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I am currently interning in a fairly large software company which is a subcontractor of important companies in defense industry.
I started the internship very passionately doing all the "tasks" my manager assigned to me. I double quoted the tasks word because they were really trivial tasks like moving java classes from one folder to another one, copy-pasting javadocs into the classes,reading long manuals which they never needed later. But I have done all without complaining although I knew that all those tasks could be done by non-programmers very easily. I learnt and used batch scripts to finish tedious tasks and to show them my will to code. But it didn't work. A week ago my manager assigned to me another trivial task which I am not finishing on purpose.A week passed and nobody asked me about how it's going.

I want to make it clear that I am by no means a programming genius but I believe I have a fairly good programming knowledge compared to other interns in the same workplace and I am really passionate about learning new things.I want to show my manager to my full capacity but I don't know how to do it. How can I achieve this?

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    Not finishing a task on purpose is no way to show that you're mature enough to be trusted with other work. Petulance will get you nowhere but out the door. – keshlam Jul 28 '15 at 18:07
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    So they are asking you to do things that need to be done but you feel that they should go to someone else because they are a waste of your time? As an intern you are the lowest person on the totom pole, you are going to get the least critical tasks that nobody else wants. – Myles Jul 28 '15 at 18:24
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    Just because nobody is checking back with you for a week doesn't mean someone isn't tracking your progress. Perhaps the manager has asked another individual how you seem to be doing? Interns are sometimes brushed aside or given more junior tasks. Look for efficiency improvements via scripting redundant procedures or creating better work flow processes. You'll be noticed if you positively impact your team's goals. – jcpennypincher Jul 28 '15 at 19:06
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    Your manager said you would get one after you finish the current task. You state you have not finished the current task. Even interns get fired. I suggest you start with performing the assigned tasks. – paparazzo Jul 28 '15 at 19:25
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    @ComradeDaniel If you're leaving in 2 weeks then you're probably asking the wrong question and/or at the wrong time. At this point you need to show that you're a professional when it comes to finishing up your remaining tasks. Also you want to make for an easy handover to the next person. Documentation is probably an important part of this; maybe you can look at it as "trivial" but it is necessary for the people who will work on the project(s) later. – Brandin Jul 29 '15 at 12:40
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I am in a similar position. I'm currently an intern at a software company but I haven't done too much developing. I've had some tasks that are kind of tedious that I also automated using scripts and other programmatic ways, like you mentioned.

In my case, the company has one main product, let's call it ABC. ABC is an MES software solution used by manufacturing companies. If one small thing goes wrong, it could affect a large portion of their production. Obviously, I would not be assigned to work on such important parts of their product. Software used in the defense industry could be similarly volatile.

Understand that it might not be the case that they think you aren't a capable programmer. We are interns and it isn't our job to do the most important work. It makes sense for us to do the smaller tasks. Why would they give these tasks to their employees who are familiar with the code and have more important things to do? We are there to learn and gain experience working in a professional environment.

If you really do desire more complicated and programming tasks, let your manager know. Keep in mind that even if you make this known to them, it may not be possible for them to give you what you want. Just keep working diligently at what you're assigned and it will reflect well on you as an employee. This will be important for the future.

  • Sometimes programmers are hired into positions that are not necessarily software developer positions. Unfortunately there is no standard for software engineering as their is in other engineering professions, although that could change in future. If you feel your position has been misrepresented to you, you'll have to decide whether or not to take action on the issue. Just do your best and make the most out of your internship. It does count for experience. If it's too slack at work, start developing some of your own tools to make your work faster or easier. – jcpennypincher Jul 28 '15 at 19:10
  • @jcpennypincher Thanks for the reply. I guess I should note that it hasn't only been tedious tasks. Another intern and I did work on a new feature that they were considering before we arrived, but didn't implement fully. It's been a great learning experience so far and I'm happy with all the work I've been given and done. – MC10 Jul 28 '15 at 19:17
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    @jcpennypincher - i think any engineering intern, regardless of discipline, is going to get a period of scutwork - that was the case when I started as a electrical/control systems engineer after graduation - just soak it all up as educational experience so that you are better prepared for when they start throwing more involved work at you – HorusKol Jul 29 '15 at 0:13
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First, do the task and do it correctly to the best of your ability. To do otherwise shows a severe lack of professionalism.

