35

I work in the IT department of a large company.

My department does consultancy for other IT companies, and my internship is focused on software testing, quality assurance and assisting my coworkers and my manager on whatever technical issues may happen. In the end, I do some kind of tech support and infrastructure support, and help my manager to deal with things on a day-to-day basis.

I am learning a lot in my internship. I make some mistakes (my first topic here is an example), but in the end, everyone likes my performance and I get along with most of my colleagues. Everyone expects, including my manager, that I will get a full-time job there in the end.

However, in the end I figured out that I hate it there. My manager has an "embrace the world" vision and isn't available when me or the other co-workers need him, and brings in projects that he doesn't even know the team can handle. He has some ideas from nowhere that sometimes go against the vision of other coworkers and in the end I have to deal with the heat. My department has a lot of issues that most of my colleagues complain about, but in the end they just decide to ignore them and move on. While we sell process improvement, we work in anarchy. My coworkers solve issues in any way they see fit, leaving a trail of mess in the process for the next one to figure out and my manager endorses it under the lines of "just make it work, no matter how".

A few months ago, I started to send some emails pointing out some of the things that I thought would help in the end. I expected a big no, because I'm an intern, and interns don't know nothing, but I got something that looked like "great idea, but not the focus right now".

This internship has brought me a lot of knowledge. But I don't like it anymore. Everytime I look at our infrastructure, I see a mess, and my first instinct is to set it on fire and make some sense out of it. And other people think the same, but few try to do something to improve it.

But in the end, I'm an intern. I don't have any experience in the industry. My manager values my opinions (sometimes even follows it), but why should I fix things that people more experienced than me already think are fixed?

Should an intern demand quality from his workplace? Should an intern have an active voice and try to improve things? Or just enjoy the ride, learn and see where it goes?

  • 12
    First, we recommend not accepting an answer too soon and instead generally advise waiting 24-48 hours before accepting the answer you found most useful. Second, industry software is completely different from what you might be used to from your studies. Design paradigms, clean code and refactoring all have their use but many, if not most, companies make serious compromises on them. Third, read this article: Things You Should Never Do, Part I, by Joel Spolsky. – Lilienthal Dec 1 '15 at 21:03
  • 3
    “my first instinct is to set it on fire and make some sense out of it” — I’m thinking step 2 of that plan might be made more difficult by step 1. – Paul D. Waite Dec 2 '15 at 10:32
  • 1
    I actually can relate to this, as I've been in a similar situation. The difference for me is that I was not an intern and had experience, so I was able to influence the culture to become less chaotic and have more follow-through. It sounds like you have already tried to use what influence you have and been rebuffed. You probably either have to ride it out or try to find another intership. At least you've learned something valuable to look for when you're job hunting. – Todd Wilcox Dec 2 '15 at 13:45
  • @ToddWilcox as a matter of fact, I still have some tricks left. But in the end, I think it doesn't matter if my colleagues won't support me, even if they agree with me. – SomethingBrandNewAwful Dec 2 '15 at 17:11
  • 5
    "great idea, but not the focus right now" == "Big no" – njzk2 Dec 2 '15 at 18:08
84

I am going to be blunt. Most of the time an intern does not have the credibility or knowledge to drive organizational change. Nor are interns considered to be long-term employees so they automatically have less credibility even if they are delivering things.

To be successful at driving organizational change you first have to have a track record of success and then you need to have soft skills because organizational change is all about selling your ideas. Further, what appear to be good ideas to the inexperienced are often things that others have tried before that failed or are overtly idealistic or just don't fit the current constraints.

In the business world things are done on a priority basis, you have to have some pretty good sales skill to make someone change the priorities they currently have to make the change you want to see. The basis for setting priorities lies in several things, first and foremost priorities are political. Next the people setting the priorities are often looking to minimize cost or make more short-term profit or looking to have something that will look good when they move on to a new job. An ideal system delivered in December is not going to win over a thrown together system that mostly works that is delivered in June and has six extra months of sales coming in.

One thing you have to realize if that pretty much every employer is a mess. There are no ideal workplaces.There are no meritocracies. There are no perfect code bases or 100% interesting projects.

This is not to say that you can't drive change and improve things in most workplaces, but you need to realize that you will never make things perfect only less messy. There are many things that drive this but generally business needs trump everything else and what the users need often seems strange to the dev and the things that many idealistic devs find important are irrelevant to the business.

In a startup for instance the drive to be first to market is stronger than the need to make everything perfect. They will knowingly put buggy code out to meet the deadlines intending to fix it later (but of course later hardly ever comes unless the bug is really bad or the users are very cranky). It is always on the the next cool thing at many of these places (one reason why many fail because they forget it is a business not a way to play with cool toys).

In the Enterprise programming, the users are king. THey are directly paying the salaries of the people who are programming, so they have the final say on priorities and features.

