Intern management tips and tricks

Celeste holding a happy balloon, as if giving it to another person to bring a smile to their face.

Do you host interns at your company? I’ve started prepping for my springtime interns already – here’s a document I spun up to help me keep myself sorted as I identify potential projects, prep first-time intern mentees, and generally look forward to hosting an intern in 2021. Do you think I’ve missed anything important? Would you do it differently at your company?

Identify a project

Intern projects should be relatively small, or make up a small portion of a larger project. This makes it achievable in the limited amount of time your intern works with your team. (Be sure to verify how long you have an intern! Depending on your company and program, it can be as short as 6 weeks, though 8-12 weeks appears more common.)

Prep team mentor

Make sure that the mentor is bought in on the project, and thinks the project can complete in the time you all have. Also ensure that the mentor understands the various check-ins that they should be working toward with their mentee. Not just the standard midpoint check-in and final presentation, but also regular CRs, and other process controls, like items in your task-tracking tool.

  • Measurable sprint tasks
    • During each sprint, new tasks should be defined and monitored. The tasks should be measurable and small enough to be completed in one sprint.
    • College students may not have a habit of sub-dividing the project into discrete, measurable tasks, hence the mentor should provide assistance here.
  • Point the intern to right resources
    • In addition to the team specific resources, the intern should also be pointed to useful team or company resources e.g. your internal wiki, so that they can unblock themselves on common issues.
  • Testing is equally important
    • Interns may focus more on development than testing. The mentor should show them how to think about the relevant testing before the implementation e.g. manual testing vs writing tests.
    • If possible, plan to create some metrics for the intern project and compare the improvement from before-state to finished-state.

Work backwards from project acceptance

When you have identified a project, you will want to outline some notes and a success state at the end of the project. The success state is your acceptance criteria. From there, the team hosts (intern’s mentor and manager) can identify intermediate milestones (with the intern, ideally) and the intern can work toward those milestones during the internship period.

Set process checkins

The intern program generally requires two meetings, a midpoint check-in and closing meeting where you communicate your team’s hire/no hire decision to the intern. Those aren’t nearly enough milestones to ensure your intern is working toward a successful deliverable.

Additional check ins that help provide structure include:

  • Weekly 1:1s with the intern’s mentor and intern
    • Provides technical guidance and ensures the intern feels supported in their efforts
  • Weekly 1:1s with the intern’s manager and intern
    • Provides feedback on office norms, guidance on soft skills like working with a team, informs the intern about technical best practices and process controls, may include technical guidance but at a higher level than the intern’s mentor is able to give (since the mentor will have the most context on the intern’s work). Also provides a forum for career growth discussion and setting expectations, in the same way a manager would for a full-time employee
  • Regular cadence for CRs (e.g. every other week, or something else that’s both achievable, and sane)
    • This helps the team provide feedback on the intern’s code as well as improvement over time, and prevents the intern from getting lost and not completing their project at all
  • An early architecture review with the team
    • Allows the intern to work backwards from a success state while getting feedback and suggestions from a wider variety of viewpoints (beyond that of the intern’s mentor and direct manager)
    • Prevents the intern from going off in a wild or difficult-to-implement direction, because of the breadth of technical depth and experience from the team
  • A mid-point review / presentation with the team
    • Shows progress from the architecture review (i.e. the idea) toward implementing the project (i.e. reality)
    • Allows for suggestions on refinements and minor course-corrections
  • A final project review / presentation with the team
    • Demonstrates completion of the project and allows the team to gather more information for their inclined/not inclined vote
  • Consider gathering feedback from intern on their mentor
    • This is optional but would help both the intern mentor improve their future mentorship as well as the intern become comfortable with the formal, professional-style feedback provided on promo docs and in internal annual review tooling (since there’s an absence of either during part of a typical internship period)

Informal check ins between the intern and their mentor and manager should happen regularly.

Team culture / ceremonies / social events “buddy”

Consider pairing your intern up with a team member as a “buddy” in addition to a project mentor. The intern can reach out to the buddy for non-work related questions, or for questions about social or cultural aspects of the team, company, etc. The separation between mentor and buddy helps the intern feel comfortable asking certain – distinct – types of questions of each person. This also encourages the intern to meet more people on the team, from the start!

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