How I got my internship
People often say that success happens when preparation meets luck. It's trite, but in my case it was true.
In spring 2011--well after most college students have settled their summer internships--my high school computer science teacher quietly pulled me aside and asked if I was interested in an internship doing web development at Valve. I said yes, though I wasn't a gamer and didn't know anything about Valve, and she passed my resume along to the company. A few weeks later, they interviewed me. A few days later, they gave me an offer.
I thought about it, briefly…
…and then I said yes.
I'm not entirely sure what happened on Valve's end, but it was a big summer for them (with a particularly ambitious summer sale and a new website for Team Fortress 2, among other things). So one of their engineers decided that he could use some more fingers on front-end web development, and he decided to hire the cheapest talent he could find.
Which, ultimately, was me. Lucky me!
I was lucky in a bunch of ways:
My high school CS teacher was looped in to the tech scene and was thoughtful enough to loop me in, too.
And, in the first place, I had a CS teacher in high school.
And I was graduating in 2011, which happened to be the same summer that one of Valve's engineers decided he wanted a high school intern.(I later got lucky again, because he ended up being a great mentor.)
But I had also seized the opportunities that my luck provided: So I was also prepared in a bunch of ways.
I had taken all of the web development work I could find, ranging from interning at a Seattle startup (which was another stroke of luck, in its own way) to working on websites for my teachers.
I had tackled a number of side projects, including one that had landed me and some buddies on Time's tech blog.
But that relatively deep knowledge (which, by the way, wasn't even that deep!) distinguished me from my peers.
And that was how my "girl work" got me a job at a video game company.
My time at Valve
I was doing front end development, which was clearly grunt work for the people I was working with. But it was the right work for me—I learned a lot about all kinds of things. I learned how to take a designer’s meticulous Photoshop file and make it real, down to the pixel. I learned how to use jQuery. I branched out, and learned a little bit of database design.
I enjoyed my coworkers immensely. I looked up to all of them, a lot. I gained an appreciation for the gaming industry. I gained a couple of pounds, from all the free food.
I screwed up occasionally.
When Team Fortress 2 went Free-to-Play, a site that I had worked on was unveiled. But I’d forgotten to put one of the big images up on the CDN (a faster way to distribute lots of static data to lots of people). In the Free-to-Play frenzy, tons of people hit the site, and with the image in the wrong place, the page basically didn’t load.
My mentor helped me fix it. Everyone forgave me.
I learned a lot.
How you can get an internship at Valve
I get email about this. I generally like getting email, but I get a lot of email about this.
It’s always nice email: “Hello,” it says. “I am an immensely promising-sounding high school student, and I’m just dying to intern at Valve this summer. Can you tell me how to get an internship at Valve, or pass on my resume?” The resume is always great.
And while it’s always nice to get email, I hate replying to this email, because the honest answer is that you probably can’t.
At least, not with Valve. Valve just isn’t hiring interns right now—but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other terrific companies out there who are looking for interns.
There are. There are plenty of them, ranging from little startups to huge corporations. A lot of them are more than happy to hire high school students.
Go get ‘em. Reach out. Figure out what distinguishes you.
And keep trying.