In the consulting world, it is the clients who drive the workload. If a client wants it, it gets done. If not, well that was a nice idea. Maybe some other client later will want to do it. If a client wants you to use SQL Server and C# (because they own the licenses and have support people who know them and all the rest of their code is written with this), then you had better not deliver a product using mySQl and Java even if you as a dev think those are better choices for the problem at hand.

Interns rarely think about improvements and consider the business needs at the same time. This is part of what you need to be learning as an intern, the world is not and never will be ideal.

As an intern, you should be learning to observe how change is being driven in the organization. You should be looking to see whose voice is listened to the most and then try to figure out what that person does that is different from the people who fail to get their ideas across. You should be perfecting your technical skills and starting to learn how organizations work. What you should not be doing is trying to drive organizational change.

  • 2
    I thought of questioning a few points, but in the end this is what I needed to read. It cleared my mind in an presentation that I have lined up. thanks! – SomethingBrandNewAwful Dec 1 '15 at 21:01
  • 40
    ...pretty much every employer is a mess. Good overall answer, though upvoted specifically for that point. After 40+ years working in multi-billion-dollar multi-nationals, mid-sized companies, startups, municipal/county/state-level governments, you-name-it, it's good to know that others recognize the same. – user2338816 Dec 2 '15 at 1:58
  • 1
    Naturally that fact doesn't stop some of us from striving for the utopia anyways ;) – Cronax Dec 2 '15 at 11:29
  • 1
    +1 no where is perfect. Just different shades of brown! My favourite strategy is to think small and chip out nice sculptures from the madness when you can. Changes should plug in to existing process because you cant change everything at once. – Gusdor Dec 2 '15 at 15:02
  • 1
    In fairness, as far as I can tell he's very far from demanding perfection. He just wants to see a will to improve. But aside from that, yes, every place is a mess -- and furthermore Grand Plans for reform often make things worse. 20 years into this, I have to say if your codebase supports a viable business, it's not all bad. That said, OP should find another job. It may be better, may be worse. But if he stays where he is, he'll always think he made the worst possible choice. – Ed Plunkett Dec 2 '15 at 21:02
11

Should an intern demand quality from his workplace? Should an intern have an active voice and try to improve things? Or just enjoy the ride, learn and see where it goes?

Interns don't get to 'demand' anything. You're free to ask questions and yes, you can have an active voice. I would warn about being constantly critical though, this does not sit well with either colleagues or management.

Mainly you should focus on learning and let the managers handle their jobs.

  • 3
    I said demand as something like "expect quality from something", now "things should be done like this!!!", perhaps I used the wrong word – SomethingBrandNewAwful Dec 1 '15 at 20:33
  • 3
    Companies have different ways of doing things, to them they are doing it properly, otherwise they'd be out of business. 'Get it done, I don't care how' is probably more common than you might think. Any time a third party does anything for me, I always scrutinise their work as a matter of course, for this very reason. As far as they're concerned, there IS NO PROBLEM, unless I tell them there is. – Kilisi Dec 1 '15 at 20:45
  • 2
    An intern can be proactive and thoughtful, provided he doesn't get too cocky about it -- and provided he wants to do the hard work, not assign it to you. Given the gap between his experience and his enthusiasm, the right attitude is to bring stuff up as hypotheticals: "This seems like a good idea to me; is there something I'm missing?" Because there often will be something you're missing, and if there isn't, there's no harm in being diplomatic. – Ed Plunkett Dec 2 '15 at 21:07
  • 1
    I like the way of questioning that leaves open for feedback: "this seems like a good idea to me, is there anything am not seeing/missing?" thanks @EdPlunkett – anklebiter Dec 9 '15 at 11:00
3

My manager values my opinions (sometimes even follows it), but why should I fix things that people more experienced than me already thinks that is fixed?

Ever consider how you may see things differently and thus you may notice things your manager misses? Ever consider that you may have better ideas than what was done previously?

Should an intern demand quality from his workplace?

Depends on what you mean by demand and what kind of power the intern has. If the intern is the son of the founder, there could be nepotism that allows things to be done differently than was done previously. On the other hand, if you are just a nobody then depending on the culture your view may be taken in several possible directions.

Also, what kind of threshold do you have and how well do you understand how the business works as if you plan to keep technical debt to zero in companies, good luck with that.

Should an intern have an active voice and try to improve things?

Yes, though this is partially learning about how things are done and what kinds of adjustments could be made. Some places may need some fresh blood to get things flowing well again and others may be places that are fine.

Or just enjoy the ride, learn and see where it goes?

That is how some may view it and if it works for them, what is the harm?


Ultimately, I'd see this as a crash course in office politics. Some places may play games about how to make change happen and some places may be more open and agile, pun intended.

  • 5
    Even the open and agile places have politics, they just have less toxic politics. – HLGEM Dec 1 '15 at 20:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.