Side note: Although this article is directed at students (because I am one so I can easily relate), I’m sure a lot of these tips can still be helpful for people that are not students and are looking for a software developer internship.
As my last internship comes to a close, I’ve reflected a lot on what I would have done differently when searching for internships. I’m going to tell you everything I know, but first I need to give a bit of background about myself.
Around two and a half years ago, I officially decided to change my major to Computing Science. Around that time I also had to start looking for internships. Coming from a Statistics background I was clueless about the tech industry but finally found an internship as a QA developer.
Here is the first lesson I learned - you don’t have to accept the first job offer you get. It was my first ever interview too! It wouldn’t have hurt to wait a couple of months to find an internship I was excited about. But to be honest, I was inexperienced and just really wanted a job in the field.
I didn’t really enjoy the work I was doing as a QA developer intern. It just wasn’t for me. But during that time, I did realize that I wanted to a be a software developer, and started to understand the tech job market a bit more and how to build an attractive portfolio.
So even though I now have the privilege of working as a software developer intern at a company I feel passionate about, I can’t help but wish I knew the things I know now from the start (I know, right - wishful thinking).
That’s why I’m writing this article to help other people find a kickass first internship. 🍾
So here’s my advice 👇
1. Don’t worry if it takes a long time to get your first internship as a software developer
I’ve witnessed many students apply for internships for over eight months with no job offer. And I’ve seen their confidence crumble and them being harsh on themselves, but I think having a hard time finding your first internship is a pretty normal experience especially for students that haven’t taken any upper-level courses yet. So don’t stress.
I can gladly say that my friends who struggled to find internships at first have found internships at great places. Also, many companies look for students that have about a year left of school. They have more experience, and the company can more easily offer them a full-time position for when they graduate. This plays a huge factor in why a lot of people who apply in second year struggle to get jobs.
2. Personal Projects are just as important (maybe even more) as your GPA
My whole life I’ve been very focused on school, believing that my grades were going to make me successful, and give me the life I want and that bad grades would destroy me. But now that I think back, I could have cared a little less about school, and focused on things like passion projects that would have made me a happier person. Besides, personal projects related to your field of study look great on resumes. It shows employers you are creative and have initiative.
When I finally let go of caring too much about my grades and started to focus more on my personal coding projects, I started to notice that my grades didn’t budge. I spent less time on school but I was doing equally as well. Probably because I wasn’t stressing so much about my performance, and could retain more information by being relaxed.
The personal projects I built have definitely helped me find the internship I have now. Employers don’t care so much about your grades as much as they do about your software development skills. Unless you’re planning on going to a top tier grad school, grades don’t matter that much in the tech industry.
So if you worry a lot about school like me, my advice would be to worry less, and get your hands dirty building software.
3. Keep testing the market - always apply even if you’re not looking for a job right now
Always apply to internships when you can. Popular companies like Microsoft give out internships a year in advance, so even if you’re not currently looking for a position - just apply. Worst case scenario you get more interview practice. Applying to jobs often also helps you to ‘test the market’. What this means is that you find where you stand in terms of your competition. Getting no interviews? Work a little harder. Build another project. Then come back, and apply again.
4. Try to do research on the workplace culture before accepting a job
I learned this the hard way. But this is especially important for underrepresented minorities. Some tech companies can be uncomfortable to work at when you are a minority. Ending up at a workplace like this can be soul-sucking, and deter you from tech completely. So do your research. Ask around if someone in your network has worked at the company and if so, how their experience was.
5. Aim high
Up until a year ago, I didn’t believe I could ever get a job at Google or Microsoft because I thought I would never be good enough. Those companies are for geniuses who have been coding their whole life, I thought. Now I know that’s not true.
Companies look for good developers but also for people with good soft skills that can bring a fresh perspective to a team. So if you work hard, have experience working on personal projects, and a decent GPA (not a big requirement but it helps your case), and prep well for interviews - you definitely have a chance with Google, and you should apply.
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