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I work as a software developer and I was recently given responsibility for training 5 interns. As part of their college course, they have to complete an internship for 8 months for course credit.

The problem is that they:

  1. Seem to be missing important and relevant skills
  2. Don't seem to have any motivation to learn.

Furthermore, the management is putting pressure on me to train these students and have them contribute significantly. The company is looking to bring in even more interns from the same college in a month without asking for my input.

How can I protect myself from this issue? During my meetings, I am asked about why the interns are not contributing any code. Do I just tell my boss that A is just not doing anything, B is not motivated at all, C is not even showing up? I don't want to trash these guys but at the same time, I don't want to be seen as the team lead who can't lead.

Example: For our website redesign, the work is very simple. It is all front-end UI work which is some of the easiest programming work you can get (my opinion, relatively speaking). There are no expectations for speedy or error-free code but the interns can't contribute anything.

I've given them clear detailed instructions in writing about what to do, where to look for sample code, how to ask for help etc. We had training sessions where I explained the basic concepts so they have a foundation to build on. During the sessions, I asked them multiple times if they had questions, if they understood things. We have ONE rule which is:

If you are unable to make progress for 4 hours, ask for help.

Despite all this, they spend entire days sitting at their desk doing nothing.

When they are leaving, they pop in my office and tell me they're leaving. At this time when I ask what they accomplished today, they mention they don't know what XYZ is and haven't done anything. Of course, XYZ happens to be the thing we covered in the training session, the thing they said they understand.

So far, only one of them has made real progress and is actually exceeding expectations. If this continues and my "team" grows without any input from me, it will just get worse because I won't be able to meet my deadlines.

I mentioned to my manager that there are issues with getting interns to do work but she didn't respond with anything constructive. When the issue first came up I told my manager that they don't know the basic tools we use like Git, agile development, etc.

I don't have management experience in a work setting (graduated 2 months ago) but I have successfully led 2 group research projects in university (unpaid, non-credit).

(Yes, I know unpaid internships are not cool. I would not take them, and I would actively dissuade a friend from taking one. BUT, there is a lot that I am not mentioning in the question details so just accept the situation as is. I am looking for solutions since this situation now affects me and my performance.)

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Jul 25 '16 at 19:48
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    This is for course credit. Can you fail them? More precisely 1) can the company fail them? 2) Do you specifically get to decide if they pass or fail? – DJClayworth Jul 25 '16 at 20:41
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    Very related answer of mine (with links at the bottom to a few other, related questions) - workplace.stackexchange.com/a/7491/2322 – enderland Jul 26 '16 at 1:18
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    If you need a stick instead of a carrot, tell them they are on track to failing; that should get their attention. (Not sure if individually or group-wise makes more sense here.) – Mehrdad Jul 26 '16 at 19:50
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    First: you're a software developer, which means you work in a desirable field where it is often easy to find alternative employment on relatively short notice. With that in mind: yes, I'd try some of the constructive advice below on turning this team around. I'd also very directly tell my manager that I'd appreciate some management guidance / training. Finally: if I were in a company that hired unpaid interns and then expected me to deal with them without additional pay or training, I'd very directly tell my manager that I expect this situation to change or I'll leave. – user15432 Jul 27 '16 at 19:07

13 Answers 13

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Clearly, you are not managing these interns the way they need to be managed. It may well be unfair that they need to be managed so differently from typical employees, who want to accomplish, but this is the hand you were dealt. Here is what I would do.

First, I would gather them all together for an intern meeting. I would give them the following information, not singling any one out:

  • management has given them a real project that is important to the company and must be finished
  • the project is significantly behind schedule
  • clearly time is being lost when people don't know what to do

Then I would ask some questions. Who knows:

  • all the steps that need to be completed to get this project done (or where to find that list) ?
  • roughly what % complete the project is now?
  • when the project is supposed to be done?

I would expect you to get a whole lot of looking at the floor on this round.

Ask them one more question:

  • Do you like this state of affairs? Not knowing what to do next, how to do it, what part your work plays in the project?

