For the last two summers TID has had interns and so will it go next summer. I learned the value of having interns in my previous role and would strongly recommend it. Interns give you lots of advantages which are quite hard to get in your regular team.
- Fresh perspective and new ideas
- Current degree level education
- More capacity for non critcal tasks
- Great test of your induction materials
However nothing in life is free and to get these great benefits you have to make an internship experience which attracts good interns without causing too much upheaval to your team. Interns when managed badly can be a cause lots of surprise extra work (my least favorite kind of extra work). To mitigate this risk we are careful about the workload we allocate to interns.
When we have an intern the body of their 12 weeks of work is roughly divided into thirds.
- I plan for them to spend 1/3 of the time working on a project in the team. This gives them plenty of chance to see how we work and learn the TID way. They will work on a real piece of project work which ships to customers and the work will be reviewed and structured by the technical lead to ensure the quality is high. We do not factor the interns time into project estimates because generally the time they save is spent answering questions and reviewing the work.
- 1/3 of the time will be spent on a solo project. This will be a stand alone project which is chosen based on the interns rough preferences. Some times this will be an investigation piece or a piece of software for internal use in the team. It can be a customer facing product but only if it is non critical in every way. Work which we would decline because it is not important enough is a good candidate for this. Interns are not full members of staff and they lack professional experience so it would be foolish to entrust them with significant responsibility. They will usually get support from a team member in collecting requirement and technical guidance or review of their work. This gives them a chance to learn in way which has few negative side effects to us but gives them control and independence.
- The final third of the time will be spent doing dogsbody work. This is the kind of work that requires little thought or input but still has to be done. It is often data entry or data collection, it is not very glamorous but someone has to do it. It is a helpful thing for interns to do because it shows them not all our work is fun or exciting and it is something they can get on with when they are waiting for help from a busy team member. It is also a lot cheaper for us to have the intern doing this than a software engineer.
One other weekly tasks I like interns to do is write a blog post on this blog. It helps them reflect on the purpose of their work and hone there writing technique. It lets me know when they haven’t really understood what they are doing or why and can also be used as a showcase to their future employers. In recent years it has also been used to advertise our internship program to new potential interns. You can read some past blogs here:
Over the years interns have provided the team with new project ideas, introduction to technologies to new and great management experience for team members. They don’t save that much work so don’t time budget them as a full member of staff. Temper the work load with non-cricical and sometimes uninteresting tasks and you can get good value out of an intern while they get good experience in return.