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We are in the process of looking to bring an intern on board. For the record, it's a paid part-time programming internship and we would like them to be local.

We always struggle on where to look for a good intern, someone who is passionate about programming, likes to be challenged, has a good (their young, so it doesn't need to great ... not yet at least) work ethic, and doesn't mind doing some low-level tasks.

We've had some luck at some of the local high schools, and not much at the local colleges.

  • I'm curious as to where others are finding interns?
  • How do you determine the good ones?
  • What are you doing to make sure that they are setup for success within your organization?

There has got to be a better way.

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Note there's a similar discussion here –  ColinYounger Sep 15 '08 at 15:00
if you want to find someone from a college, it may be a good idea to proofread your job posting –  user44511 Jan 21 '09 at 4:25
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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jun 18 '11 at 10:51

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13 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

has a good (their young, so it doesn't need to great ... not yet at least) work ethic

There is no reason they shouldn't have a great work ethic. They just may not have had many opportunities to prove it professionally. You should expect interns to work really hard, if for no other reason than they want to impress you to either use you as a reference for a real job, or maybe move into a real job in your organization someday.

I'm curious as to where others are finding interns?

We generally hire our interns from local universities. Usually the university will have some sort of internship program where you can post internship opportunities or they can refer students to you. Depending on how the university operates this may be done on a department to department basis, so you could contact the Computer Science department and tell them you are looking for programmers for internship opportunities.

How do you determine the good ones?

I would recommend interviewing interns similarly to how you would interview an entry level programmer. We generally treat our interns like new programmers anyway. We give them real work (realistic to how long they will be working with us, if it is a summer intern, for example).

Which kind of answers your last question:

What are you doing to make sure that they are setup for success within your organization?

Set them up for success by giving them the opportunity to be successful. If you give them mindless, tedious work - or have you fetch coffee, they are not going to have fun or learn anything.

You shouldn't expect them to be expert programmers, but they should have a chance to learn quickly and solve real, interesting problems.

Good luck in your search!

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Don't underestimate university students. I did an internship after second year and the guys were expecting a monkey who didn't understand anything, and so spent the next eight weeks trying to figure out what to have me do because there actually wasn't enough work. –  Ed Woodcock Mar 12 '09 at 17:22
Seconded Ed Woodcock. You really aren't going to have a huge experience edge over college students other than some conventions. There is a caveat, which is that you could underestimate them if you are going to Podunk Technical Community College. –  Unknown Apr 12 '09 at 3:51
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I have had success by getting to know staff at the college, and giving a workshop at the college. This gives you an opportunity to help out the staff, so they'll want to send the best students your way.

You also get to know a class of students, so you know what the range is and who the good ones are who will fit in where you work. This can be good for the students as well, if you can talk about using new commercially-relevant technologies that their teachers do not know about yet.

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I would try posting at http://news.ycombinator.com/jobs. There are a lot of us youngsters who hang out on Hacker News, and I think many of us would jump at the chance for an awesome internship.

However, if you're going to tell us we're doing "low-level tasks," I'm gong to assume you mean filing and menial code. The reason we do internships is to learn, so you'd better give us something challenging to do and learn.

I know my college has a Career Development Center that helps pair students with jobs/co-ops/internships. I don't know how prevalent this is, but it's a huge help for employers and students at RPI.

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Trust me ... there is plenty of "meaty" tasks, but they will have to be willing to do some of the "grunt" work. –  mattruma Sep 15 '08 at 14:57
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Take interviews from local universities / job boards. Make sure in interviewing you place a lot of effort behind questions of their ability to learn.

What websites/blogs do they read to keep current on programming / technology issues? I suppose the particular site doesn't matter so much as the fact that they express their ability / willingness to learn.

Depending on the skillset you require for your interns, try to stay away from the typical programming questions of a technical interview. You want to be the company credited for this person's eventual success, whether in your organization or somewhere else.

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Bigger state universities CS&E department. You just need to find someone that is very passionate for what you want to do.

I would go to a local or state university as a guest. Jump into one of the classes. Look for someone that seems energetic about theseclasses and talk to them after class about a job.

Do a programming contest with prizes and for the person that wins (say the one with the best code and documentation, offer them a job).

I knew one guy that got an internship that was in mid 40s. I was surprised.

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i've always liked the article by Joel about hiring. Even if it doesn't cover internship specifically, it's a great read, and since this time, i've always hoped to meet this kind of interviewing system: Guerilla guide to interviewing version 3

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Personally, I would look at local Universities. If they can't help you, then Im sure they would know who to talk to.

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Personally, I go hunting. Our local university has a place on their website where students can put links to their own sites. Looking at students own websites often will tell you a lot about how passionate they are about software. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all good sites for finding students with an internet presence.
We have also had great success with the Co-op program at our local university.

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We typically go through coop programs at local universities. This allows you to get senior interns with previous internship experience, so they'll have a minimum of proficiency and workplace know-how.

Top candidates are hard to get though, so you should provide a very attractive offer in terms of learning opportunities and work environment. It helps to have a small, well-defined project you can "pitch" to candidates.

Proofs of concepts and demos are good examples of such projects: they're not so critical that they'll endanger your main development, they're fun to work on for an intern and a good test of an intern's potential, and they're nice to have if the project succeeds.

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Are there any tech-specific job boards out there? If you're looking for Perl programmers, you'll post at jobs.perl.org, for example. Check the places where you'll find the types of people you want to hire. If you go to something tech-specific, chances are you're going to get the enthusiasts for that technology.

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I'm by no means an expert but here is my input:

  • Don't do a cattle call.

Don't put an employer in a public place or have large poster with a hundred tear out sheets at the bottom.

It is extremely annoying and devalues your interview.

  • Be prepared to offer compensation especially if your company is not prestigious.

No one "good" is going to want to intern for you if you can't offer money or a good reference.

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As far as finding full-time programmers ... I have found one thing to be true, the good ones are already employed, and the great are employed and not even looking for a new job.

So the best thing you can do is target where they gather on the web, as well as, attend some of the local developer meetings in your area.

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Honestly, I'm an intern and I found my position through the university fliers. I heard there were casual interviews. At the interview most of the intent was to show progress and passion. A small snippet of code was laid out, given five minutes to try to read as much as we could. Those who are passionate may or may not get all of the code intention but they're on the right track.

I'd have to agree mindless tedious tasks tend to be annoying. At my internship I have been introduced to different facets of programming and have not been limited to the main language of choice which was offered in my fliers. While sometimes frustrating it has offered me more challenge and experience that I could have hoped for. My boss oversaw my work for the first year and after that it was a breeze.

Mindless tedious tasks all the time do not encourage a great work ethic nor provide a great experience for your employees. The more you can spruce it up the better.

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