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.
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.
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.
• 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.
• Keep emails professional and brief.
• Don’t send emails to the wrong people.
This is what my emails asking for tours looked like:
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.
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?