Learning from an internship is…

… the best thing you can do for your team and yourself and here’s why!

If you are following me on Medium or if you watched some of my past conferences talks you will notice, that I’m often writing or talking about the stuff besides the technology — teamwork, the people behind the scenes, and much more. And today I will write some words about giving an internship because I think that this is very important today. Why? Because I’ve learned a lot during the summertime where our first internship colleague joined our team for five weeks!

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This year and for the first time, we’ve got the opportunity to give a colleague from the higher technical education institute Villach (HTL) for network engineering the chance to make an internship within my team. The internship took place from the start of July until August for five weeks. Eva, our new short time colleague was very interested in learning new stuff, especially about cloud technologies. One of the best things: without her, I guess we would not be able to learn to use Terraform that fast because she did a great job in preparing the core Terraform files.

Astonishing learnings which might be obvious but hidden

If you, as we do, are working in the IT sector, you are permanently learning new things nearly every day. Our brains are trained to process new information very quickly. If you are working in a DevOps structure or team you will be able to handle unforeseen events too — which is just another kind of very fast information processing. But, most of the time, something stays always the same — the colleagues you are working with. One commonly used definition of a team is: “A work team is an interdependent collection of individuals who share responsibility for specific outcomes for their organization” [Making the Team by Leigh Thompson 4th edition].

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Thompson refers to five keys which are defining a team. Key number three is that teams stay stable and bounded over time. Stability means, that team members, at least most of them, are working together for a longer time period. In my opinion, this is one of the success factors for good working teams. If you get used to each other, you can work on your shared goal without the need to explain everything in detail. At the same time, this can be the biggest drawback for a team because it could blinker the team members and the whole team about their work.

Stability refers to the tenure of membership. Most of the teams work together for a meaningful length of time — long enough to accomplish their goal . [Making the Team, Leigh Thompson]

Therefore it’s a good move to bring new ideas into the team and, as we’ve learned this year, one way to do this is to give an internship because a new young colleague will not have any previous burdens or history.

Learnings about ourselves

Eva joined our team with the beginning of July and one of our first tasks was to introduce what we are doing all day long. This sounds like an easy task, but it is something that you don’t have to do every day. So our first learning was, to describe in detail what we are doing every day! Working together every day with almost the same colleague’s means, that you just do your work because it feels natural. You do not need to explain the basics, because the basics are already known to everyone.

In a well-rehearsed team, the entry-level of discussions could be quite high, especially for inexperienced young colleagues.

Therefore the second thing we’ve learned was, that we have to explain what is already known. If you’ve worked in IT for a long time period, you assume that technologies like DNS are a no brainer. But, at least in the last couple of years, there were a lot of changes because of cloud technologies. As often, I started by drawing a lot of diagrams together with Eva — with pen and paper — and my team colleagues did the same!

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After some of these sessions with Eva, she was able to start with the development of the basic Terraform files for the Google Cloud installations of some GKE clusters. At the end of her internship, she was sure that she has learned a lot. During the development of the Terraform files, Eva asked a lot of questions and some of them were really astonishing in a way that we found some overseen design issues we never were aware of!

During these sessions with Eva, we’ve learned, that we have a huge amount of know-how and experience within our team and the way that we use GitLab’s Kanban, is very, very helpful not only to on-board new colleagues, it is also very helpful for internship persons to find the golden thread.

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Finally, it was an awesome experience for all of us to give an internship, because we made a huge step forward by reflecting our work!

Last edited on 25th October 2020

Speaker, GitLab Hero, Docker Community Leader, Author, Cloud Architect — 𝗜𝗺𝗮𝗴𝗶𝗻𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗶𝘀 𝗺𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝗶𝗺𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝗮𝗻𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝗻 𝗸𝗻𝗼𝘄𝗹𝗲𝗱𝗴𝗲.

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