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My Dev team is entertaining the idea of taking on a summer intern or two.

It's clear the benefits the intern gets out of such an engagement, but what benefits would the Dev team hosting the intern for a couple of months benefit?

Does anyone have first hand insight into this?

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No one told me spelling counts. That's not fair. –  JeffO Mar 25 '11 at 16:43
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+1 because it IS actually an interesting question, but I'd love to be able to give @JB King +1 for cleaning it up as well –  DKnight Mar 25 '11 at 16:48
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Please don't cross-post to multiple SE sites. Your question will be migrated if it belongs elsewhere. –  Anna Lear Mar 25 '11 at 17:30
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@WeekendWarrior You can edit posts to improve spelling and grammar. You'll even get 2 rep points when your edit is approved. –  Anna Lear Mar 25 '11 at 17:33
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If you have a Starbucks down the street, the benefits of an intern should be immediately obvious. –  GrandmasterB Mar 25 '11 at 19:34

9 Answers 9

We constantly hire interns for a couple of reasons:

Their energy level is contagious. That helps on morale and productivity across the company. (And they come up with great company events.)

They come up with suggestions/ideas/etc. that is a product of their youth and being totally immersed in the social media environment. That's not to say all the ideas are great, but some are.

We get to see how good they are. My approach is we constantly give interns work that is a bit beyond their capabilities and see if they can handle it. About half leave sooner or later. But the other half - those are the top students at C.U. (Boulder, CO) and when they graduate we hire them.

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  • Grunt Work - you can dump it on them
  • Teaching = Learning - in explaining what you are doing to the intern, the dev explaining ends up with a better understanding themselves
  • Fresh POV
  • Inexpensive training for a potential hire - If you are looking to hire soon, you've got a potential employee that has the basics of your organization down.

Experiences with interns are going to be mixed, be as careful picking an intern as you would in hiring a new employee or they can be a huge time drain. I've known interns that wasted more time than they saved, and I've known interns that have blown me away with how much help they are.

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+1, but I am really mitigated on the Grunt Work. Interns are not slaves, and using them as cheap laborer is unfair. On a purely self-centered basis, you're also broadcasting a negative picture of the company. –  Matthieu M. Mar 25 '11 at 19:29
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@Matthieu M. A good point. Everyone has to pay thier dues, and the tedious tasks that have to get done are often best done by the least experienced member of a team. This does not mean that the intern should be abused and buried in such tasks to the exclusion to them getting a chance at more fun, interesting, and challenging tasks –  DKnight Mar 25 '11 at 19:35

They can bring fresh ideas and perspective

I feel that bringing an intern into your team for the summer or a placement year is a great opportunity to catch up with some of the new concepts being taught in college (if they're an intern from college) or just getting some fresh perspective from an outsider.

It is an excellent opportunity for someone to take an objective view of your project/product/code-base and identify areas that could be enhanced/improved/made easier somehow and then go and do the research into how that can be achieved.

If they're only there for the summer, its likely not worth them learning the code base completely and this has the benefit that they don't become tarnished with legacy decisions that have shaped the project to what it is today.

We had a summer intern who was good with statistics and added instrumentation to all our code and produced stats on which areas were used the most and correlated this with our bug counts. Nobody else on the team would have thought to do this nor had the freedom of 'no deadlines' in order to get it done.

Another intern did all his work in Python which was new to the team, so we got an excellent introduction into how to use a language we weren't previously using.

While it feels like you might be lining them up to join the company, in my experience the value of their internship will often help them negotiate a good starting position in another/competing company.

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So can StackOverflow, free of charge, no strings attached. –  Job Jun 10 '11 at 2:06

I'm currently working at one of the national labs and we have a lot of interns and co-op students passing through here (except for the secretaries, everyone on this floor is an engineer, or engineering student). Generally, there are 3 options:

  1. You give them a small focused task. Something that needs to be done, that the perms don't have time to do. For a software company, perhaps setting up a continuous integration server.

  2. They do some of the smaller tasks that need doing, but no one has time to do. One of the headaches of being a manager is that you know you can do the job better than the folks underneath you, but you let them do the task anyway. Keep that in mind when you've got interns/newbies working for you.

  3. You are training some of the next generation of programmers. Maybe after they graduate, they'll work for you again. Maybe not. But you're starting a culture where moving on is not seen as a bad thing.

The work won't be sterling, nor "grade A", but it will get done.

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Have them do something meaningful that you can leverage for future use.

  • Test an upgrade & test to your CMS (and learn how to use it) or some framework you use or are thinking of using.
  • Create a workstation image and/or scripts to get a new one build quickly.
  • Let them start their own code branch for a low requirement feature-you never know.
  • Fix a bug
  • Allow them to start the design & documentation for a new project.

This is the type of stuff they don't get to do in school. Make sure this doesn't take up all their time. Work with them to see if they have other projects or interests they need help and allow them time to sit next to your programmers and learn something. Your team may actually increase code quality when there is an audience.

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You would have someone to do the tedious "grunt work" of coding, someone to research stuff for you, and someone you could teach your ways to. If they're good, hire them full time and they'll already know your code base and style.

On the other side, you have to take the time to teach them and perhaps to babysit them. And quite possibly you'll have to spend time cleaning up after them.

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  • It's a good way to get new programmers. There's a chance that the intern will stay in your company. Maybe he'll even recommend your company to other students.
  • It's a way to get some work done... for free. There are usually tons of little projects that still have to be done but where you just don't have the time to do it.
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We had an intern recently who cleaned up a definite mess, and left us easily able to do something we'd wanted to get to for years. (We've also had an intern that left a definite mess. You get good and bad ones.) We've also had interns turn into hires. –  David Thornley Mar 25 '11 at 17:07
    
An intern is not free - there is a cost of reduced productivity to the rest of the team plus an admin overhead. –  JBRWilkinson Mar 25 '11 at 17:19
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You should pay your interns. If they are contributing to the team and the product, then they are worth paying. If they aren't worth paying, then you are dragging your team down. Deciding to pay interns makes you pickier about who you take on and you get better people as a result. A good intern can contribute a lot to a team. –  Wayne Johnston Mar 26 '11 at 3:59

Check out Joel's article in Inc - http://www.inc.com/magazine/20070501/column-guest.html. I.e. CoPilot (the other project by the Fog Creek that brought you this site) was written by interns.

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thanks Alexei, that was a good read. –  kacalapy Mar 25 '11 at 17:14

I believe teaching and sharing others your knowledge makes you generally better in that area (I once gave a cakePHP training, and yes I did learn new things about cake I wouldn't otherwise), so while the benefit probably isn't something close to productivity increase, it might still be worth it to have an intern to guide and teach.

And you never know, maybe the interns actually know stuff your team didn't or wouldn't have known otherwise.

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