Some background first. I'm a student engineer in France, and I started a 6 months internship a month ago, in a start-up. I'm working as a developer. We're around 8 people working here, in a very good ambiance I must add. However, apart from my boss and the project manager, we're only interns.

The problem

We're only two interns, including me, to work as developers. In a week or so, we'll need to add a new feature to the application we're working on. Compared to the previous month which was only bug fixing and minor modifications, this is a huge step.

We're left with the previous intern code, and this code is too hard for me to work with. The other intern who studied during 4 years the technology we're using (I only studied it for 5 months) is feeling the same as me.

I don't know whether or not we will be able to accomplish the work we were tasked with. To be more precise, I believe we can, but I think our solution will be sub optimal, and the people who will work with our code next will be left with a really messy work.

In the end, I'm concerned about the quality of our work. I don't feel like bringing the "I'm only an intern" talk to my boss because as I said, the previous code was written by an intern.

There's also the fact that this is the start-up first product, and a huge investment for my boss who created it.

How should I talk to my boss about this?

  • What's the question?
    – Migz
    Feb 24, 2017 at 9:53
  • Sorry, I edited.
    – user65028
    Feb 24, 2017 at 9:55
  • Very similar
    – Draken
    Feb 24, 2017 at 10:08
  • 2
    I believe we can, but I think our solution will be sub optimal - tell this to whoever you report to for the project. They can make a decision about whether that is OK or to look at alternatives.
    – Brandin
    Feb 24, 2017 at 10:08
  • I don't think this is a duplicate. I'm talking about a task I have not yet accomplished.
    – user65028
    Feb 24, 2017 at 15:13

3 Answers 3


I am very sorry that I have to tell you that you probably got something wrong in your question. Mainly, the placement of your header "The problem". It is one sentence late.

I will suggest something that sounds more applicable to me:

The problem

However, apart from my boss and the project manager, we're only interns.

Those two people are trying to run a business by having constantly changing temporary interns. If the two of them would do the main work (development) themselves and you interns would care for maybe writing user guides, testing, documentations, whatnot then that might work for a while. What they are doing right now is exploiting people as interns.

I would honestly try to get out. You are being exploited and this is most likely going to be a sinking ship if they go on like that. In case you want to stay, go to your boss together with the other intern and explain to them how you got messy code to work with and how your code will be messy too for the next person, because you lack the experience to do the task you are given. This is going to repeat itself over and over again. Tell them how beneficiary it would be for the company in the long run to have a developer that is actually guiding any interns and how important this is for him to have his startup be successful. Tell him that you are sincerely worried (if you are) and that it would be a shame to see his idea go to waste (if you do).

  • Thank you for your answer. I would like to mention that the code we're left with right now is not messy, it's just written by someone who know much much better the technology than me. I don't really have the option to get out, since I need this intership for my diploma, and I don't have the finances or time to look for another internship. However, I think we'll bring the issue to our boss along with the other developer. Thanks again.
    – user65028
    Feb 24, 2017 at 10:06
  • 2
    @OlivierGrech If it was written by an intern, it is messy. That's the point of an internship. You try your best and you get help by experienced people. Your predecessor was a newbie with no help, there is basically no way this is a good and solid base.
    – nvoigt
    Feb 24, 2017 at 10:12
  • @nvoigt I've seen students write code some senior developers would never get done. Of course that's not the norm etc., but it really depends on the project and only the sith deal in binaries ;)
    – DonQuiKong
    Feb 24, 2017 at 10:30
  • 1
    At some point the code will be messy. Maybe one talented person writes clean code, but they will have to base it on a mess and someone else will add a mess. Even good code can be messy if it is later handled by others that can't see the "beauty" in it, because they lack the understanding. Things will be messy. There is no use in blaming this to anyone else than the supervising people who should end this better sooner than later.
    – skymningen
    Feb 24, 2017 at 10:32
  • Was in a company like this except it was at the start end where experienced people got replaced with students and the remaining devs had to pick up the slack. It went downhill very quickly from there. Once it gets to this stage, the only thing you can do is find somewhere else and avoid the fallout
    – Snowlockk
    Feb 24, 2017 at 14:56

The problem is of little concern. You'll be gone from this company after your internship anyway. Right now you just need to inform your boss correctly. You can tell him things along the lines of

It is unlikely for us to be able to achieve the assignment you tasked us with within the given timespan. We will do our best, but please keep in mind that within the current timespan our code will most likely become messy and limited. People who will work with our code after this will have an even harder time progressing than we are. If you wish to have the code become cleaner and better, we will need more time. It may not have more functionality, but it'll certainly become more flexible and become higher in quality. Currently we'll proceed as instructed, but please keep in mind that this may endanger any future projects that are made based on our code.

At this point you've informed him more than what he really deserves. Hopefully he'll give you more time to figure out the code. If he doesn't then that's not your fault. Make sure to log this. Put it in the report that you'll deliver school, as they will be the ones to decide whether your internship is a success or not. NOT the company. (even though the company tends to have a large influence)

If you end up being unable to do all the things that the company has asked from you, you will have proof that you informed the right people in the right way. Shifting the blame from you, towards the company itself.

So in short: Document EVERYTHING that has been said and that has been mailed. And put it in your report that goes to school as an appendix.


You should definitely go see your boss and tell something like:

"Hey Manu, I am not here to work as an engineer but as an intern, and there is no engineer around to train me. I do not think this is a good idea for the robustness of any product of your startup to be develop only by interns. Can we foresee a meeting with the other intern and the project manager to talk about that?"

See how he reacts and then make a decision about your future in this so-called startup.