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I'm a student in college, currently in my 3rd year of my 4 year study. This year means I have to complete an internship, followed by a minor. I have barely any experience in the language I'm working with (C#). I have no experience at all with working in a scrum team.

I currently have an internship at a fairly small IT company (~20 employees). I have a project for my internship where I have to design and develop an algorithm to generate recommendations for a restaurant review platform. I have successfully developed said algorithm, including tests and such. I don't have a lot of time left here, my internship ends at January 31st.

Just for reference, it's currently the holiday season, so there are around 6 employees working at the moment.

I have reached a point where I have nothing to do. I have discussed this with my mentor for my internship. (I'll call him Kevin in the rest of my post.) After a meeting with Kevin and my mentor at the company, we have concluded that I can help develop the app that will use the algorithm. I could implement the algorithm and when I'm done with that, I can help with other functionality. I know I'm at fault here, since I haven't admitted I'm afraid of helping because I'm inexperienced.

This scares me a little. Like I said, I have very limited knowledge of working in a scrum team and developing code in general. I'm certain that my code won't live up to their standards. I have gained access to the code the team is working on, and I barely understand any of it. I understand that my code will be reviewed before it's actually implemented, but I'm still afraid of seeming 'stupid'.

Kevin has told me I'd probably pass my internship with a good grade, since the work I have done so far was good. Obviously, I got a good feeling about this; it was certainly a confidence boost. Now I'm afraid of messing up my progress so far by making stupid mistakes. I'm also aware not doing anything will cause a negative result.

The team for the app is currently on holiday, so I'm the only one working on the project at the moment. I can't ask for help because they are all gone on vacation.

How can I ask politely for more work that I can understand and be confident that I can develop/implement? I understand that the point of an internship is about learning new techniques and such, but I don't want to mess up their work with bad code and/or decisions.

I have come up with a few solutions, but I'm fairly certain that none of them are polite or good.

  • I can simply say 'I have nothing to do, is there something simple I can help with?'. I'm afraid about seeming stupid or impolite when I ask this, obviously.
  • I can ask to work at home until the team comes back from vacation. This way I can do simple work or just take some time off. Obviously, this would result in problems since they can see I have barely done anything while working at home. I'm afraid this will impact my internship negatively.
  • I can keep going like this: Spending most of my time on stackoverflow, re-reading my documents and code, trying to filter out errors. I have been doing this for a week now, and it's getting boring and stale. So far I know, I have filtered out all errors and optimized my code. There is a code review from another employee in a few days which fill fix even more design errors in my code, but this won't happen until he is back from vacation.

I don't know how to proceed from this point, what would be the best way to ask for more work that's still possible for me to understand/achieve?

Edit: I'm afraid of asking for help from employees at the company. I'm pretty certain that most people think I'm 'just the intern' who will hopefully leave in a few weeks. I don't think there are a lot of people who like me and will take the time to explain things to me.

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    Don't forget that you are there to learn - it's an internship. They are aware of that. – Jan Doggen Dec 27 '16 at 10:48
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    There should be an acting Scrum-master for your team. They are the first stopping point when you're stuck. Have you talked to them? – Erik Dec 27 '16 at 11:21
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    @Erik there is, but he's on vacation at the moment, so I'm unable to ask questions. – anon Dec 27 '16 at 11:28
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    There should be a replacement of some sort. Otherwise, that's something for you to point out in the next retrospective ;) (And if there is nobody; talk to Dick instead) – Erik Dec 27 '16 at 11:30
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    "I can ask to work at home until the team comes back from vacation. This way I can do simple work or just take some time off." Do not do this. This option is dishonest and is one of the few ways that you could hurt your situation. – Brian Dec 27 '16 at 17:36
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Clearly explain your situation to Kevin

As I understand it, you do have work. However, you do not feel confident that you can do it, and feel like it is on stand-by. Explain this feeling to Kevin. He might have a good advice for you, he might also directly give you the help you need.

If he says he can't help himself, he could also introduce you to someone who can, or point you some documentation that will help.

Finally, if he says something along the lines of "Well, I understand why you're blocked, you should stand by until people come back from vacation", you can ask him : "Sure, but this is the only project I am working on, is there something else you can assign to me in the meanwhile ?"

Ask someone for help

Quoting your edit : you say you are afraid to ask for help. Well, this is exactly the point of an internship : you should learn how to face this kind of fear, and how to overcome it. The goal of an internship is to make you better prepared to the corporate world. You are lucky enough to encounter that kind of opportunity.

Go ask someone for help. You would be surprised how many people are slacking during this Chrismas period because of low activity. Some of them would gladly spend some time explaining you the thing blocking you. Maybe 30 min of their time would solve a large problem of yours, and allow you to work for 2 more days.

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    I was worried about being judged on being 'stupid'. I'll try to schedule an appointment with Dick and my mentor at my company for sure – anon Dec 27 '16 at 11:17
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    @Bas That sounds like a good plan. You have to remember that completing your 4th year of school isn't going to make you an expert, either. When you get your first job after college, you are going to be right back in this same boat of 'not knowing anything' and being presented with code you don't initially understand. Your internship is a good time to get used to asking for help, accepting corrections gracefully, and not worrying about looking stupid just because you don't know every single thing that your coworkers spent years learning throughout their careers :) – Keiki Dec 27 '16 at 14:53
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    @Bas Dick already indicated they don't think you're stupid, by saying your work was good so far. Everyone is well aware that you're ignorant, because you're an intern, but that's neither unexpected nor a negative reflection on you. – Esoteric Screen Name Dec 27 '16 at 16:11
  • Good point on the identity protection, RandomStranger, I edited the answer. – Thalantas Dec 28 '16 at 9:20
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I can simply say 'I have nothing to do, is there something simple I can help with?'

This is perfectly reasonable and polite. That's the approach I'd suggest.

And I always suggest that interns talk with their boss/mentor about what they should be doing if they run out of specifically assigned work. There are always "fill in" activities. Knowing what they are would let you do something worthwhile even when others are on holiday.

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There is always something to do. If as an intern, you understand the release management process from dev to testing to production and you understand Agile/scrum as the latest and greatest in terms of team scale web development - that's a big deal. If you haven't done it yet, get yourself some head phones and start watching some youtube videos on the subject.

You've got to dive in and participate in the scrum meetings, Otherwise, you ain't part of the team. Not trying means you don't fail but it also means that you won't be making mistakes that you can learn from, you won't be able to identify gaps in knowledge that you can fill and you won't acquire the self-confidence to do anything. Get your face out there and take a punch :) Aside from that, how else are you going to know the team if you don't participate in scrum meetings? :) If you give it your best shot and you aren't worried about looking like a fool, you will learn a lot more quickly than if you are (*).

(*) On a personal note, I've done enough foolish things so that I am quite comfortable with being a fool :) This gives me a few extra degrees of freedom in handling any situation that may arise. You are young, you are an intern, and you have much to learn - everybody knows that. The best time for you to look like a fool is now :) Just don't scare us.

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Basically you can do is just ask politely if you can help them in any other things like testing, documentation, development or optimization

I'm also an intern as 'Quality Analyst' in a team of experienced professionals and IIMs as well. My mentor is project manager you can say and goes on vacation and assigned me work for 10 days and I did almost of that in 2 days. And now he is not even reachable.

So what I do is interact with UI/UX and Front-end Developer to understand process. Also asked them to show me off how GitHub works. It was work from home Internship but I go office daily and enjoy & learn as well.

So just see their Technology on what they are working on and start exploring that. If you stuck at some point, mark out that point and ask employees after when they come from vacation.

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