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I started an internship 2 weeks ago as a Quality Assurance Engineer intern and in the intern orientation I was told: "You can only get out as much as you put into your internship." After the orientation I was sent to work with my team. My manager has not met once with me to discuss expectations or job requirements. I have been proactive in constantly asking for work to do from the other QA engineers and I still feel like I have a lot of time on my hands. I try my best to come up with stuff to do but as I am new I have very limited information about what their existing systems do.

My iOS developer internship before this one was a lot more structured and I always had more than enough work to do. I also felt that my programming skills were being strongly developed and now in QA I feel like I am not getting as much programming time.

How can I get more from my current internship?

  • I don't know why companies even bother with internships if this is all they are going to do. – user8365 May 28 '13 at 15:06
  • If you are interested in getting more from the business side of your experience I wrote this a while back that you might find useful: programmers.stackexchange.com/a/103766 – Preet Sangha Aug 12 '14 at 22:29
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You can't generalize about any career field based on one job. So no, not all QA shops are laid back.

What you need to do is talk to your manager. He is the one who should be providing you with work not the other QA engineers. Since he didn't intiate the conversation, you must.

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The phrase "You can only get out as much as you put in" means different things to different people. For example, I'm a member of some "influencer" programs at Microsoft, and in that context, we use that phrase all the time, meaning that we'll get some opportunities and invitations, but it's up to us to attend things, learn things, and make a difference. If I don't bother attending something, no-one will remind me, it's up to me how much I want to be involved. This is a typical use of the phrase for a volunteer activity.

I think it carries a different meaning in the sense of employment and especially an internship. Interns vary wildly in their abilities and enthusiasm. I think your boss means something like

I'll let you slack off if you want; I have a lot to do and interns don't produce a ton of value anyway, so I won't be reminding you to finish things or asking you if you need more work. If you want to work hard, come and let me know. I'll let you soar as high as you want to, but don't count on me to get engaged with your career and run it for you.

This would seem to fit with the laid back environment you're experiencing and having time on your hands. Go to that boss and ask how you can be busier. It would help if you knew whether you wanted more of what you're getting now, or if you'd also like to try something else in your "free time".

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1) Just Do It

No matter how much work you are assigned, you will have downtime. If you've been paying attention around the office, you may have noticed things that should be done, but nobody's had the time to do. Some examples could be:

  • Creating an excel spreadsheet to automate a common task (be it something mundane like a business expense report, or the like)
  • Creating a computer-readable index of some resource (for instance, create a library of all the company-owned reference books and where they are stored)
  • Create a script to improve testing (if you have any sort of repetitive work in your testing, why not use the time to throw together a script to do it)

When you are actively trying to create something to help out everyone, it shows that you aren't averse to hard work, it means you're self-motivated, and if you create something that makes their life easier they will be more likely to ask you to help with other tasks.

2) Talk to your manager

Asking other QA engineers, who aren't responsible for your work, may make them uncomfortable. They are not responsible for keeping you busy, but are responsible for the quality of the work they produce. If you impose yourself on them, they are given the additional responsibility of making sure you do it to their standards.

Going to the manager will give it the official "OK". If your manager says, "That sounds like a great task to teach Korey how to do" then it will be much easier for the other employee to shift the task to you and have it be your responsibility. If you've shown you actually have ability, you are more likely to get better tasks.

3) You are a QA Engineer

If you were keen on being an iOS developer, picking an internship as a QA Engineer probably wasn't the best choice. Rather than being disappointed that a duck is not a pig, how about you start quacking? There is little more miserable than a coworker who seems to think they are above the position they are in.

Perhaps instead of focusing on developing your programming skills, this is a good opportunity to practice your QA Engineering skills instead?

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Jmac has a good answer, but I would do a few things in addition or in different ways.

  1. You mentioned that you have never spoken with your manager - while I believe that is unfortunate, don't let it become a roadblock - have you e-mailed him to discuss expectations or requirements? have you asked him to schedule a meeting? (or schedule one yourself if you have the available software, after checking his calendar for available times). If your manager does not want to do this with you, ask him to refer you to whom you can speak about these things with - once he has given his approval, another person would be much more inclined to work with you and find work.

  2. Find out how the company operates - do you have a kanban board? do you know what projects are going on, which ones are pending, and which ones were due yesterday? - see if you can figure this out - perhaps a team leader or supervisor can provide you this, and you can volunteer to do something for the manager.

  3. I disagree with jmac's QA Engineer position - if you don't have a job description as a QA Engineer or QA Engineer work, find work that you can do & are skilled at (or would like to learn) - if the company needed a QA Engineer, they should have QA engineer work for you.

  4. Find out what other/previous interns have done and look for inspiration there - if you are the first intern, start documenting an on-boarding process for interns, such that the second one has a document to look at and bring them up-to-speed with how the company operates and other useful stuff that they should know.

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