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I am an intern at a software development company. I am 24 and this is my first time working for a company, with co-workers, having a boss, etc, although I have some experience as a freelancer.

Sometimes I am worried that I slack off too much. I see how my co-workers are so industrious and work non-stop (they do slack off of course, but I guess not to the extend that I do), but maybe it is because they have much to do.

I tried to justify my slacking off by thinking it was because I am only assigned one task and there is no pressure or deadline for me so sometimes I am not motivated enough.

I do work and have made significant progress on what I have been assigned.

But there are days that I spend half my day just slacking off. Or another extreme example that happened just yesterday :

I was waiting for instructions on how to proceed with a certain matter and had to wait for one of my co-workers to ask questions.

He came at 6PM, and until that time I was just sitting at my desk, browsing, literally doing nothing all day.

Is this wrong on my part?
How long do you usually slack off at work?
What should I do?

I don't want to be accused of being lazy or slacking off too much.

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Think of any extra time you have on your hands while on the clock as a perk and maximize it by sharpening your mojo in the software development sport. Spare time to develop your skills is a bonus you will definitely have less and less of as time goes on. –  kolossus Nov 8 '12 at 17:45

6 Answers 6

up vote 34 down vote accepted

Is this wrong on my part?

Right vs wrong is not the question you should ask. The question you should ask is, "is this beneficial to me from a career perspective?"

That answer is easy - no, it is not beneficial to lack initiative and simply wait until another person gives you work/answers before being productive. Plus, taking initiative and finding more things to do is a great resume/interview discussion point. "At my last job, I often had periods of dead time, but I was able to do XXXX, YYYY, and ZZZZ to contribute anyways."

Additionally, think of internships as part of an extended interview - would you want your employer to see that part of you during their interview? Probably not.

What should I do?

Take initiative to find things to do. Managers do not want employees who only do what they are told. They want people who find problems, find solutions, and implement solutions. They (mostly) don't want to babysit, they want you to say "here's a problem, here's what I think can be done, should I do this?" and allow them to tweak the proposal or just go "yep! sounds good!"

So, do this. Find a problem and look into it. Ask your busy coworkers "are there things I can do to help you with your workload?" etc. Just a note, make sure to ask your direct supervisor about this first or say "I'm finding myself having a lot of dead time. I was thinking of asking people for more work/responsibilities - is that ok?"

A lot of managers/supervisors don't realize most interns do NOT ask these sorts of questions consistently, either, and so simply asking this of your direct supervisor might result in considerably more responsibilities/tasks just from him or her.

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A couple of things spring to mind.

  1. As an intern you won't be expected to do as much as the other employees (at least not in the first few weeks/months).

  2. Be more proactive. If you don't have anything to do don't wait to be assigned a new task, seek out your boss and ask them for something to do.

    This will show them that you are keen and willing to learn.

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As the old saying goes, ask...

Ask what you can do, ask if there is anything that needs to be done, cleaned up, etc... you are an intern, expect to do the stuff the other people don't do any more, or are too lazy to do.

Internships are designed for grunt work in many cases, or what you field would consider grunt work.

In reality, internships are hired or let go after their last week because of productivity, and the willingness of some companies to keep an intern because they have made themselves valuable.

Make yourself valuable and you may find yourself working there, if you choose to.

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Let me give you some advice, I have been in the work force for over 20 years. I'm trained from Clark University to do Graphic Design, Desktop Publishing and Prepress, I also got from there a Network Admin Certificate, I also have a generic Associates as well. I am now working as a Chief Inventory Officer for a medium sized company. I do the trash, and vacuum the floors every morning. You are not above doing grunt work. Never assume you are, or you may find yourself without a job if you think menial tasks are under you. Especially starting out in a field. –  Matt Ridge Nov 8 '12 at 13:54
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I didn't say I am not willing to do grunt work if I am asked to. I am just glad I don't have to at this point. –  hermann Nov 8 '12 at 14:20
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I did my internship for the American Cancer Society. I did grunt work. I did some incredibly advanced work (relatively.) I did whatever was asked of me. And I was grateful. Because, in return, I enjoyed the privilege of writing a couple of lines of code that may have saved somebody's life, somewhere, and the privilege of putting "www.cancer.org" on my portfolio, and the privilege of a letter of recommendation from my bosses, and the privilege of having those relationships to this day. Now I'm a senior developer and guess what? There's no such thing as grunt work, just tasks that kinda suck. –  satyrwilder Nov 9 '12 at 10:00

As a suplement, when you don't have any thing directly to do, there's always a broader picture to understand.

If you have any desire to try increase your value and grow, start trying to understand the enviornment in which you exist. Start at your at your desk, then your department, then your company, then your industry, and so on.

This also is a perfect time to start trying to understand other departments as well and how company works as a team. Read through procedures, look through calendars, and (dare I say it) hover your boss and ask LOTS of questions. Asking questions is what you should be doing, and as far as your employer is concerned, it at least gives you the apperance that you are doing something, interested in what you are doing, and looking to grow..

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Yes, sitting around slacking off all day is wrong on your part (I'm not referring to a few minutes here and there to browse the web). You should always try to do your best whatever you are doing. If you don't have work, ask for work. If they don't have any work for you to do at the moment, learn something that will help you do your job. Suggest new ways to your team that will help them do their job more efficiently.

Slacking off all day can come back to bite you later. You may not think that co-workers, managers notice this but why take the chance? If you don't become a full time employee at the company you are interning for, you will be asking them for a reference!

Bottom line...you are there to work.

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This is a good question. I look at internships as a form of corporate slavery but they can also be a useful way of getting an opportunity.

@richieaj mentioned telling co-workers how to do their job more efficiently....NO. Do NOT tread on anyones toes! If you have some downtime, ask one of the programmers If you can sit with them and watch them work. If they seem cool, ask them questions about what they are doing. I found this very useful for assessing work habits and picking up little tricks. The more people you watch the more you will learn, and you will learn much more than working alone.

Make sure you are good to have around!! They probably won't notice you tapping away in the background building the next software masterpeice but they will notice if you make them a hot drink, this is probably the most useful thing you can contribute.

You really need to ask your boss how you are going, tell of your concerns and ask how you are going, where you are doing well and where you can improve.

If your boss says you are doing poorly and wouldn't hire you, your internship is probably a waste of time. You won't be able to use them for a reference so you have effectively wasted your free time working for free. If this is the case, amicably leave.

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1) your view on internships is wrong, if you ever have one which seems like corporate slavery you are at the wrong company - especially in the tech industry as the asker is, and 2) if you think the most valuable thing you can do is make them a hot drink you are wasting your time at the company and have an incredibly cynical view on what your own abilities are –  enderland Nov 9 '12 at 3:21

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