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I don't have official working experience. I got my master degree in computer science (computational complexity) about 4 years ago. I worked as a freelance translator since my bachelor (2011) and still get translation projects from time to time. It's been a year I took a few online courses on web development and spend time on self-defined small projects related to the course. My programming skills are at beginner level. I'd like to apply for an internship position (either paid or unpaid) but almost all of them ask for proofs of me being student, some say it's illegal to work in an unpaid internship when you're not a student. I'm curious what the solution to this situation might be. I'd like to improve my programming skills in an official working environment but sounds quite impossible for me. Any advice would be appreciated.

Does applying for an online course/degree categorize me as a student?

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  • With an MSc in CS, why do your rate your programming skill as beginner? – nvoigt Dec 23 '20 at 12:46
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    You mention it being illegal, but what is the jurisdiction? – mhoran_psprep Dec 23 '20 at 12:49
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    I think having no programming experience after completing a CS degree would raise some eyebrows at most places anyways. Maybe better to "fake it till you make it". – Peter Dec 23 '20 at 12:50
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    @TomTom: Oh haha, thank you for making me feel so bad about myself! Well, after graduation, because I already had a freelancing job (which is my fav kind of job) and I was more interested in languages and linguistics than in CS, I felt alright. I've learned Flutter and I can make Android apps and found programming interesting, but now can't find a related job! – Gigili Dec 24 '20 at 9:48
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    Well, @TomTom, I don't regret the path I've chosen, nothing was wasted and now I can improve my weakness points quite easily. You better worry about other things that are relevant to you and the world. – Gigili Dec 24 '20 at 18:18
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An option would be to find a non-profit/charity that needs a programmer. They are equipped to use volunteers.

In the United States most companies can't bring on unpaid help unless they there is course credit involved. Otherwise they are viewed as taking advantage of the interns.

The linking to course credit generally means that the university has a process of vetting the companies running the internship. There can also be requirements for minimum and maximum hours, and a list of task types the interns are supposed to be doing to gain experience.

But a non-profit/charity may have many volunteers. Some of these organizations way want programming support in-house. The big question is can you find a non-profit/charity that needs help in technologies that will help you gain the experience you want?

Does applying for an online course/degree categorize me as a student?

The employer would want to see that you are registered for the class, and that the class requires an approved internship. They do this to protect themselves.

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  • Good catch - a Non Profit may be one way to bypass minimum wage laws by declaring the work as volunteering. – TomTom Dec 23 '20 at 22:45
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If you're in the US it is not illegal to work in an unpaid internship if you aren't a student.

Internships do have a few considerations that employers need to meet. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fact-sheets/71-flsa-internships

Midlife or second career internships have been becoming much more common over the years with a good deal of people starting up in second careers, say after an initial retirement.

While I personally see most unpaid internships as taking advantage of someone, if that's what you want to do it just takes work.

Contact recruitment ads targeted at student interns and apply anyways, get your resume in there and when the subject of school comes up explain where you're at, what you want to come away with, and what you can bring to the table. Hiring ads are often not carved in stone.

Shop around local businesses in the industry and offer your services free of charge for a few months with an interest in padding your resume and getting some real life experience. There's a lot of struggling businesses out there that would probably be willing to get a free inexperienced hand in exchange of teaching them some of the trade.

Just put yourself out there, go get rejected a whole bunch, eventually someone will bite.

That being said, understand what you're looking for. You aren't just free labor, if you aren't getting tangibly compensated you aren't an employee. Make sure you're not being used as strictly an employee. You're there to learn, first and foremost, so don't let yourself be taken advantage of, if it stinks walk away.

In my opinion, with a masters degree in computer science and not knowing how to program, you're probably going to have a rough go of it. If it was me, I would start programming my ass off and shoot off as many offers to be an intern as I could. If you don't think you can genuinely learn to program, learn how to script and see if you can get some kind of admin job. That degree will for sure open doors, whether you get to stay in the house is a totally different matter.

Good luck

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