Advice for Future Interns
Blog Post by ELP Student Sai Pavan Yerra (Computer Science | Class of 2022)
Hello everyone my name is Sai Pavan Yerra, I am a senior studying computer science. During this past summer, I interned at Amazon as a Software Development Engineer Intern.
I cannot go into detail about what I worked on while at Amazon, however, I still have quality insights that I learned while working. I hope my advice is applicable to students who are about to start or will do an internship in the future.
My overarching piece of advice is that you are in real life, not school anymore so be ready to make adjustments to your behavior.
There can be Multiple Right Answers
While you are in school, class assignments usually expect some kind of “correct” answer, and teachers and professors expect you to follow a specific method to get to the correct answer. In a company however the problems dealt with are not solved yet, so there are no “right” answers; this ambiguity opens up the possibility of there being multiple ways to solve the problem.
For example, for my internship project, the project spec showed me two possible approaches to take, but what I ended up doing was creating a new approach that took pieces from both approaches. My mentor and my team were accepting of the new approach since it was still a correct answer.
Shortcuts waste your time and everyone else’s
While in school, it is common for students to take a lazy shortcut so they can finish their project or assignment by the due date. Generally, the shortcut sacrifices the quality of work, but this might not be a problem for an assignment because it won’t be modified after it gets graded. But in real life, the work you do will be modified or built on top of. In those circumstances, if the original work is not good quality you are wasting your time and your team’s to fix the work.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
When you finish all your assignments in school you get some time where you can relax and have fun. So a healthy habit you may have developed was to try to finish as much of your work as possible ahead of time to get more free time later.
In contrast, while working you don’t get free time if you finish all your tasks for the day, you get more work to do. If you get stuck in the mentality that you have to work as much as possible, you will quickly get burned out. That is why you should find a good pace to work at and take good breaks and take care of yourself when you are not working.
This was something I struggled with at the beginning. I would spend a full eight hours doing nothing but working, because that’s how I was used to working for school. After working one week in that format, the second week felt like an awful struggle for me: by the end of everyday I would have no energy to do any activities or hobbies I enjoyed. Eventually, I started incorporating more breaks throughout the work day and that improved my energy levels considerably. Not only did I feel happier, I also worked more effectively.
Don’t overthink, don’t over ask
There are two extremes of how you can act while doing your internship. One side is thinking that you have to do all of your tasks without any help from any of your team members and the other side is thinking that you can ask your mentor/manager/team how to do everything.
You should try to be somewhere in the middle where you try to work independently, but you consistently give updates to your mentor or team so they can correct you if you are making mistakes. This way you can learn what your limits are and try to grow them.
Personally, I was on the do it by yourself side; consequently, there were many times I used the completely wrong approach. All of those wasted efforts could have been avoided if I simply told my mentor this is the approach I was thinking of using and let him tell me that it was wrong. After my first month, I learned to ask questions and verify that my approach would be effective before I dedicated too much time to it. Getting feedback early on helped me finish tasks much faster.
I hope my advice was helpful for students who plan on becoming interns or even new full-time employees. Everything I learned in my internship will definitely continue to help me in my future career.