Now you should have their attention for "here's how we're going to change things." The most obvious approach is to institute a daily standup. You know all the stuff that needs to be done. The group meets (typically first thing in the morning, but other times can work) and each person says "yesterday I ... and today I am going to ...". If they have any blockage, such as not knowing XYZ, they announce it here. You can then decide how to solve that - remind them it's in the wiki, ask if anyone present knows it and can tell/show the person to unblock them, committing to setting up some other meeting today to unblock them (eg "I mailed support three days ago and have been waiting for an answer ever since") and so on. If anyone says they don't know what to do next, the group can decide right there in the standup. Give them a little ownership over their tasks, give them some visibility into the bigger picture, and most importantly put a stop to days on end of nothing getting done for random excuse-sounding reasons that arrive long after the fact.

Refer to the instructions you prepared earlier whenever necessary, but never assume that anyone, much less interns, has memorized all the instructions and training you provided or will remember to look back at that material without prompting. Part of what you're teaching them is that this sort of material is actually useful and worth turning to when you're stuck. You're also teaching them that they don't want to be stuck.

Also use the daily standup as a chance to hand out daily praise. Younger people haven't yet learned to praise themselves for finishing things, so they may need it from their peers and you for a while. "I finished the ABC screens." "Great! Now, who is going to test them?" That's better than just "I guess that means they need testing, who's doing that?" You don't need to treat them like kindergarten students, but Great, Fantastic, Good-we-needed-that, and the like do make a difference.

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    I really like the idea of daily 30 minute meetings, it can only improve comms. I do follow up with whenever something is accomplished with a 5 minute meeting that goes "I looked at it, and it looks great! Good job! Which of these tasks do you feel you can do next" and I give them at least two tasks which are at the same or a step above what they just did. – player87 Jul 24 '16 at 19:49
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    Part of standup is peer support. If Monday someone is going to X, and claim they know how, but Tuesday they haven't, you or a peer can ask why. And should there be some sort of excuse-ish thing, but Wednesday they still plan to do X today, the team can tackle this. Is X too big? How can it be split into parts? You say you know how, but you said that Monday and Tuesday, tell me how you're going to do it, get input from the whole team, etc. – Kate Gregory Jul 24 '16 at 20:09
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    @PengWins A stand-up should take way less than 30 minutes (aim for 1 minute per participant) and shouldn't be considered a meeting in the regular sense: there's no room for discussion (not even technical discussion). Defer it until afterwards and only include the relevant team members. – Eric Jul 25 '16 at 9:16
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    I can imagine this will not change anything. If the team is not motivated to do anything - they don't care the project is "important" to some white-collar moneysack who doesn't give a dime about them. If it really were important, he would pay someone to do it. I can't see how your answer addresses the core problem: They are only there because they have to sit off their time, and unless you offer anything more enjoyable than goofing off, they will not care! – Falco Jul 25 '16 at 11:46
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    @KateGregory taking the OPs described situation in good faith looks like he has already tried giving them everything they need, training, trust and support and they are not just slacking off, but also misinforming the OP do you have everything? - "yes" ... in the evening: "we couldn't do anything" - I think at some point accepting they are not motivated to do the job without any new incentive is necessary. – Falco Jul 25 '16 at 12:41
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I'm going to take the alternative approach to the problem and solve it at the source instead of letting it become your problem. Pay your interns at a competitive rate. If you don't like that, skip to the end of my answer for additional methods.

I have friends who work unpaid internships; I work a paid internship. Their motivation is almost 0 because they work 16-40 hours per week (depends on how many credits they need) getting very little experience and no money. Alas, internships are required by my university for almost all majors. I'm compensated fairly and that gives me the motivation to contribute something meaningful to the company. I don't understand how people expect to get anything when they aren't giving anything. This is your problem (in my opinion, of course).

You say these interns are doing software development tasks. What you might consider "easy UI stuff" could be really difficult for them. For instance, I know a lot about back-end development and I hate UI development. If I had to do that kind of work and not be paid for it? I wouldn't give a damn about the job, in all honesty. Let's not mention that feeling exploited by a company who doesn't care enough about you to pay you leaves a lot to desire in the motivation department.

So, here's my suggestion, based on whether or not you/your boss has the funds or even want to pay these interns:

Yes I want to/can pay my interns:

  • have a more selective hiring process

Interns are short-term, but they can produce valuable things if you find motivated people. If you don't hire motivated people well, that was your problem from the start. Paying will also attract more 'go-getter' types to the job (I personally would never apply for an unpaid internship, and I consider myself to be a decent software developer).

