How to get an software engineering internship (part 1 – applying)
Internships can create a toxic environment. Not where people backstab each other for jobs or grades per se, but rather when people view getting an internship as an ‘absolute must,’ and those who don’t have one are less ‘skilled,’ ‘talented,’ or ‘proficient’ in computer science. That drives me crazy (and will be for a rant in the future).
But back to the topic, the most challenging part of getting an SWE (SoftWare Engineering) internship is getting the interview. Why? Well, it takes a lot of time to interview each candidate, and with only a limited number of interns each summer, there has to be some stage that filters most people out. From my minimal experience interviewing, each company appears to have its way of filtering resumes and deciding which candidates to move forward in the process. Moving from the application to the interview is the most demoralizing part of the internship search experience.
Some of my friends, who have solid math/cs backgrounds, never got a single interview at any big tech company (MANGA as they call it now). It’s not that they’re not qualified or their resumes suck, but I guess they just weren’t lucky enough.
Here are some tips that I’ve gathered over the years. Remember, take everything with a grain of salt! And good luck!
One of the first things I realized early on is that only a few companies will even respond to you (a rejection email would be nice, right? it was quite a rare occurrence.). Furthermore, I have seen many of my co-interns grow during my internships, and I believe that almost anyone who takes CS classes somewhat seriously is qualified to intern at most companies. Because of that, I think it’s usually luck who gets filtered out and who gets to move forward. Therefore, the best way to get an internship is to apply to as many companies as possible.
However, I’d recommend applying in batches based on how much you want to work at said company. The last thing you want is to get ten coding challenges in a week and not enough time to prepare for them. And, the last thing a recruiter wants are candidates who don’t even want to intern at the company they applied to. It’s a lose-lose because it adds extra work for you and drains company resources for interviewing other people who are actually excited.
You can use https://www.levels.fyi/internships/ for help to find internships and apply directly!
Although not the earliest of all internships, the software timeline is quite early. Most large SWE internships open their applications in August/September and fill most of their headcount by November. However, I’ve seen people get offers in Jan – April (I got mine in April one year). You have to be proactive on the timeline and start when the applications open to get the most out of your effort. Most companies usually limit the number of interns they want to hire, but no specific quota per week. Therefore, the earlier you start, the more spots available they still have.
Startups are nice too!
If you are applying late, hate big tech, or luck isn’t on your side, looking for internships with startups can. They are always looking for people to join, and some are quite willing to take on relatively new people in coding.
However, I recommend NOT applying to as many startups as possible. Startup life can be challenging and demanding, and usually, the founders work much longer hours than you think to make the idea come alive. Make sure you are aligned with the company goals because, who knows, maybe you’ll join the company full-time!
They are also great at teaching everything needed to make something. I’ve also felt working on your projects from idea to consumer can also give you this experience.
Startups *can* help you gain the knowledge and experience to get a better internship the following year.
Or take a summer to work on something else.
The biggest mistake I see people make (including myself) is to be too focused on their careers. There are so many more skills that you can improve on. Whether it’s personal projects, research, exercising, or just hanging out with friends. As long as you are happy and getting better at something in your life, I think it’s a summer well spent.