Summer Internship Wrap Up – Part 1

September 22nd, 2008 by kevin

Interns going away dinner at M's Pub

We’ve received a lot of questions about how we launched and managed our 2008 summer Internship project, codenamed the Feisty Piranha Project, so it’s about high time we address these quandaries.

The recipe we came up was largely based on this Joel article. With that said, I’m going to lay out the steps we went through to pull this whole thing off for those of you interested in trying this out for yourself. (Fair warning: getting everything together for our internship wasn’t easy – it took a lot of time, energy, and diet mountain dew to make it happen.)

Step 1: Concept and Preparation

We started by coming up with an idea for a great internship experience. We felt that locally there weren’t very many places where a young college kid could go work over a summer and have a meaningful, well paying, and fun internship.

We brainstormed for a bit and then drafted up this blog post/manifesto, announcing our internship, what it’s all about, and how it’s going to be better than 99% of other internships out there.

Step 2: Getting the Word Out

One of the most commonly asked questions we get is how did we go about finding our interns. For this, we loosely followed the guidance of, yet again, Joel by reaching out to all of the local colleges.

To our surprise, all of the colleges were extremely helpful; many went out of their way to get the word out to students about our internship. Dusty’s alma matter, Iowa State, for instance, forwarded our email and flier to every computer science student on campus!

In the end, I figure we sent out emails to 10 or 12 schools in the region. From the larger schools such as UNL and Iowa State, to the smaller schools like UNO and UNI.

Additionally, I should note, we also posted the position on CareerLink and CraigsList. Though, in the end, I think direct access to students via college job centers proved to be the most effective means of recruiting applicants.

Step 3: Sift through Incoming Resumés and Phone Interview

Once the word was out, in came the resumés. We gathered resumés for a few weeks until we had a good number (something like 150).

When the time came to go through our stack of resumés, we started by sorting them into two piles: applicants we wanted to hear more from via a phone interview and applicants we weren’t interested in (we sent them nice “thanks for applying” emails).

We phone interviewed close to 35 individuals over the course of about two months. By the end, we were pretty dang good at getting a feel for candidates over a 15-30 min phone interview, and we had our BrightMix internship elevator speech ingrained into the backs of our skulls. The point of every phone interview was to get a sense for the applicant’s passion, personality, and raw intelligence.

Interns can be Hard to Interview

Very few of our applicants had much of any work history to talk about and even fewer had formed strong opinions on software development (something we really like!). So, we had to focus on things like “is this person genuinely interested in their field of study.” We asked a lot of questions about their favorite classes, what they did in their spare time, and ideal jobs.

Dusty’s favorite question—“What do you want to be when you grow up?

FYI, the best candidates loved their classes, wanted to write code when they “grew up,” and hacked away on cool projects in their spare time.

Step 4: Interview Top Few Candidates in Person – Hire the Best

Of all of our phone interviewees, we whittled the potential hire list down to about 10 who we brought in to our office for an interview or, in a few cases, traveled elsewhere to interview them. (Note: we ponied up gas money to the few interns who drove in from outside Omaha for their interviews.)

The in-person interview was an extension of the phone interview; it allowed us to further gauge each applicant’s personality and ability. Would they fit into the BrightMix culture? Would we be able to interact and work with this person? Did they tell jokes? Did their jokes suck?

We stuck to fairly broad topics. The goal of these interviews was to, again, find opinionated, creative people. Our interns would be running the show (so to speak) for their project, so it was important that we find the right mix of individuals who could operate on their own if necessary. E.g., dream up functionality instead of being a mere code monkey.

After all of our in-person interviews for the garcinia cambogia project, we narrowed our search down to 3 individuals—2 developers and a designer; the brightest, funniest, most creative, and awesomest peeps.

Step 5: Prep the Interns for Arrival

Our summer project’s programming platform was Ruby on Rails. While Ruby on Rails can be quick to pick up, neither of our programmers knew the language. So, in an effort to prepare them as much as possible, we sent each of them a few books on Ruby on Rails and programming. These books doubled as great references once the summer came.

The three books we mailed each of the developers were..

More to come!

That about wraps up the “finding and filtering” section of the internship story. In Part 2, we will cover some more details of what life was like after the interns actually arrived. From them showing up day one, all the way through launching a real honest-to-goodness web application…. Stay tuned!


Check out part 2 here