I am an intern at a software development company.

I often find myself slacking off, which I tried to justify by thinking it was because I am only assigned one task and there is no pressure or deadline for me, so sometimes I am not motivated enough.

I do work and have made significant progress on what I have been assigned.

But there are days that I spend half my day just slacking off.

Or just yesterday I was waiting for instructions on how to proceed with a certain matter and didn't do much while waiting most of the day for one of my co-workers who I needed to ask questions.

Is this acceptable to slack off like this? How often and for how long? How can I find more work to do if it isn't acceptable?

I don't want to be accused of being lazy or slacking off too much.

  • 15
    Think of any extra time you have on your hands while on the clock as a perk and maximize it by sharpening your mojo in the software development sport. Spare time to develop your skills is a bonus you will definitely have less and less of as time goes on.
    – kolossus
    Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 17:45
  • related: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/10645/… Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 14:15
  • Seconding what @kolossus says. I interned at a company as a "tester". I use the term loosely because I did very little testing, and instead (off my own back) wrote tools that aided in the debugging and diagnosing of issues. Because I spent a lot of time researching how to do things (in the browser) one of the devs frequently mocked me and asked if testers got paid to surf the web. In summary, find something productive to do and if it can benefit the company or other employees it's a bonus. Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 11:18
  • You need to get out of the mindset of being just a mindless worker. Take initiative and find something constructive to do or go find stuff in the backlog that you think you can do and instead of asking your superior "What can I do?" come to them with decisions: "Hey, I think that I can handle the following items, can I work on these until I receive other direction?" Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 16:23

7 Answers 7


Is this wrong on my part?

Right vs wrong is not the question you should ask. The question you should ask is, "is this beneficial to me from a career perspective?"

That answer is easy - no, it is not beneficial to lack initiative and simply wait until another person gives you work/answers before being productive. Plus, taking initiative and finding more things to do is a great resume/interview discussion point. "At my last job, I often had periods of dead time, but I was able to do XXXX, YYYY, and ZZZZ to contribute anyways."

Additionally, think of internships as part of an extended interview - would you want your employer to see that part of you during their interview? Probably not.

What should I do?

Take initiative to find things to do. Managers do not want employees who only do what they are told. They want people who find problems, find solutions, and implement solutions. They (mostly) don't want to babysit, they want you to say "here's a problem, here's what I think can be done, should I do this?" and allow them to tweak the proposal or just go "yep! sounds good!"

So, do this. Find a problem and look into it. Ask your busy coworkers "are there things I can do to help you with your workload?" etc. Just a note, make sure to ask your direct supervisor about this first or say "I'm finding myself having a lot of dead time. I was thinking of asking people for more work/responsibilities - is that ok?"

A lot of managers/supervisors don't realize most interns do NOT ask these sorts of questions consistently, either, and so simply asking this of your direct supervisor might result in considerably more responsibilities/tasks just from him or her.


A couple of things spring to mind.

  1. As an intern you won't be expected to do as much as the other employees (at least not in the first few weeks/months).

  2. Be more proactive. If you don't have anything to do, don't wait to be assigned a new task, seek out your boss and ask them for something to do.

    This will show them that you are keen and willing to learn.

  3. If you think you're going to finish your current task while your boss is going to be unavailable (meetings, vacation etc.) then make sure you ask for what they think is enough work to be getting on with while they are away.

    This will show that you can plan your time.


Many people in jobs are often too busy to provide enough supervision to interns and find things for you to do. Make sure you are keeping them informed on the status of things. As far as software development, here are a few things you can add to your list:

  1. Focus on increasing your productivity. So what if you get done and have nothing to do.
  2. Track your work and start creating estimates on new tasks. Being able to estimate is a necessary skill as a developer. It requires practice, data collection and analysis. You don't have to share with others if it isn't needed, but for your personal development, it is very important.
  3. Review your work. Either try to improve or since you have time, create a second solution. It is good practice and you may find better solutions.
  4. Create tests.
  5. Review existing code. Ask others if you could do a code review with them on yours and their work.
  6. Check the list of bugs and try to fix them (don't check into production).
  7. Study another language. Self-study should be a part of every internship. See if there are others who are interested in technologies outside the company stack.

A lot of this could be applied to different fields. You have and opportunity to grow as a developer. In an internship, it can be in areas outside what may be considered your job. Solving Stack Overflow questions is no slacking off. Everyone knows your job assignments won't take up a full day, but that doesn't mean you have to waste it.


