ask for constructive feedback on both your soft and hard skills
- Ask someone on your team to go on a coffee run
- Take part in a non-work social event for fun
- Find and connect with your coworkers on LinkedIn
- Listen to a technical podcast that interests you! I highly recommend Software Engineering Daily.
- Talk to your mentor about what you have learned in the past week. How can you apply that knowledge on a project in the future? What would you like to learn next?
You made it to the end of this article — thank you for reading! Please give it a clap if you liked it, and a comment 💬 if you have something to add.
Connect with me on LinkedIn and say “Hi!”