There is no indicator that you have discussed your performance or what you would like to be doing with your boss. Ask him what you need to do to get assigned to the types of tasks you would prefer. Talk to him about what is upcoming on the project and where you might best fit in.

You may find that he has plans but is waiting for a budget to get approved or you may find that you have unimpressed him with your attitude towards the tasks you distain. Or somewhere in between.

We can't know what he thinks of you and your abilities and what he needs from you to feel comfortable taking the risk of assigning programming work to you (and it is huge risk for him, you have to understand that as many interns severely overestimate their abilities). Or it may be that no one has the time to help you get up to speed. It may even be that he didn't particularly want or need an intern.

Remeber, as an intern you are the lowest person on the totem pole and you will be assigned to tasks that need to get done but which are not exciting because nobody senior to you wants to do them either. And in the work world, you can expect there will always be some things you would prefer not to do that you still have to do. It gets better as you get more experience, but it never goes away.

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You say that you have "done all without complaining", but perhaps you should be giving some sort of feedback. It doesn't have to be a "complaint", but it's reasonable to discuss your assignments and progress with your manager.

Perhaps they have a plan, which includes having you learn to do simple tasks. "Trivial" is perhaps not the best word to choose, because even simple tasks need to be done well, and can be important.

Your role as an intern is not just to accept everything unquestioningly. It's fair for you to ask for a clear road map of what progress you will be expected to make in the coming period, and how your current work contributes to this.

It's not just about the technical tasks. While you are an intern, it's very important that you make a start on developing the interpersonal skills that will make you successful in the workplace. So take some time to plan how you will present your questions to your manager. Think about what you want to achieve, what you think is reasonable to ask for, and how you will put this across in a way that shows that you are thinking and acting as a professional. Usually, being willing to take some initiative in your own development will be seen as a positive thing. Just make sure that's what you're doing.

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I'm going to answer this from a kinda cold perspective: the business doesn't care whether they're underestimating an intern that's going to be there for only 3 months. Because they don't expect you to do anything important.

That sounds mean, but... you have to understand, you're not likely going to solve any critical problems for a business, because you've got two huge factors working against you: you don't have the time to learn their systems, and you don't have a lot of on-the-job experience.

Their expectation is that you can handle some of the small stuff, the stuff that they want to unload from their regular employees so that they can focus on more important things. This might be different if you were going to be there for longer than 3 months, or if you had 10-20 years of experience in the business... but as it is, they're just going to give you the grunt work.

EDIT: As for the original question? I think it takes a mental readjustment. Don't worry about the tasks for this internship. Do them, do them well - and worry about the complexity/difficulty of tasks when you're working in a non-internship environment.

  • Yes, interns are generally a passing person but I seen cases where interns are offered a job. You -the intern- have to be really proactive. Get noticed by the managers. It's a uphill battle for sure. At least a good reference will come of it. – Dan Jun 28 at 16:56
  • @Dan, Yeah, but the problem is: the OP's asking for additional, heavier tasks... but very often it's tough to find heavier tasks that don't require knowledge of the systems in use. (Which the company doesn't want to waste any time training on, since OP will only be there for 3 months.) I'm just imagining if we had a 3-mo intern in our area, and we had them doing, say, some manual file cleanouts. If they said, "Hey, give me programming tasks!" I'd say, "Dude, I don't have time to train you on our systems before you'd be leaving. Can you help us out with the file cleanouts or not?" – Kevin Jun 28 at 17:01
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First of all consider talking to your manager again about assigning interesting work to you.

If he doesn't heed to your requests, finish your tasks soon and invest your time in learning things on your own. Read code of the project your peers are working on, learn a new programming language while at work or contribute to open source. Enhance your skills so that you can switch a job or perform better on any given day.

