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A little background: I'm part of a highly credited internship program. For a fair amount of students who are accepted, this is a 2 year program. Each internship is 6 months long and they are at different companies. The student does not get to pick what company they go to, instead, the companies bid on students.

My first internship was great, they had a great intern program and I learned a lot through the company and my mentor.

I am currently a third of the way through my second internship at a fairly large company. This internship started right after I graduated. So far, this internship is less than ideal. My "mentor" is my supervisor who is also in charge of 40 other people. My "mentor" and everybody around me have no idea how to do the work I am currently doing. I have gotten a fair amount of praise for the work I have done so far (application development), but that is because I was using tools and applying skills that I learned how to do at my last internship. I have moved onto more technical stuff (web development), but none of this stuff was taught in school. The problem is that since I have no mentor who I can ask technical questions, I can get stuck for long periods of time trying to figure out something that should be rather simple.

In general, the internship program is lousy. My title is intern, but I am being treated as a full employee. The only thing I am learning here is about the industry and what my specific department does. Everything else (90-95%), the technical side of things, I have learned by teaching myself. There is only one person in my building who I can ask about the stuff that I am doing, and he is on the other side of the building and difficult to work with (he doesn't like the idea of an intern doing work that in theory should be his job, he feels I am not qualified to do this work, etc.).

The result of having virtually nobody to ask my technical questions about puts me in a terrible mood too many times. It doesn't help that there is pressure from higher-ups that are eagerly waiting for my work to be completed because it will be a tremendous help to many people.

Question: Would it be appropriate to talk to my mentor/supervisor about the terrible internship program? My supervisor is a good guy and we have a good relationship, but as an intern, I am not getting the guidance I should be getting for the work I am doing. The bar was set high from the beginning and although I have been fine so far, it is becoming more apparent that I might not be able to reach the bar all on my own. I'm afraid that if I bring this up this late into the internship, it will make me look weak and burn bridges with him (since I've been great so far).

Edit: It would probably make more sense to clear a couple misconceptions. This is a paid internship. Although pay isn't great for my field, I'm still getting paid for an internship, which is nice. My general perception is that with an internship, you are becoming familiar with work in your related field while having a mentor of sorts to kind of guide you during that time. Guidance differs for each person, some need more than others. I'm not saying I need a ton of guidance, but having virtually no guidance is what is the problem. I believe the guidance part is a big thing that sets an internship apart from a full time employee.

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    Is it a terrible internship if the experience you gain is directly applicable to any future full time job you may apply for? – Dave Johnson Jun 3 '15 at 19:28
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    ...but none of this stuff was taught in school You'll find that about 98% of what you do in your job isn't what you learned during your degree. Your degree teaches you how to think, not exactly what to do. – Jane S Jun 3 '15 at 21:16
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    While I understand your frustration, I partly agree with Dave and Jane. As a developer, you will never get to the point where you know everything you need to do your work offhand. Instead, you just become increasingly skilled at teaching yourself the pieces you don't know. While your current internship sounds like you're not getting enough help, I don't think it would be good for you to be in a position where you get constant mentoring either because hashing things out for yourself is teaching you a lot of the skills you need to be really successful. – Kevin Jun 3 '15 at 21:35
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    Is this a paid internship? If not, treating an unpaid intern as a full-time employee runs afoul of U.S. Department of Labor rules (assuming you're in America, that is). – Mark H Jun 4 '15 at 4:54
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    @DaveJohnson - yes, from the description, it is a terrible internship because it's not an internship, it's a job. – Davor Jun 4 '15 at 10:43
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As a boss, I generally don't like it when people come to me with all the dots connected ("your internship program is terrible") but no solution. Either come with a question "in order to improve this internship experience for me, should I A or B?") or come with your highly specific problem ("I have nobody to turn to for technical issues with the web development and I am frustrated working on something I don't know very well") and wait to see what your boss suggests.

Before having this conversation, you should be clear on what you expect to gain from the program, and what you are gaining from it. You may be able to get this from documents provided by your university. You want to be able to point to something the internship program should be providing and say "please help me to get [more of] this thing right here" not "your internship program sucks."

