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Background Information: I am an undergraduate Computer Science student whom in June of 2018 began a year long internship at a large multi-nation corporation as a software developer.

Project1: When the internship was advertised they detailed the project that I would be working on for the duration of my contract (let's call this project1). When I started the internship I was content while working on project1, I worked as part of a team, the product requirements were clear, and the workload was challenging but still reasonable.

Fortunately for them or rather unfortunately for me project1 was completely finished within 3 months of my start date. I then found myself with literally nothing to do at work for several weeks. So I requested to my supervisor to see if there were any other software projects in different departments of the company that I could assist with. It is important to note that a big reason for me deciding to do this internship is so that I can learn and develop my skills, so sitting around doing nothing is a big problem for me as I feel I could be using my time more productively.

Project2: My supervisor luckily did find a department that was in need of a software developer to assist with a project (let's call this project2) for a long time now. Without going into too much detail, this department pays a licensing fee to a large well known third-party technology company for a software service. To give you a sense of scale of this service here is the price breakdown:

Initial payment = $140,000

Installation verification = $18,000

Yearly renewal payment for 6 user accounts = $46,000

The head of this department was and is still not happy with the software service that the third-party is providing. Hence, they have proposed that we develop an in-house 'light weight' version of the service using open source tools. This is where I come in.

At the time this sounded like a great opportunity for me to prove myself. I would get to be involved in the design and development of an actual in production piece of software from the ground up. However as I joined the new department I was informed that I would be the only developer working on project2 and that the project would be supervised by someone whom has had experience using the licensed software but has no software development experience. Despite this I still wanted to prove myself by working on this massive task, naive as I may have been.

There was definitely a shaky start to project2.A major part of project2 was in the planning and design stage, things like choosing which tools to use, specifying the product backlog, etc. This was particularly difficult for me since I had little to no experience designing projects of this scope and my supervisor could only give me vague product requirements for the backlog. Despite these set backs I persisted with with project2.

Skip ahead to the present day. I have made significant advances project2, I have a working prototype, many of the major features of the licensed software have been implemented into project2, and I have written extensive documentation on every aspect of project2. In my opinion this is great, and I am really proud of the work I have done so far. Hence, I decided to give a demo of project2 to my supervisor to show off all of these new features. Unfortunately the vibe I got from them was that of they didn't really care. At this point that I realized that project2's supervisor and the department manager never expected this project to be completed, it was just a side project to keep the intern busy.

This was somewhat crushing to me, as I had really applied myself and begun to succeed with a task that most would call over ambitious or even impossible. This lack of interest or involvement from the people who have set the task of project2 has really sapped my motivation to continue it. In my mind there is no reason to continue, I am under compensated for this level of work I have put in (due to being an intern I earn less than minimum wage for my country), and if the person whom I am writing the software for doesn't care why should I?

Finally, my question: How should I handle this situation at work? Should I confront project2's manager and the department manager regarding their lack of interest? Should I contact my original supervisor for project1 and explain the situation that I am being over worked for my position? Or should keep my head down and slowly work on project2 until June 2019 when my internship contract ends and I can gracefully leave the company?

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Any and all advice will be appreciated on this matter.

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    Not an answer, but is it possible that project2 has entered the realm of politics? If it succeeds someone is going to have to justify why $200K+ of expenditure is better than a $2 intern (no offense meant :D). You may be making someone look bad (or denying them kick-backs etc) – Peter M Feb 1 at 14:17
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    If they won´t use it internally, can you maybe ask permission to make the project itself open source? Could be great publicity for the company and especially you! Having projects that you can actually show off can be a big plus when you are looking for a job later. – asquared Feb 1 at 15:52
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Accept it, you're in no position to "challenge" anyone/ any decision related to Project2, regarding the interest (or lack thereof) and / or willingness to make the project actually work. There maybe valid reasons(1) for the lack of interest, there maybe some political reasons(2), there maybe bogus reasons(3) - either way, it's beyond your control.

You can try approaching the supervisor/ manager and ask them about the plan to get it actually deployed (instead of relying on "vibes") but if they deny it, you have to live with that.

