Internships at tech companies are different than your typical internship – don’t expect to be picking up coffee orders! We spoke to Rachel Bussert, Epicodus’ Director of Student Services who has been coordinating the internship program at Epicodus for over four years. Rachel tells us what she’s learned about finding internship opportunities, the value of an internship before your full-time job search, and how to make the most of an internship once you’ve landed it. Plus, questions to ask in the interview to make sure you’re choosing the right internship.
What do software development internships at tech companies usually look like?
There isn’t one specific “type” of internship, but you’re definitely not going to get coffee and donuts. Essentially, a good internship should involve writing code and learning what it is to be a developer in a real-world situation.
Some companies have a siloed project that they have their interns work on. Sometimes interns are working on production code. In my experience, I’ve worked with companies who were more interested in what the student wants to learn and helping to mentor them. Some companies are just passionate about helping junior developers.
How long is the ideal internship?
The Epicodus internships run for five weeks because it’s meant to be in line with our class structure, but a lot of the companies we work with end up extending that internship. Many internships can last even three or four months.
Why might a bootcamper look for an internship before they begin their job search for a full-time developer job? What’s the value in doing an internship first?
When a company is hiring for a junior developer, many of them are open to recent graduates, but sometimes there is still that ‘chicken and egg’ problem: you need to have a certain amount of experience, but how do you get that experience?
The internship is meant to bridge that gap. After an internship, students going out on a job hunt can confidently say, “I have real world experience, too. I’ve worked with other developers in the industry on these specific skills,” instead of just, “These are the things that I’ve been learning in class.”
That holds true outside of Epicodus, too. Getting real-world experience is a consistent problem that every bootcamp graduate is going to have to face, one way or another. So, internships can be a good way to get over that.
Could you describe a little about how the Epicodus internship matching process works?
Companies give us a little bit of information about themselves, what they’re looking for in an intern, and what projects that student would be working on. We give that to the students, and they rank their interest in the companies. We then use that to set the student up with three to five interviews. Once the interviews happen, students tell us the order of their preference.
Companies also get a pretty big say in this in that they rank each student as either a ‘best fit,’ ‘good fit,’ or ‘not a fit’. We use that to match the students with companies as high up on everybody’s preference list as possible because we want this to be a good experience for both sides.
Epicodus guarantees an internship match for every student, unless every company ranks them as 'not a fit' (which is extremely rare).
Are Epicodus internships typically in the Pacific Northwest area?
Yes, they are usually in person internships. But we have also occasionally worked remotely with companies in California, the Midwest, and in Canada.
If someone doesn’t have access to Epicodus student services and they’re looking for ways to find an internship, how might they go about finding their own internship?
What types of companies host great internship programs and what attributes should a bootcamper look for in a great ‘intern company’?
The internship agreement that companies sign with us is very flexible except for two points.
One, we ask them to guarantee that students are going to at least 30 hours per week of development-related experience. Even if they’re not coding all of those hours, they won’t be off getting coffee. Two, we ask that there is a developer on hand that is willing and able to act as a mentor.
Make sure that you’re going to get the experience that you’re looking for and that there is somebody who has both the time and the desire to offer mentorship. Because, even if you get in, if you have a mentor that is not invested in your success, it’s not ultimately going to be as much of a valuable experience.
The type of company isn’t necessarily important. We’ve worked with everyone from little startups all the way up to larger companies. The size or how established the company is has rarely been indicative of whether it’s going to be a successful internship.
Are there any red flags students should look for before taking an internship?
If you walk into an interview and it comes across that they are less interested in helping you gain skills and they’re more interested in you as free or cheap labor – that’s a red flag.
One good question to ask the company is, “What will the next few weeks look like if I get this internship?” If it is clear that they do not have a plan, I wouldn’t recommend that internship.
Can you share some examples of companies that have worked well for the internship program?
There’s one company that we’ve worked with pretty much every round of internships for the past couple of years called Advertising Solutions and they’re lovely! A fair number of their staff now is made up of Epicodus graduates. We’ve also worked with a number of creative agencies like Sq1. We work with a wide breadth of companies. If we have a company like Phase2 for instance, the internship program that they have on their own is not 100% compatible with ours, but we will be flexible to be able to let them take interns without our staff being directly involved in the matchmaking process at Epicodus.
How can bootcamp graduates make the most of their internship once they’ve landed one? What should they focus on once they’re there?
Getting the most out of your internship starts before day one. As soon as you get the acceptance, your next step should be asking, “What ramp up do you need me to do before I get there?” Ask if there is any reading and anything you should practice so that you’re ready to hit the ground running on day one.
Then, once you get there, just listen. Internships from one company to another are not always apples to apples. At some companies, your entire first day might be on-boarding and getting to know the team. Others might have you working on projects on your first day. Be open, and don’t come in with expectations of what day one needs to look like. Be able and willing to flex with them.
Do you find in talking to companies they are looking for interns who have great hard technical skills, soft skills or a mix of the two?
That also varies a bit from company to company. For some, if you’re the right culture fit for their team, they’re not worried about anything else. Other companies are more focused on a person knowing how to do a specific task. But, the majority of companies fall somewhere in between – they’re looking for somebody who is a package deal. You need to have the soft skills and interviewing skills and be able to work with a team. You don’t have to be the best coder in your class. You don’t have to be great at everything. You need to be able to grasp concepts so that you learn with them.
One thing that a company has to keep in mind is, “Is this intern going to be such a drain on our resources that it’s not tenable?” But that’s rarely an issue. We’ve been matching students with internships at Epicodus for more than five years and we almost never have a student who can't keep up. Generally, if you’ve gotten through the coursework of a bootcamp, you’re ready to do an internship.
How often do you see interns spin their internship positions into full time jobs?
It varies. Usually, companies will keep between 25-30% of their interns for either an extended internship or hire them on permanently.
Many people think of an internship as being a long application process or long interview process for a full-time job. Do you think that may be the wrong mindset?
Absolutely. Even when an internship is up-front about the fact that they won’t be hiring at the end of the internship period, it is still valuable. If you knock their socks off, they might make an exception. Also, you are building your network within the industry. Maybe they’re not hiring, but if you do a good job and impress the staff there, maybe they know someone who is hiring. Or, at the very least, they’re going to be the first great professional reference.
What is your advice to a company who may want to bring bootcampers on board as interns?
For our internship program, we have an entire written guide for companies to get the most out of an internship. Here are the three biggest tips we tell companies:
Is there anything else students should know about internships?
The one other piece of advice that I would give to folks who are looking for an internship is to get creative with how you get in touch with potential internships and jobs. Don’t just look at job postings. Find employers where they’re at, whether that’s through LinkedIn or meetups, etc.
For companies, my advice is to be aware that what you’re getting with interns that have come out of a bootcamp is not the same as what you’re getting with graduates who have a computer science degree. There is equal value, but the education they have and the skills they bring are different.
To find out more about Epicodus (and their internship!) read Epicodus reviews on Course Report or visit their website.
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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