The Internship Ceiling


Sunday, July 14th 2019, 6:40pm

There’s an invisible ceiling at the top of all jobs, some point where you aren’t learning or your career isn’t advancing as fast as you hoped for. Most companies have a plan for this. They promote, incentivize, and hand out larger opportunities as needed. They have to or they lose their employees, but there’s no need for a system of advancement for interns, employees who aren’t going to be there for the long haul anyways.

As an intern, joining a new company is terrifying, you’re tossed into the middle of an unfamiliar world and you need to learn really fast while trying to exceed your co-workers’ expectations. The first month of an internship most concentrated learning environment I’ve ever experienced, but eventually tapers off. You’ll have learned the technology the company uses, figured out the language they speak, and you’ll begin to learn at a lower rate.

This happens to full-time engineers of course, but it happens far sooner to interns simply because we aren’t there long enough and the work given to us reflects that. No matter how great we are as software developers, we can’t be given long term, important projects because we’ll be gone in a few months.

I’m not going to advocate that the company does anything to fix this problem for interns. It’s enough of an opportunity to be given the chance to work as a developer, and the vast majority of interns won’t even get close to this ceiling. But some of us will, and instead of being handed advancement, we need to actively seek out opportunities to maximize the few short months we have.

Three months in and I’ve hit this point at my current internship. I still love it but I notice that I feel comfortable and nearly complacent, so I set out to fix that. I started by seeking out new responsibilities as a developer. I sought out production access, asked to be put on call, and found larger projects to take on. Even if your company won’t let you do all of this, there’s no risk in asking. As my current manager told me when shutting down my dreams of being on-call: “I’ll ask my manager anyways, so you’ll get brownie points at least.”

Next, I’ve been trying to expand my learning past development. I’ve been pushing to sit in on interviews, joining different trainings, and working to understand the organizational dynamics of my company. What’s important is that I’m still learning and pushing myself even if the company I work for has no formal paths for advancement as an intern.

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