  • This may be the right things to do but why? Answers here should explain why they are correct not just what you need to do. So please consider editing your answer to explain how these actions will help prevent a manager from undervaluing the OP's abilities. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 28 '15 at 19:54
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Intern is not the same as 'very junior employee'. It is supposed to mean that you get some training in return for accepting a below average wage (or working for free).

It's fine for them to start with very low grade jobs to make sure you understand them, and because everyone has to do them, but if you're well into your internship and haven't done anything that would count as relevant experience to a future employer, they're abusing the relationship.

However, even as an experienced programmer I find it takes months at a new company before I can find my way around their code and work without help, so I wouldn't advise going to your boss and demanding 'real work'. It's really hard to find tasks that a new hire can take on without spending longer explaining the task than it would take to just do it.

If you're not overloaded with work, I suggest you start by asking other people on the team if you can sit with them for an hour or two and watch over their shoulder while they explain what they're doing. Try to spend time with as many people as possible, and don't worry if you don't understand some things at first.

Hopefully, after a while you'll find some real work that you can offer to take on, mentored by the person you were watching.

If you are overloaded with menial jobs you will have to ask your boss. "Hey boss, I'm really interested in X, can I spend an hour or two shadowing Joe?". He will probably be glad that he doesn't have to find something for you to do.

If that doesn't work, talk to your collage. They organised the internship and don't want to send people to places that will abuse them. They can also advise you on the balance you should expect between training, real work and 'trivial work'.

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A week ago my manager assigned to me another trivial task which I am not finishing on purpose.A week passed and nobody asked me about how it's going.

I think you answered your own question. There's two ways a company sees interns:

1) Free labor

-or-

2) Give them remedial tasks while the developers do actual work

It sounds like your internship is leaning to #2. Now granted that shouldn't stop you from talking to your manager. Tell them you want to do more hands on tasks and you're interested in X, Y, and Z and you think it'll fit. Don't write a email and sit there. Actually go talk to him/her.

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When my group has had interns, we've almost always given them tasks that could be seen as menial work or as programming work. We let the interns figure out which they are. The few times we didn't do this were very frustrating for both ourselves and the interns. We gave them tasks that I could've done when I was in school - but different people are different, and while I'm sure they could've done things that I couldn't have done in school, we didn't know what those things were.

One example task that was ambiguous about whether it was programming or menial was looking at our team's documentation for errors. We gave the location of the documentation, the location of the source code for our internal applications that were covered by much of that documentation, and the location of the vendor documentation for the vendor provided tools that were covered by that documentation. If I recall correctly, one intern out of three realized the task was really about determining how well the documentation matched the programs, not about grammatical or spelling issues.

Most of the interns picked the manual approach, and they continued to get tasks that could be taken either way, so long as we had time to give them tasks.

Another common thread with our intern experience has been that we've always asked our interns to attend our full team meetings, unless there was something particularly sensitive to be discussed. If I recall correctly, out of something like 8 total interns, one volunteered for an easy task that was mentioned as needed doing during the part of the meeting when we weren't specifically talking to the interns. There were certainly multiple such easy projects mentioned. But the vast majority of the interns waited for work to be assigned.

I seem to recall there was also one intern who found a programming task to do on his own. We had, as mentioned, let the interns know where our code repository was; one of them noted that some of our older scripts had been written poorly and could use additional comments explaining what was being done for what reasons at various points, as well as having some of the code rewritten to perform actions more directly.

All of our other interns had experiences like what you describe - not because there were no programming tasks that they could've done, but because we didn't directly assign them and they didn't perceive them to be programming tasks.


While I don't know if your employer is following that same model or not, are there really no ways that you could step up and volunteer to be more useful? Have any of the assignments you've been given had a programming direction that you could have taken instead of the way you pursued it? Do you really think the documentation they had you read was for their benefit? Or might it have been to give you the necessary information that you would be able to handle tasks that they may be hoping you'll find?

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