If, while you're preparing for this conversation, a great idea occurs to you and you know how you might be able to improve the program, you can run it by your boss. But you must know precisely what problem you're trying to solve or asking your boss to solve.

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    In complete agreement. It's easy for anyone to say what's wrong. The hard part is coming up with ideas on how to fix it, and those I gladly listen to. – NotMe Jun 3 '15 at 19:47
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    "be clear on what you expect to gain from the program, and what you are gaining from it" - indeed! There's no point going to your boss to whinge: go because you have specific problems or learning needs that aren't being addressed but that you think your boss can help with. By all means say you hope to develop through this internship but are struggling to find people who can support you with that. But unless you've been proactive in trying to solve problems, criticism of how the programme is managed - however accurate - will not be heard, will do no good, and may sour your relationship. – user52889 Jun 3 '15 at 19:55
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    There are no expectations set by the university or the program because every company runs their program differently. My expectation as an intern is to learn from the company in my related field. What I am learning so far is not what they have taught me, but from what I have taught myself while I happen to be at work. If I was to do what I am doing now, I might as well be on salary to match the work. I do agree that I need to find a reasonable solution to the problem before bringing it up. – Ill Informed Jun 3 '15 at 21:30
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    @guest111000111777 I don't believe Kate is suggesting you have to find a solution before bringing up the problem. You did a good job of stating your expectations and the realities right in that comment. (Leave out the part about being salaried, though. ;) ) Kate's point is that you should focus on specific problems. Even if you don't have solutions, this gives your supervisor specific, actionable information from you. Don't go in focusing on criticizing the program as a whole. Focus on what specific problems you are having since that naturally leads toward creating solutions. – jpmc26 Jun 4 '15 at 1:04
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I think you may have a couple in misconceptions about working in industry.

I have moved onto more technical stuff (web development), but none of this stuff was taught in school

This is very, very normal. You will find that 98% of the work you do in industry is not what you were taught at school. They simply can't teach you everything you may need to know in the diverse types of jobs you could be taking on. What they are trying to teach you is how to think rather than what to do. Your internship is then a way of applying that way of thinking in a practical sense.

Think about it this way - you are being given an opportunity to learn, to perhaps also teach other people within the organisation what you have to learn. I would call that rather valuable.

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    I understand a majority of experience comes from outside of school, but as an intern, I expect more guidance in learning these new things, not being thrown into it and expected to figure it out on my own. – Ill Informed Jun 3 '15 at 21:37
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    Then perhaps that's where you need to focus on talking to your supervisor, rather than feeling it's a "lousy intern program" :) When I did mine many, many years ago, my mentor was very hands off. I preferred it that way. However, some people feel they need more assistance (which is perfectly fine!), and perhaps your mentor assumed you didn't want to be hand held. Sometimes it's just a difference in learning method rather than something actually wrong :) – Jane S Jun 3 '15 at 21:43
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    You're being taught how to deal with being assigned a task that neither you nor anyone else at your company knows how to complete. This is the most important thing that you can learn. You'll have to apply it many times in your professional career... although you may have wished this was stated more clearly at the start of your internship. Embrace it! – Calimo Jun 4 '15 at 7:06
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    This answer is a cop out. An internship is not supposed to be simply working in the industry, if it isn't training then at the very least should be active mentorship. Otherwise it is just exploitation. – JamesRyan Jun 4 '15 at 10:23
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    The problem is, if it's exactly the same as it would be in a job, then it's a job and he should be paid. If it's an internship, they should be spending time on teaching him. – RemcoGerlich Jun 4 '15 at 10:49
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In addition to Kate Gregory's excellent answer:

Based on your description of the internship program, I believe it's the same one I went through. If it is, you should have some midterm appraisals coming up. Your mentor and your company's representative for the internship program should both be there.

Bring your concerns up with the mentor, and make sure the internship program representative is aware of your concerns as well. Like Kate Gregory said, make sure you go into the meeting with some ideas about how to resolve them.

Even if I am wrong about exactly which internship program you're in, the organization that coordinates the internships should have some people you can contact that are outside of your company, to discuss your situation. If you can't get your concerns addressed by your mentor and/or manager, bring it up with the internship organization.