  • Talk to your boss about introducing compensation for your current interns

I would suggest a "bonus"-based system. If they accomplish a significant task, they're paid for it. You already have them used to not being paid, so introducing an hourly pay rate most likely won't change their attitude much. But if they have a chance to work for a bonus, they just might!

No I don't want to/can't pay my interns:

Frankly, you're probably out of luck with this group. Unless you are giving them the experience of a lifetime, incomparable to anywhere else, there's almost no reason for them to be motivated, other than making a good impression on you/the company. But you're not Google or Apple or Microsoft, so you don't have the prestige to afford hiring people for slave free labor (not that they should either, though I can't imagine they don't pay people).


Alternative solutions:

You didn't mention whether or not the:

  • interns are working in teams or individually
  • interns are working on a project they feel is valuable to the company and their own growth as developers

Pair programming could be a good way to motivate them, if they aren't already working in groups. It's always beneficial as a developer to work with someone else who can think in a different way than you. It allows for faster problem solving, and better problem solving, which of course leads to increased performance. It's also a good way to fill the skill gap, and have developers learn from one another.

If the interns aren't interested in the project they're currently working on, would it be possible to re-assign them to another project? Perhaps they feel that their project isn't very important, or they dislike UI work and don't care about any experience they would gain doing that job. If either of those is the case, they need to work on something else. They're not ever going to be motivated working on something they don't like. Ask any dev if they like to do maintenance work on legacy systems. Now ask them if they'd like to do it for free!


Summary:

  • Pay your interns, or give them experience that they want that is worth not being financially compensated
  • Hire more motivated interns
  • Try pair programming
  • See if the interns can be re-assigned to work on something they care about

I also found an interesting article called Nine Things Developers Want More Than Money which, after having read it, should be of interest to you. Here's another question on Workplace.SE about motivation when you don't care about the project whose best answer, incidentally, happens to be think about the money.

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    @MonicaCellio Unfortunately, you moved a few comments that were actually relevant to the Q/A... – Chris Cirefice Jul 25 '16 at 19:48
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    The person asking this question is clearly not in a position to start paying these interns, so most of this answer is irrelevant. – industry7 Jul 25 '16 at 20:36
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    Just letting you know that Microsoft/Google pays interns more that what majority of the companies pay to FTE. But otherwise I agree to your point. You can't expect free slaves to be excited about being slaves. – Salvador Dali Jul 26 '16 at 4:31
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    I would not suggest implementing a bonus system, especially if you don't also start paying them hourly. Research has shown that bonuses can be motivating. I would personally be unhappy if I was told bonuses were available if I did great work while I was volunteering considering that market rate intern cs pay is a lot higher than minimum wage. I'd appreciate the hourly pay system much more. – midfield99 Jul 26 '16 at 5:24
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    @industry7: Buy them beer. If it affects OP's performance, sounds like a plan. :) – Neolisk Jul 27 '16 at 13:27
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they don't know the basic tools we use like Git, agile development, etc.

I think this is an unrealistic expectation for unpaid interns half way through college. Git and agile may be popular in the tech industry, but they are not academic topics, the purpose of their time with you is to get a basic introduction to these concepts, so of course they will start from nothing.

The tech industry routinely has the expectation of only hiring rockstars and very few employers are keen to offer the training and support required to develop people to that level. so hats off to you for trying, but quite often developers, especially senior ones, can have an air of being too busy/unapproachable or not fully invested in trailing new staff.

