Non-obvious ways to be a standout at your software internship

It’s that time of year again. Schools are letting out for summer and for college students in tech that often means summer internships. On this, I have a few bits of advice from my own experiences. These are a few things I either did or wish I’d done. This will be most relevant if you’re going to be a software engineer or product manager intern in the coming weeks. Here goes.

Ask your manager to forget that you’re an intern
Let’s put ourselves in your manager’s shoes. She is nervous on the first day, not unlike you. She’s worried that you’ll turn out to be a scrub — that is, an intern who’s just going to take it easy this summer. The last thing she wants is a scrub that slows down her team, even if it’s only for a summer. So what do you say in your first 1-on-1?

I recommend something along the lines of: “I want you to treat me like I’m a full-time member of your team. My goal is to make you forget I’m an intern.” It’s a powerful little statement that starts your summer off strong. The next step is to deliver.

Meet the influencers in your company
Big projects will almost always need approval from those at or near the top of the org chart. I’m talking about the Director/VP of Product, Engineering, Design or any of the C-level executives. They’re more willing than you might expect to spare half an hour with you over coffee.

Try for these meetings as soon as you get settled in — you’ll get a sense of the view from the top. Plus, if you propose any really ambitious projects, the odds are that much better that you’ll get a yes.

Be active at stand-up
In theory, stand-ups are useful for teams to detect blocking tasks, offer suggestions, and get a sense of the team’s progress toward quarterly goals. In practice, most people tune out. Who can blame us? Every standup feels the same, and they happen every morning. Your goal is to stand out at stand-up.

Ask questions about how some experiments went, or why a ticket is taking so long, or anything. Keep it within reason though, not suggesting that you interrogate everyone every morning. Just listen and ask enough to show that you care about what the rest of your team is doing as much as what you’re doing.

Have a day just for meetings
To the extent that you control your meetings, I recommend scheduling them all in just one or two days of the week. The reason is that the cost of context switching from a meeting to actual work is higher than many appreciate. Paul Graham wrote an essay about this. Cal Newport wrote a book. I’ll summarize both: long uninterrupted periods of concentration are disproportionally more productive than the same amount of time interrupted. Perhaps you’ve experienced this when you’re trying to finish a project but your other tabs are email, Slack, Twitter, and Messenger.

Even if you don’t control when meetings happen, this serves as a great suggestion to make for those who do. Proposing ways that your organization can operate better scores you major points.

For now, this is all I got. Always happy to answer any questions as @andylouisqin on Twitter. Hope this was useful and that your summer is fantastic.