  • Agreed, highly. You actually need to be appealing primarily to your institution and not the company. If you just complain to your boss it's quite likely the complaint will go no further. – Dave Kanter Jun 3 '15 at 23:09
  • @DaveKaye I don't think I'd put it quite that strongly. I do think the supervisor and mentor should be the first stop. It would certainly reflect poorly on the OP if he/she goes straight to the internship organization and the manager would have been receptive to the feedback. I was only suggesting the internship organization as an alternative if company management doesn't handle it. – skrrgwasme Jun 3 '15 at 23:16
  • I didn't say "only," I said "primarily." My point is really mostly agreeing with you that one should not just complain to the boss. Not sure what you want me to say less strongly. :-) – Dave Kanter Jun 3 '15 at 23:34
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Look to improve your situation by talking about it to someone with the power to change it.

Yes it would be appropriate to have a discussion about how the internship is going. If you need more individual support then your mentor needs to know this and if you haven't brought it up they won't have any way to know this. Avoid calling it terrible or lousy but definitely talk about your concerns about lack of technical support.

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Like @ump I think that the most important points are:

  1. This is a software development internship, thus unpaid or very low paid, and the point is to trade (1) your time and a small amount of value to company for (2) a mentoring/learning experience. It's a two-way street.
  2. OP is receiving negative value software development mentoring. Her only mentor is antagonistic. She is relying on the Internet and her previous mentoring from her previous internship to complete her assignments. This should be the end of the discussion.
  3. OP is organically learning only about this particular company's problem domain. This is not highly valuable on its own, in contrast to what another answerer wrote. It's one business domain of thousands, and only partially relevant to another job. Regardless, it's dismissive to her to tell her to adjust her expectations and question her intuition, which IMO are spot-on. Maybe the bigger business lesson here is knowing when to fire your client — something she should consider.

Solid software engineering practices and wisdom, which she is not learning, are universally applicable. And learning those is what she signed up for — that's the benefit of the bargain that she entered into. It's the promise that this company (and the school by extension) are breaching.

There are plenty of exploitative and mis-managed tech companies out there. It's the rule, rather than the exception.

OP would be better off quitting this "internship", and dedicating herself to contributing to a high-profile GitHub-hosted open source project for 6 months. Because: she'll gain real universally applicable app engineering and teamwork experience. And she'll have public commits and comments to point to in job applications.

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A lot of the answers given are irrelevant and/or prejudiced towards the needs of the manager and company, because that is who the answerer apparently identifies with. Because

  1. This is an internship, not a job. The guy is supposed to be learning stuff in return for his free labour. Saying he is a situation people often are while being paid misses the point: he is NOT being paid in either cash or knowledge!

  2. As for Kate who wants him to deliver the solution to his boss: the solution for him (or her) is simply to leave. He doesn't have a responsibility to solve the company's problem - he's not being paid! More: solving a problem like this takes power and nothing else. It has to be obvious to the people he is working for what is happening - they're just not willing/able to do something.

Probably the best thing to do is to document the problem, get agreement that the problem exists, and then say "In return for a glowing report and your help in every way of my moving on early, I'm willing not to make a fuss about this. But you ARE using me as unpaid labour, against government regulations. This has gone on for several months now and I've contributed $10,000(? whatever) of unpaid work to you while getting nothing in return. I appreciate that you didn't mean for this to happen, but I think we can all agree that it can't continue, yes?"

..If they try to dodge, get them to attempt to document the "mentoring" you've been given and suggest bringing in a neutral arbitrator - someone from outside the company. Re-iterate that you don't hold anyone responsible - you're doing them a favour by allowing them an easy way out of the situation.

If they ask what it would take to get you to stay, then perhaps have a commercial training course picked out. Choose one that's, say, half the value of the work you have already done and point this out..

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    He's getting paid. – Jim Clay Jun 5 '15 at 3:13
  • Working with other people (regardless of the tasks) and indeed working out this issue itself is valuable experience and knowledge to have... – Michael Durrant Jun 5 '15 at 13:58

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