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    +1 When I was at college doing a 2-year BTEC in game development and a 2-year HND in computing, not once did any form of version control system get mentioned, nor agile development. If my experience is anything to go by, 80% of UK college graduates have probably never even heard of Git, let alone know how to use it. – Pharap Jul 25 '16 at 12:45
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    You're right but I have accepted that. I am fine with them not knowing those things. That is why I spent an entire week teaching them those concepts. Gave them exercises to do on those topics but I have yet to get answers for those exercises and it's been 2 months. I have asked for the answers verbally and by email 5 times now. – player87 Jul 25 '16 at 17:52
  • Good for you Davor, but the fact of the matter is, it's not the norm. – industry7 Jul 25 '16 at 20:37
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    @Davor: In more theoretical computer science degrees (such as the one I took at Oxford), practical software engineering skills such as how to use version control tend not to be taught. That's not a deficiency of the course, since the course is not intended to teach software engineering, it's intended to teach computer science. However, the sort of people who do computer science often go on to become programmers, and often end up having to learn about version control on their own (source: personal experience). As such, I wouldn't be at all surprised if interns didn't know Git. – Stuart Golodetz Jul 25 '16 at 21:28
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I work as a software developer and I was recently given responsibility for training 5 interns. As part of their college course, they have to complete paid or unpaid internship for 8 months (4/5 are unpaid interns, and 1/5 is paid but very little).

Is there any accountability on their end? How simple/difficult is it to terminate their internship?

The problem is that they 1) seem to be missing important and relevant skills and 2) don't seem to have any motivation to learn. Furthermore, the management is putting pressure on me to train these students and have them contribute significantly. The company is looking to bring in more interns from the same college in a month without asking for my input.

If motivation is missing, then you need to structure the work. Say, I expect ABC by the end of the day. If they don't perform, meet with them personally and ask what is the issue. Here you need to be confrontational. It's your job on the line.

How can I protect myself from this issue? During my meetings, I am asked about why the interns are not contributing any code. Do I just tell my boss that A is just not doing anything, B is not motivated at all, C is not even showing up? I don't want to trash these guys but at the same time, I don't want to be seen as the team lead who can't lead.

I had similar situation (not as bad as yours). I set up plan for each day, and told each person what I expected from them. And I would check with them individually on a weekly basis.

Example: For our website redesign, the work very simple. It is all front-end UI work which is some of the easiest programming work you can get. There are no expectations for speedy or error-free code but the interns can't contribute anything.

In your case, tell them what you expect from them, i.e. I expect code by this time, with zero-errors. Sometimes, people need structure, other times, people will find excuse not to work.

I've given them clear detailed instructions in writing about what to do, where to look for sample code, how to ask for help etc. We had training sessions where I explained the basic concepts so they have a foundation to build on. During the sessions, I asked them multiple times if they had questions, if they understood things. We have ONE rule which is "if you are unable to make progress for 4 hours, ask for help." Despite all this, they spend entire days sitting at their desk doing nothing.

After two hours, go to one of them and casually ask how is it going. Or, make it random. What if they are on social media with their friends. If they understand they must be accountable, they will start to straighten up.

When they are leaving, they pop in my office and tell me they're leaving. At this time when I ask what they accomplished today, they mention they don't know what XYZ is and haven't done anything. Of course, XYZ happens to be the thing we covered in the training session.

Ok, you are nice and they are walking all over you.

So far, only one of them has made real progress (one of the unpaid interns) and is actually exceeding expectations. If this continues and my "team" grows without any input from me, it will just get worse because I won't be able to meet my deadlines.

Your management is also at fault. They should understand that managing interns (interns, not seasoned employees who have seen the world) takes time and dedication.

To re-iterate

  1. On a daily basis, tell what you expect from each Intern. The code must be speedy and error free.
  2. Regularly get up from your work, and check how the Interns are doing. Ask them to show what they have so far. If they say they don't have anything, ask them why not (be curious, not confrontational)
  3. Set up one-on-one sessions with all interns, perhaps 20 minutes a week. See if there are any underlying issues so at least you can change the situation and cover yourself
  4. At the end of the week, bring up all the positive points and thank them for work well-done.
  5. Sometimes no matter what you do, people are unmotivated. They rather have things handed to them. It's not your fault. You just have to adjust your sails in the storm.
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    +1 for acknowledging that management has made some serious mistakes but giving advice that the OP can actually use. – Lilienthal Jul 25 '16 at 8:53
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    "I was recently given responsibility for training 5 interns" and complaining they don't come to the OP with problems within 4 hours seems to be a real discrepancy. Seems to me the OP is not providing training, leaving them to self learn and wondering why it isn't working. – JamesRyan Jul 25 '16 at 11:30
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    @JamesRyan From the question details: "We had training sessions where I explained the basic concepts so they have a foundation to build on. During the sessions, I asked them multiple times if they had questions, if they understood things. We have ONE rule which is: if you are unable to make progress for 4 hours, ask for help. Despite all this, they spend entire days sitting at their desk doing nothing." – player87 Jul 25 '16 at 17:55
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    An internship is supposed to be training, its not a foundation session and then leave them to it. You should be checking up on them more than once every 4 hours. – JamesRyan Jul 26 '16 at 8:59
  • I wish I can accept this answer too but +1. – player87 Jul 26 '16 at 14:07
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You need to followup much more frequently. You need to micromanage people like this.

