Started from the top; Now I'm here.

TL;DR: Don’t listen to Drake when you’re trying to get an internship. You need to start from the top, not from the bottom.

On January 22nd I flew out to San Francisco for Hack Gen Y, and the 7 days I spent there ended up becoming the most memorable in my life. But this story isn’t about how great a time I had. This story is about how I managed to meet people, tour startups, and eventually get an internship at SAS Institute.

The SAS Institute campus in Cary, NC.

Meeting people

When I first got to SF, I knew no one. Well not quite no one. I went to high school with enterprising iOS developer Conrad Kramer. Plus, I knew one or two more others from hackathons I’d previously been to and vaguely from HS Hackers. But that was it.

I’d been on a Google Hangout with Zach Latta and Jonathan Leung a few weeks before my visit and arranged to see them as soon as I arrived. (If you don’t know them, Zach and Jonathan are the founders of a for-students by-students organization called Hack Club that helps run high school computer science clubs.)

This was my first time in the tech capital of the world and I was ready to network. Luckily, Jonathan gave me the perfect solution: email as many startup CEOs as possible and ask for office tours.

Wait, what? How could I expect replies from these busy people and moreover, how could I expect them to reply to me the next day? Trust me, I was skeptical at first too.

At 2am Friday morning I sent out emails to all the CEO addresses I could find from startups on this list. By 10am I had replies from half of them.

During my stay in San Francisco I got tours of Clever, Dropbox, Imgur, Indiegogo, and Teespring. And for some of these I got more than tours. At Teespring for instance, I played board games, ate lunch, and had an opportunity to pair program with one of their engineers. (Update: the following year I applied the same technique described below to receive an internship at Teespring)

Even though I didn’t end up interning in San Francisco, I learned a lot about startup culture and met many awesome people. Plus, the emails I sent were perfect training for the emails I would send to get my internship.

Getting an internship

I started writing emails for internships during spring break. Inspired by what I learned in San Francisco, I resolved that I wouldn’t go through the red tape of corporate job applications. No, I would start from as high up as I could.

First I needed to know what companies to apply to. It just so happened that I received Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For around that time; I figured that interning at any of the companies on that list would be a noteworthy achievement.

Over the course of several days, I emailed at least 10 people at each software company on that list, including the CEOs. I found most of the non-CEO people on LinkedIn as 2nd connections (so I could provide justification for contacting them in case they asked). They were mostly either recruiters or department leaders who could forward my email down — with added weight.

In the end, I accepted an offer from SAS Institute, which was 4th on the list. It turns out that it was actually Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, who forwarded my email down.

Wrapup

Higher-ups have limited time and getting to inbox-zero is not their favorite task. However, most are intrigued by ambition when they see it. All you’ve got to do is let them see it.

Suggestions

• Have a good resume. I don’t think mine is super impressive (I know many HS Hackers have better), but you do need to have a decent amount of experience in order to use this technique.

• Use tools like VoilaNorbert, CEOEmail, and email validation tools like this to find emails. Or build yourself a script that combines various APIs (Mailgun validation API, anyone?).

• Keep emails professional and brief.

• Don’t send emails to the wrong people.

Sample emails

This is what my emails asking for tours looked like:

Hi,
My name is Bogdan, and I am a high school developer visiting SF for the weekend. I’m a big fan of what <company> is doing. Is there any way I could visit the <company> office tomorrow (Friday)? I’m really interested in the tech scene and would love to be able to see a company up close.
Thanks,
Bogdan

This is what my emails looked like when I was looking for internships:

Hi Mr. <CEO>,
I’d like to intern at <company> over the summer. I have a two-year background in software development. Whom could I talk to?
Sincerely,
Bogdan Vitoc

GOOD LUCK!

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