I recently got a job as a software engineer intern at a major software company. While I was extremely fortunate to have this opportunity, this first week of working here has been horrible. I've gotten very little direction, no one is making themselves available to help me, no information or guidance getting set up on the majority of the software and tools the group uses. I've spent the majority of my time just sitting and doing nothing. I've vocalized to my tech lead that I need goals and things to do, but have gotten only one assignment. Following up on the assignment, the person showing me what to do assigned me a task that was so convoluted and out of my skill-set, I was questionable as to why he would even show me. The requirement for the internship required 3 months of object oriented programming and I just finished my sophomore year of college. My question is, how can I vocalize to my boss that I'm basically so new to this field that I need clear direction and progress up to higher level skills in chunks?
My question is, how can I vocalize to my boss that I'm basically so new to this field that I need clear direction and progress up to higher level skills in chunks?
You just talk.
Hopefully, you have a period of private time with your boss (perhaps a weekly meeting) where you can discuss how things are going. If not, ask for one: "Hey, boss. Can we have a few minutes to talk?"
Then tell her/him how your week went and what didn't go as well as you would like. Explain why you think that is, and what you think may help it to go better.
In addition, try to be patient. In my experience internships often take a bit of time to get flowing. The first week is often awkward, boring, and/or confusing. Sometimes, the timing is such that the appropriate amount of attention and help cannot be devoted to the new intern due to other priorities, vacations, etc.
It will most likely get better soon, you will feel more a part of the team, and you and the company will have adjusted their needs to your abilities. Having a good discussion with your boss will help get that going even more quickly.
This is not unusual for software jobs, especially internships. The ramp up is very non-linear. Take your first week to get all your paperwork sorted out (payroll, benefits, HR training, etc). Take this time to walk around and meet your team. Get all your equipment sorted out, get your dev environment set up. Depending on how complex the system your team is working on, it could take you up to a week just to do that properly.
You've already gotten a task. That is good. Now dig into the task. Read lots of code. Go on SO/Google. Ask lots of questions. Part of a real job is that maybe no one knows the answers and you have to figure it out. You can usually ask for help from multiple people on the team, not just your manager. That may not always work though, and it's normal that in the beginning there's going to be down time because sometimes you'll just be plain stuck. Read up on documentation. Brush up on programming skills. Click around the system. Find bugs. Join hallway conversations, etc. Do not just sit around. Find something productive or educational. There is always something you can be doing.
You can schedule a daily checkin with your mentor so that it shows up as a meeting on their calendar. That should help force some time between you so that you can get help regularly.
As the comments above have said, the key here is patience. First, many companies are focused on running their own business and making money, not supporting interns. While things may seem disorganized and chaotic (and they probably are), you are being given a front row seat into how a real team operates.
Therefore, take this opportunity to learn as much as you can. For example, ask or find any product documentation or training and read/review/watch it. Sit in on meetings. Ask to help out on things that seem interesting, even if you are just taking minutes of a meeting or walking with one of the others out to get coffee. Your productivity is your responsibility.
At the same time, make sure you communicate well. As you said in your question, if you cannot do something, make sure you say so. Try to do as much as you can, articulate your limitations and control expectations. This way, people will learn what you can and cannot do and give you tasks more appropriate for your skill level.
Eventually they will give you more work, until then ask team members if you can shadow them on their work. Ask lots of questions and build some trust / get to know each other. I bet you find you'll learn a lot just by sitting with them for awhile. You might even get some pair programming out of it.
When people see you just "sitting and doing nothing", they are less motivated to invest their time and effort into training you. However, you don't want to be obnoxious going around bothering people - it's a delicate balance. To get started, some specfic things you can do that are practical:
Read manuals of the products your team maintain/develop.
Try to figure out why the products are designed the way they were. Ask well-prepared questions about them.
Participate in code review meetings so you get a clue of what people are working on, then just go study their work on your own.
The key is to come up with intelligent, well-prepared questions to show your interest and skills. Once you can show that, they will want to give you work.