Plan to sit with them all day for at least a week. Give them a task and watch them try to do it and then ask leading questions to help them figure out what to do. Under no circumstances touch the keyboard yourself. Let your boss know that you will not be making any progress on your other tasks until these people are straightened out.

If they have not made significant progress after a week of sitting with them 100% of the time, then tell them they will have one more chance the next week before you recommend that the internship be terminated. For the person not showing up at all, I would recommend to your boss that he be terminated immediately. IF they are not able after 2 weeks of sitting with them and guiding them all the time, they are unteachable and the internship should be terminated and the college notified that they should not get credit for the internship.

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    This. I have one co-op student right now - a very talented one, I'm thankful for, but even just one can eat up an hour out of my day, even more for the first few weeks. If I had five deadbeat interns with no experience to manage I'd have to completely drop all of my other work - hands down. This is a full time job and both OP and their management need to understand this. – J... Jul 25 '16 at 18:05
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Ask your boss if your company has had successful intern projects run in a similar way in the past; and if so ask whoever ran them for advice.

I suspect the answer will be no, this hasn't successfully been done in the past; I think that because the secret no-one likes to talk about is proper internships barely produce any business value. People don't like to talk about it because it's pretty demotivational, but in my experience it's often the case.

I went to a good university, was near the top of my class, and did internships at reputable companies. Looking back 10 years later, I realise they probably threw away at least 80 percent of my work. Parsing Verilog in Perl using five-level-deep nested data structures I blindly copied out of the data structures cookbook? I had no idea what I was doing!

I now work at a different reputable company with a decent intership program that attracts students from good universities. In spite of this, I would estimate we discard about 80 percent of their output. We also have to put quite a lot of developer effort into teaching the interns the kind of hands-on stuff university courses don't always cover.

And that's with a reasonably reputable company, drawing students from good universities, paying a decent salary, and doing reasonably thorough technical interviews. If your employer didn't do those things, I doubt you'll have a better time.

So why do we do internships? So they join us as full time employees after they graduate, and to improve our on-campus name recognition for general graduate recruitment.

How should you address your predicament? I would suggest three avenues:

  1. Make your problem a problem you and your boss share. Meet at least twice a week. If it's important enough that it makes you look bad, it's going to make her look bad too.

  2. Manage expectations early and often. You should only give your boss pleasant surprises. If something is behind schedule or isn't going to work, tell people as early as you can - if the ship's heading towards the rocks, the captain wants to know while there's still time to steer around them, even if he's grumpy when you wake him up!

  3. Agree with your boss how much of your time should be spent managing the interns, and how much should be spent as a direct contributor. It could be that she wants you to spend 100% of your time coaching/training/looking over their shoulders/pair programming/cracking the whip. Your individual contributions will inevitably drop as you have less time to spend on them.

  4. Like any time you're worried about things in work, update your resume and start thinking about where you'd like to be in five years. You say your work is the easiest programming work you can get, so it sounds like you could be ready to move on.

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Your managers expectations are unrealistic. These interns are average grade students from a local college they have no experience and you should expect that a large proportion of their work is no use. Especially at first. Moreover, you should expect that managing them chews up a considerable proportion of your time; these are students, they need training.

Here are a few ideas to help make them productive:

Have regular skill sessions. You shouldn't expect them to come with knowledge of things like git. You need to train them in their use. To do this, schedule a couple of hours maybe once a week or once a fortnight and teach them a skill that they are about to use so that they can go straight from your explanation to working using that skill. Follow up on this later in the week to make sure they're using it properly.

