I finished my very first proper internship at an engineering company (HVAC industry) a couple of months ago. I worked in sales support for the sales engineers and filled out project equipment schedules.

I realized late in the internship that I had made some consistent errors in some of the earlier project schedules I was involved in:

  • Incorrectly listed heights of air-conditioning(A/C) units to be 100mm lower than actual
  • Incorrectly keying in dimensions (length instead of depth) for A/C units

During the initial stages of my internship, I had asked my mentor to check through my work and to correct me for any mistakes but he seemed to have missed out on my mistakes on the dimensions so it probably went unnoticed.

Would it be the right choice to let them know about the mistakes that occurred so many months ago?

I am worried that this would leave a horrible impression of me for letting them know this late. I didn't initially come forward about the errors because I wanted to make a good impression.

In hindsight, I’m afraid I screwed up even more by dragging it out and not letting them know. I’m also afraid that the projects might run into real issues because of my mistakes. I also don't want my mistakes to affect my mentor

  • Just as a summary, is this accurate: "I made a bad mistake during my internship. The internship is now over, however I've just realised I've made a bad error with some of my work. What should I do?" Jul 17 '19 at 2:58
  • I actually realized the mistakes during my internship but didn't bring it up with my mentor. The mistakes were made a few months before I realized it. Jul 17 '19 at 3:09
  • But now your internship is over? Jul 17 '19 at 3:12
  • yes, I left a couple of months ago. I didn't bring up the mistakes during the internship as I was afraid it would affect my evaluation and impression my mentor had of me. Also, it felt very awkward to say " I just realized I had been doing XX wrongly all this time". Jul 17 '19 at 3:20
  • @troubledintern, I took the liberty of editing things down to help you get good answers. Feel free to roll back the edits if I didn't summarize things appropriately.
    – Jay
    Jul 17 '19 at 11:37

The odds of anyone relying on something an intern produced for health, safety, or major cost concerns are virtually nothing. The whole point of an internship is for you to get experience while someone more experience closely supervises you. Most of the ways that an intern gets experience is by making mistakes. The real goal of the internship should be that you make mistakes and learn from those mistakes-- that's why interns aren't going to be given any tasks where mistakes will have major implications. Sounds like that is exactly what happened here.

No one is going to think less of you if you send them an email saying that you just realized that you made a mistake on some of the schedules you prepared at the beginning of your internship. On the scale of mistakes interns have made, that is so small as to be insignificant. Most likely, they'll be impressed that you care enough to still be concerned. At the same time, if you just want to forget about it and move on with your life, feel free to do so with a clean conscience.

Moving forward, assuming you're working at a vaguely functional organization, the professional approach is to expect that you'll make mistakes and to let people know as soon as you can when you've made a mistake. I've sent out more than a few emails letting my team saying

  • I screwed something up.
  • Here's what I did
  • Here's what I've done to mitigate the issue
  • Here's what I'd expect the downstream issues to be that I'll need help from other people to fix
  • Ideally, here's a way that we could improve the process to make this particular mistake less likely

Not once has this caused anyone to think less of me (though I've taken some good natured jokes on some of them). People expect mistakes to be made. All anyone can hope for is that when mistakes get made they get addressed quickly.

  • Thank you for your advice and input! I was thinking of asking my mentor out and casually ask how the projects I helped him with are going. Thereafter I can determine whether to tell him about the mistakes. Would that be a good idea? Or should I just tell him straight when I see him? Jul 17 '19 at 5:33

If you're feeling this bad about one mistake you're going to have a rough time in the industry.

Mistakes are a part of gaining experience. Everyone makes them.

The important thing is you learn from them and don't repeat them.

Put it behind you. You learned from it. Next time you see someone making the same mistake you can step in and help since you now have experience in that area.

  • Do you suggest that I don't bring it up with them? I am a bit concerned that the mistakes would affect my mentor. Honestly, I don't feel like I belong to the engineering industry if I make basic mistakes like this Jul 17 '19 at 3:11
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    @troubledintern Don't you find you're being a bit arrogant if you think you'll make the same number of mistakes as experienced engineers make, when you're an intern? Jul 17 '19 at 3:28
  • @troubledintern Whatever mistakes you made I bet ever engineer there has already made them, fixed them, and moved on. They're where they're at because they learned from their mistakes. You can ask about them regarding the mistakes you have discovered just to let them know.
    – Nelson
    Jul 17 '19 at 4:01
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    @troubledintern right now as we speak I am working on a ridiculously dumb mistake made by a very senior engineer and this has been in production since 2016 and it is used globally on very mission critical software. Its all part of engineering. I've made dumb mistakes, others make dumb mistakes. It happens. Tell them if it'll make you feel better but don't think nobody else makes mistakes.
    – solarflare
    Jul 17 '19 at 4:18
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    @troubledintern in my experience employers expect interns to be of fairly low value towards making money. They hire interns to teach them, to show them the worklpace and if all goes good to offer them a job afterwards. In none of my three internships I produced something that gets used (and I landed a job at a company where I interned, so I couldn't have been that bad). So no worries, it is expected that you make mistakes. Just learn a lot and leave a good impression character wise.
    – Lehue
    Jul 17 '19 at 5:59

Interns make mistakes all the time, and I see it primarily being your mentor's responsibility to seeing it through that you were not making any of those minor mistakes. So, don't feel guilty that you made those mistakes.

That said, if you established a good personal relation with your mentor, it wouldn't hurt to give him a short call / email and tell him a a broader level that some of the values you used may be incorrect. Keep this communication small and targeted as its very much possible your mentor / some other person already rectified them. If asked for details then provide the details.

I still have some of the project files saved in a work thumbdrive too as backup.

I find this troubling - once your internship is over, you should ideally not be in personal possession of any of those work files - unless they are part of your pre-approved report etc for the internship. Keep this in mind later on in your career as well - don't keep confidential work files from company A in your possession once you move on to company B.

I guess I’m just not cut out to be in the engineering industry.

You are being too hard on yourself. As the saying goes, an error does not become a mistake unless one refuses to correct it. As another one goes, better late than never. You are on the right path, keep on learning, and don't keep the expectation that you will not make a mistake in life.

  • Thank you for the advice on what to do! I didn't keep in contact with my mentor but we did part on relatively good terms. I kept the files originally in case I wanted to let my mentor know which projects had the mistakes. I do intend to wipe the thumbdrive after I've decided on what to do. Would it be necessary to specify which projects had the mistakes? I understand that making mistakes in engineering is common but I do feel very pressured as engineering mistakes can be costly too Jul 17 '19 at 5:44

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