How to Succeed at a Startup Internship
Blog post by ELP Student Patrick Neggie (Computer Science | Class of 2021) Interning at Guardhat
Let’s be honest. Starting at a new company is new, it’s exciting, it’s like the first week of school when you don’t have any homework and your only job is to meet new people and fill out permission slips. But eventually, the weeks go by and you’ll find yourself in a routine. And, it’s really hard to change your routine once you’ve sunken into one. That’s why I’ve created a list of three things to add to your routine to maximize the value out of your summer internship.
Know Your Limitations
The most important lesson I’ve taken out of my startup experience is that you need to know your limitations. You aren’t an 80-year-old trained expert in the field. You’re probably a young, wide-eyed college student like me. And if you’re anything like me, you probably have had moments in your life where you’ve uttered the phrase, “Sleep is for the weak,” or “No, I don’t need help.”
What you might not realize is this mindset of total independence will cripple your efforts to succeed at a startup. Working 80 hours a week is doable, but do you want to do it? What are you doing it for? The credit? The reputation? Now, I’m not saying don’t work 80 hours a week. I am saying, aim for quality over quantity and think hard about the future consequences of your actions. Sure, maybe working eighty hours a week feels great the first three weeks, but then when you finally realize that you haven’t made time for the gym or friends in months, it will be too late. So, when you create your routine, consider adding activities that aren’t related to your startup.
Step Up to the Plate
A lot of times, at a startup, your role is not clearly defined. You’re given a broad set of goals to accomplish but no roadmap of how to get there. What you have to realize is that every other intern is also in your shoes. Stepping up to the plate means picking the toughest projects on purpose. Stepping up to the plate means facing challenges head on. It means accepting more responsibility.
If you want to be remembered, you need to communicate leadership with your actions. So, don’t take the easy way out but do ask for help when you need it. Most importantly though, don’t ever be afraid to be the first to step outside your comfort zone. Often, you’ll find that people will naturally follow your lead and that it wasn’t so scary after all.
Sometimes as an intern, you’ll find yourself in a room full of people twice your age and with twice your experience. But don’t be fooled. That doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. In fact, we each see the world through a different lens, so if you have something to say, just say it. Don’t overthink it. Obviously, you shouldn’t just be blabbering away all the time. But if you think your idea is unique or needs to be heard, don’t be afraid to share it with the group.
Seniority plays much less of a role at a startup and that’s why you should never be afraid that you’re stepping out of line. Think about it. The worst thing that can happen is that your idea is shot down, but the best thing that can happen is your idea causes a paradigm shift for the company. But you’ll never know if you don’t put it out there.
There is growing scientific support that the most original thinkers aren’t the people with the best time management skills. In fact, what I call “precrastinating,” the act of planning out every microsecond of your day from dusk to dawn, is as detrimental to creativity as procrastination. Creativity is arguably one of the most important skills to bring to the table at a startup. By “precrastinating,” you constrain the variables of your life and reduce the amount of divergent thinking that leads to original ideas. Maybe instead of micromanaging yourself, set general goals for the day and make sure you try new things to keep your mind sharp. Studies have shown that when people are told to solve a problem, those who tackle the problem immediately do worse than those who go for a walk and come back. So, try new things, have fun, and don’t be afraid to think on your feet, literally.
All in All
If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: find a healthy balance and don’t let your work consume you. I’m a firm believer that you simply don’t do your best work when your overstressed and burnt out. Working at a startup can be stressful, but it becomes overwhelming when you push yourself beyond your limits or try to turn yourself into a robot. Remember, you’re not a computer, you’re deeply human, and that’s okay.