Make them accountable to each other. At the start of every day, make one of them stand up and show the work they've produced that week to the others and get feedback on their work and get help with their errors. This brings sunlight onto their work, spreads knowledge and helps bring them from the weird incentives of college into the world of work.

Make them work together to solve problems. Set an expectation that they will talk to, and help, each other to produce the desired outcomes. If necessary assign work to more than one of them to complete.

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    Unpaid interns are forbidden by law in the US to materially contribute to actual business problems. They are there solely for training. This is to prevent companies from using free labor when they should be using paid labor. – HLGEM Jul 25 '16 at 14:20
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    @HLGEM: This seems like more a comment on the question than on my answer. – Jack Aidley Jul 25 '16 at 14:37
  • Darn right "you should expect that a large proportion of their work is no use". There are experienced programmers out there who can't even produce useful solutions. Some actually create extra work for their team (or whoever has to fix their mistakes). – MGOwen Jul 28 '16 at 6:13
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(This isn't meant to compete with other answers by replacing them as a sole answer, but to add to what some of the other answers say.) Here are some more ideas.

When the issue first came up I told my manager that they don't know the basic tools we use like Git, agile development, etc.

Demonstrating some actual tools, like how agile development successfully works in your company, is one of the primary points of internship.

Schools will often teach a lot of the basic concepts that are transferable into many environments. Internships are supposed to show an example of one environment, in more detail.

Maybe you were taught about Git in your school. Maybe they are in the same program (same department, same school). But, they are taking a class in a different year than you. What was covered in your class may not be covered in their class. Instructors may have a different focus, possibly due to curriculum change, as they perceive how the world (especially technology) changes, or maybe just that they perceive a different lack in what students already know, so they focus on other elements that might be more critical. The bottom line is that what you were taught may be quite different (not just slightly different) than what they are being taught.

Remember your first year in the industry? Remember how much actual practice was different than school? Reducing that difference is kind of the point of internships. Show them what a successful organization in the industry does. Ask them how they can identify their school course's content in what they see in your company. (Continue to ask that, over time, as they are exposed to different content in their school's courses.)

At this time when I ask what they accomplished today, they mention they don't know what XYZ is and haven't done anything. Of course, XYZ happens to be the thing we covered in the training session, the thing they said they understand.

In these training sessions, make sure you're not trying to teach them the stuff that the school intends to teach them, but haven't yet.

Are you letting them look over your shoulder so they can see actual code being written by an actual person? Are you showing them what challenges you've encountered in this job, and how you did solve them, and what challenges (other than leading interns) you currently have, and how you are solving them? (Or colleagues, maybe not just the work you've done.)

Get them in group projects. Then, if one person is successfully using XYZ, the others can participate and get credit for the same work. Don't worry if some of them aren't contributing quite as much: the goal of internships is to get everybody learning.

the management is putting pressure on me to ... have them contribute significantly.

That's not the college's or students' motivation. It makes sense for your management to seek contributions. I'm sure that on day number one, the students would be happy to be successful contributors. However, keep in mind that isn't their main goal.

Unfortunately, you're not on day #1. The situation has already gained some toxic elements.

We have ONE rule which is:

If you are unable to make progress for 4 hours, ask for help.

Despite all this, they spend entire days sitting at their desk doing nothing.

They are spending 4+ hours in unpaid internship, without involvement from you? And their internship isn't being a successful experience for them? This is bad. They probably feel like the internship isn't addressing their needs, and is not being an effective use of their time.

The best way to try to fix that is to get more involved. When I've successfully trained professional employees, they were on a much shorter leash. They were supposed to check in if they struggled for ONE hour. Make it a point to check on them once an hour. If they are stuck, then HELP them. (Don't chastise the inexperienced. Give them what they need. Be a helper. As you do that, they will be more prone to start seeing you as a benefit, and like the interactions.) Yes, that means checking on them 6-7 times in an 8 hour shift. (I know, I said 7 times in an eight hour shift. It can be great if you can be punctual, so they can count on a certain time. Structure can be helpful. But robotic perfection isn't necessarily required. In fact, that doesn't mimic the real business world, so coming at more random times might be better for some students. Experimenting might be a good thing.) That is, at minimum. Coming by every 20 minutes may make you seem like less of a stranger and more of a helper.