You can try searching for in-house opportunities (hackathon, blogs, ideathon, whitepapers) to showcase what you have achieved and what you propose to achieve (bring in the $$ factor also). This may get you some more attention and may open some new paths. But you MUST get this idea approved by the current project authority.

Otherwise, if everything fails, keep your calm, and wait till your internship gets over. They can take away the "effort" you had put, they will never be able to take away the knowledge you gained. You are likely to have a better shot elsewhere.


(1) - Think of the support which would be needed to keep this open-source based implementation running. For a paid contract, you have some sort of customer support included, maybe even feature / enhancement requests are covered, too. How to handle those, with you being the "only developer" for that project? They may eventually need to build a team to keep that product running, which is an additional overhead.

(2) - As mentioned in the comment below the actual question Maybe you've run into a situation where if it succeeds someone is going to have to justify why $200K+ of expenditure is better than a $2 intern (no offense meant :D). You may be making someone look bad (or denying them kick-backs etc).

(3) - As you feared, this might have been a stop-gap work all along. It was destined to be dumped, irrespective of the work done or accomplished. Reason? Not known.

  • With regards to (1) and ongoing support. The company is currently in the process of hiring an intern to take over my project and responsibilities in June 2019 when I leave. Every year the company rotates it's interns around this time. – A.Kw Feb 1 at 15:26
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I've been in similar situations. Its hard to think that your effort and creativity have been ignored. Your situation is frustrating. However, consider this from the company's perspective.

The company's goal in offering internships is to scout potential employees, not to levy cheap labor to complete projects! Interns in general are not very productive. The most productive employees are full time folks who are time-invested in a long-term project. Perhaps you are the superstar exception to that rule, but I doubt it (no offense). Anyway there are other considerations.

Your supervisor is busy!!! He/she and employees under him/her have deadlines!! Creating a meaningful project for an intern is hard work!!!! It may seem impersonal to you that he/she gives you projects "just to keep you busy" but his goal is not get productive work out of you. His goal is to assess your skills and make you see that the company is an interesting place to work. He has to do that along with many other responsibilities.

Writing a working piece of code is not the same as supporting it long term. There's a reason why companies like Red Hat exist even when the software they offer is essentially free. Its all about the support. If there is a bug your company does not have to devote in-house effort to fixing it. Currently, you are the expert on this code, but you are leaving. Someone will have to devote effort to supporting your code. Yes, your code may still be able to recoup the losses from paying the licensing fee. But its more complicated than that. What if the department suddenly becomes swamped with work? What if some feature in your code turns out to be buggy and hard to fix? There are alot of unknowns here to the supervisors. Why ask you to do it then? The other supervisor may have been "whimsically considering options". Obviously he /she did not consider it a priority enough to assign a team of full-time employees to it. Don't be upset by that. You are excited about getting your project to work, but consider that the supervisors have a complex decision to make, and thus it is not as exciting for them.

To answer your question: Don't get discouraged. Its sounds like you went above and beyond their expectations. You are in a good spot. Keep working on your project 2 until told otherwise. Don't be upset if they decide not to implement it. They may still be impressed with you.

PS. If they decide not to offer you a job don't worry. Sometimes companies offer internships without knowing if they will have an open position in the future. Consider that having an internship in one department of the company looks good when applying to other departments.

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First, you have to be careful assuming some things. Saying that the product manager has no interest in it from his vibe is not really a great start.

With that said, assuming that you are right and no one cares about this project, you have a couple of options.

The first is to simply keep working on it. This is probably not a good idea, considering you are not getting paid enough.

The second is to contact a superior(head of development, someone responsible for interns?) and to clarify that you are feeling unmotivated to continue on this project. DON'T accuse you current managers of "not caring about the project".

The third, and probably the simplest one, is to quit. You are starting off your career, so you'll still have plenty of opportunities on your way.

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First look at the numbers and facts.

1- Does your protoype actually replaces the licensed software?