As the old saying goes, ask...

Ask what you can do, ask if there is anything that needs to be done, cleaned up, etc... you are an intern, expect to do the stuff the other people don't do any more, or are too lazy to do.

Internships are designed for grunt work in many cases, or what you field would consider grunt work.

In reality, internships are hired or let go after their last week because of productivity, and the willingness of some companies to keep an intern because they have made themselves valuable.

Make yourself valuable and you may find yourself working there, if you choose to.

  • I don't do grunt work. I do software development and am very happy that I actually don't have to do grunt work. I am about to graduate and have some freelancing experience, so I guess I skipped grunt work.
    – hermann
    Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 13:50
  • 8
    Let me give you some advice, I have been in the work force for over 20 years. I'm trained from Clark University to do Graphic Design, Desktop Publishing and Prepress, I also got from there a Network Admin Certificate, I also have a generic Associates as well. I am now working as a Chief Inventory Officer for a medium sized company. I do the trash, and vacuum the floors every morning. You are not above doing grunt work. Never assume you are, or you may find yourself without a job if you think menial tasks are under you. Especially starting out in a field.
    – Matt Ridge
    Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 13:54
  • 1
    I didn't say I am not willing to do grunt work if I am asked to. I am just glad I don't have to at this point.
    – hermann
    Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 14:20
  • I worked in restaurants when I was in college, and my boss always said "if there's time to lean, there's time to clean." And, trust me, you can always find something that's dirty if you look...top of the cabinets, window sills, etc. Or code :). Most places also have dirty code. Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 23:43
  • 1
    I did my internship for the American Cancer Society. I did grunt work. I did some incredibly advanced work (relatively.) I did whatever was asked of me. And I was grateful. Because, in return, I enjoyed the privilege of writing a couple of lines of code that may have saved somebody's life, somewhere, and the privilege of putting "www.cancer.org" on my portfolio, and the privilege of a letter of recommendation from my bosses, and the privilege of having those relationships to this day. Now I'm a senior developer and guess what? There's no such thing as grunt work, just tasks that kinda suck. Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 10:00

Yes, sitting around slacking off all day is wrong on your part (I'm not referring to a few minutes here and there to browse the web). You should always try to do your best whatever you are doing. If you don't have work, ask for work. If they don't have any work for you to do at the moment, learn something that will help you do your job. Suggest new ways to your team that will help them do their job more efficiently.

Slacking off all day can come back to bite you later. You may not think that co-workers, managers notice this but why take the chance? If you don't become a full time employee at the company you are interning for, you will be asking them for a reference!

Bottom line...you are there to work.


As a suplement, when you don't have any thing directly to do, there's always a broader picture to understand.

If you have any desire to try increase your value and grow, start trying to understand the enviornment in which you exist. Start at your at your desk, then your department, then your company, then your industry, and so on.

This also is a perfect time to start trying to understand other departments as well and how company works as a team. Read through procedures, look through calendars, and (dare I say it) hover your boss and ask LOTS of questions. Asking questions is what you should be doing, and as far as your employer is concerned, it at least gives you the apperance that you are doing something, interested in what you are doing, and looking to grow..


This is a good question. I look at internships as a form of corporate slavery but they can also be a useful way of getting an opportunity.

@richieaj mentioned telling co-workers how to do their job more efficiently....NO. Do NOT tread on anyones toes! If you have some downtime, ask one of the programmers If you can sit with them and watch them work. If they seem cool, ask them questions about what they are doing. I found this very useful for assessing work habits and picking up little tricks. The more people you watch the more you will learn, and you will learn much more than working alone.

Make sure you are good to have around!! They probably won't notice you tapping away in the background building the next software masterpeice but they will notice if you make them a hot drink, this is probably the most useful thing you can contribute.

You really need to ask your boss how you are going, tell of your concerns and ask how you are going, where you are doing well and where you can improve.

If your boss says you are doing poorly and wouldn't hire you, your internship is probably a waste of time. You won't be able to use them for a reference so you have effectively wasted your free time working for free. If this is the case, amicably leave.

  • 5
    1) your view on internships is wrong, if you ever have one which seems like corporate slavery you are at the wrong company - especially in the tech industry as the asker is, and 2) if you think the most valuable thing you can do is make them a hot drink you are wasting your time at the company and have an incredibly cynical view on what your own abilities are
    – enderland
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 3:21

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