  • +1 Several good suggestions. Since you have successfully trained professional employees, I wonder if you would you recommend moving their designated desks away from other interns that they know from school (we have about 8) and closer to my office? Or would that just alienate them? – player87 Jul 25 '16 at 18:01
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    @PengWins : I have no answer to that. I believe that in some cases, that would help slightly or tremendously. In other cases, that would harm slightly or tremendously. Judge the situation, make your own guess, and be ready to make changes (again) anytime. It could be that grouping them together will have one impact, and then when you get more interns in a month (as you said you anticipate will happen) that the new mixture could have the opposite effect. Be readily adaptable. But try not to change 6 things in 5 (or even 10) days, as that can lead to confusions/frustrations. Make calls. – TOOGAM Jul 26 '16 at 5:31
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I would ask their college how the internships are evaluated. Do they really just need to be present for a number of hours?

Interns I have worked with needed to write a report about the work that they had been given and give a presentation at the end of their internship before a panel of teachers where also company representative could be present.

As mentor I had to evaluate them too.

Any unmotivated intern would have been noticed after the first review that I sent back to the school.

5

Congratulation youve been made a team managager! Now show your skill.

Perhaps you are approaching this the wrong way. Its not so much about having stellar workers that know how to accomplish your tasks. It is about working with what you have got. And right now you havent got the dream team.

I would like to point out that from what you write even you yourself seem to be failing at 2 important points: 1) Your missing relevant management and organisational skills, 2) You do not wish to deal with this. Even if it were not true its best to assume this since you can do something about yourself. And quite frankly it seems to me that your 1 and 2 points always seem to hold true to a varying degree no matter what projects I do.

So work on aquiring the right skill this is what the interns are supposed to be paid with.

  • Make sure one by one that they know basics. Do they know how to commit and submit code into the version control in timely fashion. No, teach them. Check that their IDEs are set up properly and that they know how to debug stuff etc. They do not know enough to ask, show them thats why they are there.

  • Do not expect them to manage time efficiently. These are interns you can not expect them to check out a task and come back in a week. Bite the jobs to sizable chunks. Do daily progresses meetings untill you know that they can handle bigger chunks.

  • Show empathy and interrest with personal one on one time. Why would they be motivated if you are not interested in making the internship useful for them.

Yes this is a lot of work for you, but that is the name of the game.

  • 3
    Some good points but keep in mind that this particular OP has only been in the job for about a month or so, and that's his first job post-college. It's simply not realistic to expect some of this from someone with that little experience. At this point OP isn't just missing management skills, he's probably still missing basic employee skills. – Lilienthal Jul 25 '16 at 8:49
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    @Lilienthal true but still, the interns are at a even lower level. They still need handholding. He has been dropped in the deep end. – joojaa Jul 25 '16 at 9:07
  • +1 I too can learn a lot from dealing with them and have an easier time in future when I do have a capable team. – player87 Jul 25 '16 at 18:04
  • Do you have lunch together? Making them feel part of the club might help and make them more at ease around you, which in turns might lead them to tell you their (honest) opinion on things. In my (not that long) experience it is important that they see you as a colleague and someone they can trust and actually care about them learning something useful, and not just as their boss that wants to work them to dead. – Daniel Jul 28 '16 at 16:32
5

As a person that has trained interns, there are a few problems I see with your setup.

First and foremost, you can forget about an intern knowing anything. It's just safer that way. Assume they can't work notepad and start there. Remember they are there to learn. Expecting them to know something is, at least in my experience, unrealistic.

Second, your not compensating them. I don't mean pay. Unpaid internships are fine if the interns think they are getting something in return for their time. Usually this is "experience" and "education". Try to spend some time talking about what they are learning and why.

Think Karate Kid. Sure Mr. Miyagi seemed to be getting free work, and sure the karate kid got upset about it. Till Mr Miyagi showed him "Paint the fence" and "Wax the car" actually had value. You need to do the same. Show that your tasks are actually having value.