I've been required in the past to devise home made alternatives to commercial tools. It's a lot of work, but keep in mind that professional, well tested and widely used software is much more reliable than home-grown solutions.

Can the company keep working if they suddenly lost the licenses to the commercial tool? Or if this piece of software stopped working? If the answer is no, then this software is critical to the company and people are hardly happy to replace critical systems. They're also very skeptic about replacements.

Up to here, it's not your fault, just the way things are.

You may need to check if you solution also provides all the needed functionalities the company uses in a seamless manner. Even if your tool is easier to use, the learn curve is a hassle people like to avoid. Also, "being easier to use" might be just your biased opinion rather than the truth.

But if the answer is yes...

2-Are these costs/savings meaningful?

I'm not sure how things re going in your country, but in some places, I'd rather pay $46,000 for software license than having an employee dedicated to developing and maintaining a proprietary tool. The reason being that the salary for a software engineer (plus related taxes) is higher than this value.

In general, an intern's salary should be less than that over a year, so you might have paid your cost if the tool actually manages to replace the commercial alternative.

Keep in mind that you may end up having to maintain this software for the rest of your employment with this company, such that the cost of the home-made solution never really reaches zero.

3-Assuming your tools is successful...

Can you market it? Do people in sales department have the skills contact and synergies such that you tool can now compete with the one your company currently uses? Did you create proper documentation to allow a third party to operate your software without having you around? If you think so, go talk to everyone in the company, even the CEO and try to get your product selling! This will be great for your CV even if you leave the company.

4-Assuming your tool is not that big of a deal...

That's life! But then again, try to market your work rather than demand recognition! Say it's complex and hard to develop and sound proud as you say it. People will not inspect your code to conclude that.

You can look for other opportunities all you like, but don't leave before finding one. Also, do the best with with you've got right now.

You might also consider trying to join other projects rather than just letting a project getting less attention from management receiving your full attention. Joining several projects with a meaningful level of responsibility over each is a common technique to avoid being disposable.

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It is important to note that a big reason for me deciding to do this internship is so that I can learn and develop my skills, so sitting around doing nothing is a big problem for me as I feel I could be using my time more productively. […]

At the time this sounded like a great opportunity for me to prove myself. I would get to be involved in the design and development of an actual in production piece of software from the ground up.

You asked for this, and got it. This doesn't mean that you owe the company anything more, but I want to emphasize that you were unhappy with sitting around doing nothing while getting paid your intern rate because you were specifically interested in sharpening your skills.

Even if we accept your assertions at face value (that no one in the company has any interest in this project but you), you are still getting the experience and opportunities you were hoping to get from your internship. I appreciate that it sucks having others at the company not value your work (really, I do), but you're still getting at least some of something that you value pretty highly. I don't doubt that you are underpaid for this work, but no one takes internships for the money.

And there is more to come. In a future job interview, you can say "I successfully built an in-house version of a licensed service that had been costing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year." That's awesome! What you should probably avoid is letting the enthusiasm of your employer dictate your ability to get work done-- this will not be the last time your efforts are insufficiently appreciated, nor will it be the last time you feel neglected by management. In addition to gaining professional programming experience, this is an opportunity to learn to deal with a realistic obstacle to your work.

Now, what should you do about it?

I recommend speaking with the supervisor of project2 and mentioning that you are making great progress but are hoping to get some more rounded experience out of your internship than coding this application by yourself. I would not mention that you are unhappy with project2. They've already accommodated you once just by assigning it to you, after all. But if they really don't care about project2, they won't care much if you continue to work on it or not.

I would instead ask for opportunities to gain experience with different kinds of work the company does, or different aspects of project2 (how would the company plan for deploying it, if they did so? What sorts of tests or other considerations might they need while deciding? Can you work on/research those?), or other options drawn from your actual situation. I would, above all else, stay positive in how you express the situation. That is, what more could you do that would be beneficial to you during your internship rather than rattling off the things that make you, as an intern, unhappy.

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"Finally, my question: How should I handle this situation at work?"

...

"I am under compensated..."

Walk away.

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