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I was excited to join a large company this summer. Compensation is very generous but my manager still hasn't given much thought into what I can do to contribute for mobile development. As a result, I end up "playing around" and researching about the capabilities and limitations of each of the technologies they mentioned. The internship will last 12 weeks so I'm worried about the slow pace at which the internship started off with and wonder if the project will actually add value or not. I want my role to have purpose so I can be enthusiastic about putting in my entire day of time at the office. Do I have any misconceptions about what an internship entails? I was expecting to have a well defined project ready for me to work on and a mentor that will proactively offer guidance and check in on me since they opened up this position for one reason or another.

It drained all my passion and I feel aimless in my 2nd week so far. Can I be assured that it'll get better or is this internship a bad one?

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    Have you talked with your manager/mentor? – enderland Jun 7 '17 at 20:08
  • Yes and that is how I found out that there is still no project established for me. My manager and mentor were still in the brainstorming phase to decide what idea adds value. Mentor had 3 ideas in mind. One of them was crossed off because my manager said there is no use case matching the platform/technology. – btrballin Jun 7 '17 at 20:49
  • From my own experience, I think that being an intern seems to give people a sense of "you can't really complete anything fully because you'll be gone in a few weeks" so they don't really take you seriously or seem to value you as part of the team. So, use this time to do your research, learn how the business operates, and chalk it all down to experience. Just be happy that you're getting compensated! (NB. Experiences may differ from person to person) – DCON Jun 8 '17 at 8:13
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    Ironically, once you become "really really senior", jobs are exactly what you describe: 1 - nobody in the company has a clue what you (or really, anyone) is doing or should be doing. 2 - there's nobody, at all, to tell you what to do. 3 - you have to, totally on your own, and thinking as a customer, invent/conceive some new feature (or indeed, entirely new product), and totally execute it 4 - and do so in almost no time, with no help. (After doing that, A - you get piles of money and B - everyone else pretends they were involved!) You have to take the same approach, ironically! – Fattie Jun 8 '17 at 13:39
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I've written a lot about internships and the most important thing is communication.

Have you talked to your manager/mentor about this? Unfortunately, there really is no way to "assure" anything.

What you should do is have a conversation with your boss. Ask your manager if they have any idea of when you will have a better idea of a project. Some things which would be great to bring to this meeting:

  • Ideas of things you could do
  • Questions about their work tracking system (maybe you can just grab a ticket and dive in)

If you don't feel like you're getting anything, ask if there are others on the team you could help out with (or pair program if your company does that sort of thing).

Do I have any misconceptions about what an internship entails?

Maybe. Running a "good" internship experience takes a lot more effort/skill than most people realize.

One of the things you could ask your manager for is more guidance on what to be doing. This is probably the #1 difference in academia/school vs the real world. In the "real world" you get ambiguous project goals (if you're lucky) and have to do all the "work" to determine what the work is. Compared to school, where you get a list of requirements nearly always.

Generally, if you take initiative, communicate reasonably well, are eager to learn, and volunteer for things you will have a good internship.

  • My question is...why would companies hire someone without a clear need or goal prior to creating the position? – btrballin Jun 7 '17 at 20:52
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    They hire because interns dont cost a lot but many times they can find interns that fit well. That is why. Try to be pro active about stuff. I know you need guidance but interns are usually given the task to "play around,experiment, and research". My intern does exactly this and by researching he has helped us with various changes to some of our software. He also looks at a lot of ux or ui enhancements being a young guy and catches and finds new ideas. Play the same game. – JonH Jun 7 '17 at 21:56
  • So SW interns don't necessarily write code but do the extra research to help influence the decisions of those who actually code? – btrballin Jun 7 '17 at 22:15
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    @btrballin it depends. There's no "answer" to that question. – enderland Jun 7 '17 at 22:23
  • I feel that software interns should write code, absolutely. as Jon says you need to be INCREDIBLY proactive. see my humorous, but true, comment under the question, OP. – Fattie Jun 8 '17 at 13:58
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"my manager still hasn't given much thought into what I can do to contribute for mobile development"

Have you personally used the app? If you are looking for something to do while they try to make up their minds, show some initiative and perform an 'informal review'.

Document (yes, really document in writing so you have a product to show for your time spent) features that work well, those you like, those you dislike, and propose alternatives? Just because they don't have a firm idea of what you could be doing does not mean that you cannot spend your time creating a meaningful contribution. My company uses interns in this manner every year -- whatever they were hired to do for the internship, they are all 'user experience' subjects on a product or two.

There is far, far more that goes into creating a good mobile app than just coding -- that's the tail on the dog. Thoughtful interface design, ease of use are among the aspects that should be considered before any code gets written.

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Look at it a different way. Perhaps the staff doesn't have the bandwidth to evaluate the technologies that you're looking at. You might not be the person, in 12 weeks, who ends up implementing the technologies you're reviewing. That doesn't mean the work you're doing isn't valuable.

Twelve weeks really isn't a very long time. Even the analysis stage of projects can take much longer than that. So let's think reasonably here. The management is not necessarily obligated to put you into any position where you start a new project in week 1, leave in week 12, and just happen to be the only person who knows how the code works underneath it all. That's a risk! But by putting you in a research position, the risks are far less, and your research can be handed-off. It has nothing to do with you personally.

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Do I have any misconceptions about what an internship entails?

Yes.

I was expecting to have a well defined project ready for me to work on and a mentor that will proactively offer guidance and check in on me since they opened up this position for one reason or another.

I honestly assumed you were being funny when I first read that!

OK, so now you have completely, totally, utterly learned that you were wrong to think that, and it's not how the world works.

I've thought a lot about the best advice to offer here. I believe it is this:

You have learned that two weeks is an incredibly long time.

Every single person reading this, will be dead in 5000 weeks.

You can not waste two weeks of life like this. After two hours you should have acted, and urgently.

You must act (now, i.e. after reading this).

Walk over to the manager and say "Thanks boss, you're awesome. I finished all the odds and ends. Can you give me a really difficult programming task and I will get right on it, and give you blood sweat and tears on it - let's go! What's the toughest most annoying thing you need done, I'll do it."

If you don't get anything (and that's their prerogative - it's a free world, nobody is owed anything), leave.

You can achieve an incredible amount in 10 weeks; an instant obvious suggest build an open source widget that will give you excellent publicity the remaining 1248 weeks of your career.

(Your career in this lifetime will be 1250 weeks at best; you've very unfortunately wasted two, or had two wasted for you. But you've learned a super-valuable lesson: never waste two weeks. Stick to the "two hour" rule. If anything is proving to be a time waste after two hours, walk.)


Note - when you leave (assuming you don't get the Tough Project, which is possible), be super polite. Here's some great language: "Boss, you've been awesome. I can tell there's nothing for me to do here - the company was too kind in offering an internship. I've stumbled on to a great open source project that will really stretch me and fits in to the next 10 weeks. Thanks again, it's been fantastic, I'll clear out my pencil from the desk."

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