Tldr - Consider the pros and cons of mentoring and managing interns before taking on the challenge. Be prepared to spend extra time at the beginning to get the interns up to speed. Be clear about your expectations, give them tasks that are not due until they leave, and have a support system in place.
My approach on intern management
Mentoring is something that I am passionate about because it provides an opportunity for me to share my knowledge and experience with others. It is a way for me to help others learn and grow, and it is something that I enjoy doing and I hope to do more of.
At my current job, we have been hiring interns every year to help us with research and software development. During our summer internship program on 2020, I had the chance to mentor and manage four individuals with distinct backgrounds. In this blog post, I will share my perspective on leading an effective mentorship whilst maintaining productivity.
Mentoring can be a rewarding experience for the interns, for the company, and the mentor managing the interns. I personally started my career as an intern not too long ago at a mid-sized technology company. During that period, I had a chance to collaborate with the senior engineers in contributing to projects and building prototypes. My mentor during the internship left a big impression on me when it came to learning, contributing, and growing professionally as an engineer. I wanted to ensure that our interns received a similar experience and made meaningful contributions.
About mentoring and managing interns
We hire interns with a wide variety of unique talents from diverse backgrounds, and it’s helpful to figure out an individual’s capabilities early on. Building rapport, getting face time, and connecting with the people we work with is important to boost our understanding and figure out their capabilities. Discussing goals, expectations, interests, and challenges are all important conversations to have with the individuals.
Mentoring- is more about “how” and “why” and less about “what”. As a mentor, the role might include:
Managing- is more about “what” and “when”. When managing interns, your role is to provide tasks and make sure they are done on time. You are also responsible for making sure that your interns have all the tools and knowledge they need to do their assigned tasks. Planning and ensuring work quality is a key part of management.
Managing interns takes a lot of time and effort at the beginning if you want to get a good return during the internship’s time. I would plan to spend 5-10 hours helping the intern get started during their first week. If you want them to contribute to a tech project, I recommend you to do the following during the first week:
Help them set up a development environment
Give them an overview of the project(s) they will work on
Introduce them to their peers and let them know who they can ask for help
Explain what is expected from them and how important it is for them to report back
Next, I would give a small, meaningful task and point them in a direction where they can learn how to do it. I think it’s important that we don’t just tell them to “go learn this technology” but rather “please do this, and this is what you need to learn to accomplish the task”; this teaching method sets some accountability and expectations for the student. I would let them figure out a few things on their own and guide them when needed.
An internship is typically a student’s first job. For most interns, their goal is to learn, grow, contribute, and get experience in the real world. Interns should be treated as regular employees with reasonable expectations. When assigning tasks, I would give them the same type of work I expect myself or my peers to complete and make sure that the individuals know I’m there to help them along the way. However, the tasks given to the interns should be tasks with delivery time in mind. Remember that your trainees can drop out any time, take vacations, or have exams to study for. It is best to avoid assigning critical tasks to interns. Give them work that is not due until they leave, or have a backup plan if the task is left unfinished. Assessing and testing new technology that you plan on adapting could be another area that fits in this domain.
Planning and routine meetings are important when it comes to managing interns effectively. This summer, some of my trainees would finish everything assigned to them faster than I planned, while others could run into unexpected blockers. So I was sure to have a list of extra tasks that I could provide to them if needed. Routine meetings are also important to make sure you know your intern’s progress and can help with any issues or challenges that may have unfolded.
Holding interns accountable is important to measuring value for the company. While managing my interns this summer, I learned that giving tasks in bite-sized pieces was better than giving them a task that could take weeks to complete.
Having a support system for the interns is critical to avoid burnout and will make the learning experience rewarding for both the students and the mentor. Some things that have helped me make use of my time include:
Making sure interns work well together. When the same challenge is encountered by two or more interns, show one of them how to solve it and have him/her explain it to the rest of their peers.
Writing documentation on how to code, contribute, and set up the environment.
Maintaining documentation. If anything is unclear on the documentation, have the interns contribute to improving the text or instructions.
Requesting help from other experts. If something is too challenging for me and not in my realm of expertise, point them to someone who can better explain.
At the end
Having an exit plan for when the interns leave is important. Before the last week, I would:
Ask them to give a list of items they worked on and make sure those are accessible.
Have them write documentation on any unfinished work.
Document any new code, software, and infrastructure they changed.
Have them clean up their system for sensitive or proprietary code by giving them clear instructions.
After reviewing the above items, have a debriefing interview to figure out if anything is missing or needs further clarification.
Furthermore, it would be a good idea for the interns to put together a presentation for your team. This could be a compilation of what they worked on (i.e. any visualization or demo), what was completed, and any challenges they encountered. This not only benefits the company, but can also help interns reflect on their work, provide some closure for the internship, and help them polish their presentation skills.
Running a successful internship program would enable off-loading some of the tasks from your project, if, you plan, manage, and mentor interns effectively.
When mentoring interns, make sure you are aware of the time commitment. When deciding on managing and mentoring interns, consider the project complexity, how much work is in your hands, and the interns’ experience and capabilities.
Internships are a fun and rewarding experience for mentors, trainees, and the company. For me, managing and mentoring four interns was a worthy challenge. During the last internship program, interns were working together as coworkers, contributing codes to mission-critical projects, improving user experience on our applications, doing experiments and research on bleeding-edge technologies, and tackling complex problems well beyond what was expected of them.
And. strive for something like this… some day. Enjoy this reddit thread.