Assign the crap tasks. Interns usually complain that they get the low end, crap tasks. And it's true. And it's right for them to complain, and it's right for you to keep assigning the crap tasks. Think about tasks they can do, that are close to what they want to do, that will free up your time. Ask them to do a code review. Ask them to slog through 10,000 lines of code and look for undocumented methods, then to try and document them. Ask them to check down button placements and other crap tasks that are important, but not critical and free up your time. Now that doesn't mean they shouldn't have value. Remember "Paint the Fence". As they get better at the crap tasks extend their work load to have less crap tasks. The ones that are doing well, give more interesting tasks. And I mean at the start these may be some horrid tasks. Have them check the code for the proper amount of spacing. Or have them write a setup script for a new dev VM that works from start to finish. If you are focusing on git have them run git gc The important part here is use them to free time for your more valuable team members, but keep in mind "Paint the Fence" it needs to have some value later.

You need to make your interactions more educational. Spend 70% of the time with them teaching and 10% producing. That other 20% just loose. There are a lot of tools for this. But teach, teach, teach. Think of intern doctors. How many times have to seen an intern doctor do anything. More often then not they just stand there watching. Sometimes they may "try" something low level like stitching a cut. But they are never left on their own to do their main field. That surgical intern may spend 6 weeks watching and shaving parts before surgery. Programming interns are much the same.

Know what you can promise and when to promise it. Usually when we get a good intern in the mix there is some chance to bring them on-board permanently. Make that decision in the back end, then inform them. You can even work it like a PIP. In order for us to hire you, you need to get better in these areas. I am assigning you some project work in these areas. Are you interested?

Finally, notice a lost cause. No mater what you do, some interns are just gonna suck. If you can, drop them from the team. If you can't, then assign them to watching the mail box and bringing you anything that come in. When you started you should have asked what each intern wants to achieve. If you work with them in that direction 90% will have at least enough value to be worth teaching. Keep in mind that you may get some crazy answers. Work with it. Have an intern that wants to do Project management, and just wanted to see how developers work, awesome, assign them tasks that interact with project management. Have a intern that needed hours to get his credits and doesn't give a crap, fine, use him to do non-project tasks, like schedule meetings and take calls.

3

I work as a software developer and I was recently given responsibility for training 5 interns.

Is that your sole responsibility? Despite what many people think, interns aren't meant to be free employees, they are meant to be paid in skills, and that means you need to be spending significant amounts of time with each intern. Depending on the individuals, they may come and ask you for help, or you may need to ask them how they are getting on. Don't be surprised if you spend a whole day just going from one intern to the next helping them through the work they are doing. As you have several interns encourage them to help each other, which will both reduce your workload and be a learning experience for them. Where are the interns sitting? If they are in an open plan area, move so that you are sitting with them. This will make you more approachable.

If they are not putting any effort in or not even turning up and you cannot resolve that, then it needs to be reported back to their college. If they fail the internship then that will also be a learning experience for them, and is better than being fired from their first job.

  • Nope, I'm responsible for website (and other development related tasks). They do sit close to me but not in my office. The issue is that they would never ask for help (which others explained why) so I have to initiate the conversation and ask every single question (no exaggeration). This does lead to ~20 hours a week spent on teaching them but that leads to me not doing my job on time. – player87 Jul 26 '16 at 14:02
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    You are doing your job on time - managing the interns is part of your job. 20 hours a week doesn't sound at all excessive for training five people. Try to ask questions rather than give them answers. Even if you can give them an answer off the top of your head, sit with them while they research the answer themselves. Ask them what they have already tried, and discuss why those solutions didn't work. – thelem Jul 26 '16 at 14:10
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    To add to this, if you are not able to complete all the work expected of you, you need to discuss with your manager whether the expectations are reasonable. If you had one intern assigned to you, an hour a day would not sound unreasonable; scaled to 5 interns, that would mean expecting only a couple of hours a day for other tasks. If they need you to do more than that, they need to hire more staff (and not just more interns!) – IMSoP Jul 28 '16 at 9:37
2

I have only a short advice:

There is one who is not showing up. Showing up at an internship for a given number of hours if probably an obligation to pass the internship. Not showing up is a reason to let him go. Trash him first. Explain to the others (in one-to-one meetings) that participation is more than being present.

I have seen interns being terminated for not working the hours which where agreed upon. Nobody (including the other interns, which were hard working) complained.

protected by Jane S Jul 25 '16 at 21:52

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