In the first two weeks of my first internship at Axcient, I spent the majority of my time reading basic documentation and building a sample Web app to get the hang of the new material I learned. It was unnerving at first, and I wondered if I could play on the same field as the rest of the team, given that I was previously a stranger to the product. To my surprise, I quickly dove headfirst into the work, and soon after recognized that the intimidation factor had gotten the best of me. The mindset you have is always key when entering a new work setting, so keep in mind some of the following things as you mentally pack for your internship.
- You don’t need to be an expert – The variety of languages and frameworks that tech companies use today makes it that much more likely that some will be present in which you have little to no experience. It is also not uncommon for companies to mix and match, using certain parts of technologies, while ignoring others; as a result, it helps to understand what kind of role you will have before starting your internship.
- Figure out what’s important – Instead of trying to master every single technology you may use at work, determine the most relevant pieces, and focus your efforts on those. I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with git, a popular tool used by most tech companies today to allow developers to simultaneously work on the same files and maintain a version history of all their past changes. There are great resources online for git whether you are just getting started, or are interested in learning more about how it works under the hood. Oftentimes, your interviewers will have great advice on where to aim your focus.
- Done never means done – Think back to all the moments during the school year when you had to furiously debug code all night or stay up cramming for a tough exam. I had plenty of those moments, and as soon as I was done, it usually meant exactly that. A company’s product, on the other hand, is never ‘complete’. A new feature begins as a prototype, and is often reworked with updates and modifications after you receive some feedback. In addition, your fellow coworkers may work on the same lines of code, so it is critical to keep your work as readable as possible.
- Rather than waiting around, seek out feedback – This is a vital idea for multiple reasons. You can save yourself plenty of time and potential frustration by figuring out that you need to change up the direction you are going with a certain feature or project. On the contrary, suggesting your own creative ideas and approaches can help you get noticed, and doing that sooner than later is always encouraged. Events such as demo days can be a great time to show off what you have been working on, so be sure to ask about any similar opportunities!
Although I wasn’t as mentally prepared as possible, it wasn’t imperative in the end. The most important part of your internship is the material you learn and the experiences you takeaway. You can also gain insight on potential career paths, whether or not it is what you are actually working on during your internship. Most of all, don’t forget to have fun!
Dima Ivanyuk is a computer science junior at Carnegie Mellon University. He once placed second in a beauty pageant as “Plump Polina.”