Finding Your First Computer Science Internship

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With summer internship deadlines just around the corner, now is the time to start mapping out a strategy to find your first computer science internship. Internships are an important way to build your career. They provide real-world experience in a learning environment while giving you a chance to explore what you want to do with your degree.

We interviewed Mark Herschberg, Chief Technology Officer at Averon, a San Francisco-based startup that focuses on mobile security and former MIT instructor, for his advice for prospective interns. “Everyone loves interns, because we remember what it’s like to be one,” he says.

Getting started on looking for your first computer science internship can feel daunting, so here are three tips to help you on your way.

LOOK FOR A GOOD FIT

The responsibilities of interns vary widely from company to company. It's important to research internships beforehand to ensure that your tasks will fit your specific interests and help develop your skills. “Look at the opportunities that will help you develop the most,” Herschberg says. You may be working on a project that the company has wanted to make a priority but didn’t have the staff to do so, or it may be more a chance to meet people throughout the organization while pitching in where you’re needed.

Find out who you would be reporting to and working with on a daily basis, and what your responsibilities will be. Have a goal in mind to discuss with the interviewer, such as skills you want to develop or milestones you want to reach.

BE BOLD

As you apply to internships, be proactive. "Don't be afraid to take the initiative," Herschberg says. “An internship is a great thing — you’ve made it past security, you’re part of a company and people are happy to talk to you.”

And that includes reaching out to companies even if they haven't had internships in the past. Employers are impressed by young workers who show initiative.

Companies begin hiring for summer internships as early as February of the same year, and many internships are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. To get a leg up on the competition and get your resume in front of companies, use every resource you have, including jobs boards, forums, coding challenges, career fairs, and websites to find the internships that interest you.

Don’t feel intimidated when you apply to big names — casting a wide net can help you find  good fit. At the same time, don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back from companies you’ve applied to — that’s a normal part of any internship or job search. Just keep applying while continuing to network at computer science events and online.

KEEP AN OPEN MIND

You may have the ideal company in mind to host your internship — and that’s fine. But it’s also important to consider all of the possibilities open to you. Internships are a great way to explore while not burdening you with a lot of risk, Herschberg says.

As you look at different options, such as working at a startup, a large corporation, or in a specific industry or sector, consider options that seem interesting even if they’re not directly tied to your major. “It’s an opportunity to spend eight weeks doing something, and if you find you don’t like it, it’s no big deal and you didn’t lose a lot,” Herschberg says. “There’s really no downside. It’s a lot harder to try to do something like that when you’re 40.” And who knows? It might turn out to be something you enjoy more than you thought.