[Internship Filter] Help me find a programming internship (computer science student) over summer break!
November 20, 2008 5:37 PM   Subscribe

[Internship Filter] Help me find a programming internship (computer science student) over summer break!

Hey guys I am a 2nd year computer science student at the University of Maryland and I am just getting around to looking for a summer coding internship to help get some experience. The problem is I have no idea how to start looking/how to distinguish myself from the crowd. Not really sure what to put on my resume or what to do to prepare for interviews either. The problem is I have no real experience to begin with, which is why I am searching for a internship so I am not sure what to put on my resume... So far i just have little odd things here and there from high school, most of it not even related to programming.

The two or three interviews I have gotten, I have mostly been rejected due to "no prior experiences" or because I haven't taken junior and senior level classes like data structures or algorithms.

I know everyone says to "make something" so you stand out and while I experiment with new things almost constantly I can't seem to make the jump right now to just starting to make something as I do not know where to start.

In summary do you guys have any advice you can give me to help snag a programming summer internship, and to help stand out from the crowd? Thanks a bunch!
posted by Javed_Ahamed to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a US Citizen or Permanent Resident? If you are interested in CS research, try to get selected for an REU program. There are many institutions looking for CS undergrads to help do real research. You even get paid!

As for "standing out:" are you a member or leader of any club, society, or group? Talk about your leadership and organizational skills. Such experience can also speak to your ability to handle change, work in large groups, and handle long-term projects.

As to actual "coding" experience, do you qualify to take a software engineering course yet? Hopefully such a class will enable you to get hands on experience in designing and producing a real software product throughout the semester. These projects are great to show off in an interview! Many companies hire for interships during the Spring as well, so you might still have time. Check out your college's career fair(s)!
posted by brettcar at 6:03 PM on November 20, 2008

I wasn't able to get a true programming internship until my senior year because I had very little experience before then. To pass the time, I did technical internships(technical or computer support) for several years and built up on a lot of skills. Eventually, I made my way into a programming internship, but by that time, I had quite a bit of useful technical skills(and people skills) that I'm glad I have. Now that I think about it, they probably make me stand out in comparison to my peers.

You aren't going to get the internship you want unless you are really above your league, so you have to start off the beaten path.
posted by nikkorizz at 6:29 PM on November 20, 2008

Software engineering and algorithms courses are very important when looking for a job. My university's work experience program will not even let you apply for jobs if you lack these courses. That being said, there are several things you can do in lieu of these courses. You can acquire a lot of valuable experience by contributing to open-source projects. Google around -- projects are often desperate for help and will have wiki articles and/or IRC channels that will walk you through submitting your first patch. Volunteer work can help a bit. Computer science societies/clubs/groups/etc on campus are extremely useful for networking (the real-life, business kind, not the computer kind ;) ), and a leadership position in one of these can also work wonders.

If your school participates in the ACM programming contest, you likely have regular practices, hopefully open to non-team members. This is great on a resume, and it also gives you tonnes of theory (including data structures and algorithms) way in advance of when it will be taught in lecture. I was a member of my school's ACM team and pretty much slept my way through third-year theory courses.

Last but not least, look at Google's Summer of Code. http://code.google.com/soc/2008/ (http://code.google.com/p/google-summer-of-code/wiki/AdviceforStudents might also have useful information for you, even if you don't decide to apply for SoC)

Good luck!
posted by mebibyte at 6:38 PM on November 20, 2008

First, don't worry about not having any work experience; internships don't normally expect them. Second, is there anything the has gotten you excited? If so, start there to look for a job. Have you gone to your career center? if not than go now, they will have advice on where to look and a lot of advice on resumes and might help you step by step with it. Next, relax and find some stuff that looks fun to you. Your resume doesn't need to have a list of amazing accomplishments, it just needs some keywords,(for many companies a computer is the first to read your resume) if you have the keywords the company wants you get a interview; think "Problem Solving skills", "C++ and java development". As for interviews, keep your confidence up, they know you are at the level of school that you told them you are and normally they have realistic ideas of what you should know at that point. Just show them that you know the things you know and that you aren't crazy.

Lastly, there are tons of people in your same position, find what makes you different than most the people you have been taking classes with for the last few years.
posted by humanawho at 6:51 PM on November 20, 2008

I am a 2nd year computer science student at the University of Maryland and I am just getting around to looking for a summer coding internship to help get some experience.

Can we start with what you can do? What coding/programming skills do you have? What languages do you know? Do you want to build old school software or online apps?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:57 PM on November 20, 2008

Response by poster: We have done Java and C so far, java to help ease into programming and C to help learn low level concepts. Im planning on learning C# over winter break as It seems to be the language everyone is using nowadays. I would rather build old school applications im not so into the online web apps thing right now but don't get me wrong I wouldnt mind an internship there either it would still interest me just not as much as regular applications.

On the subject of getting involved in open source projects and such does anyone know any good sites for C#? Or ones that give example projects? On the google summer of code thing, while I was definitely planning on applying to that it is selective in itself which is why im worried :/. I really do not want to be sitting around summer break so I am trying to do anything i can to get to get a thing i can work on!
posted by Javed_Ahamed at 7:07 PM on November 20, 2008

Response by poster: Sorry for the double post but I just wanted to add that here at the University of Maryland surprisingly we do not have many programming clubs... as far as I can tell at least. All we have is the Linux Users group which i have been attending but not much else. I was thinking of starting my own club with a friend my junior year just for a place for computer science people to hang out but I am not sure what exactly we would do during this time. I was just thinking about that for later.
posted by Javed_Ahamed at 7:11 PM on November 20, 2008

Ask around your CS and math departments - faculty, grad students, even the dept secretary may have ideas for programs you could join, or other people within the university to talk to. The more people you mention this to, the more people will have you in mind if they hear of something. Spread the word.

Find your university's career development office. They will have general advice about job-hunting and internship-hunting, and they probably maintain files of internships and maybe of alumni in various professions who are willing to be a contact person for current students. If nothing else they can help you with your resume.

In DC there are a number of government agencies that might have programs. NSA is an obvious one; I don't know if you have coursework that makes you suitable for them yet. Search on government websites to see what programs you can find.

If you can't find anything, another option is to work at a computer camp. CTY at John's Hopkins is high-level and fun. TIC computer camp in DC is a good one where you teach some actual programming.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:48 PM on November 20, 2008

Well damn. I clicked on this post because I was excited that I had something I could contribute to it ... and then everyone goes and says everything I was going to.

In any case, here are some unorganized thoughts from a recent CS-y grad
  • I don't know which UMD you attend, but you apparently do have an ACM chapter. Definitely check them out. Aside from just being all-around cool people, they'll likely be a great networking resource. Also, try showing up to the weekly ICPC practices. That'll improve your programming ability a ton, and some really important companies recruit heavily during the actual contests (IBM Blue and Google, off the top of my head).
  • Do you know any profs? Go to one of them (perhaps during office hours) and say "hey, I read this paper X you wrote recently, and I thought it was really interesting. Are you still working on that? If so, my qualifications are only x, y, and z, but I'd be very interested in helping out over the summer." This works wonders. (please do read the actual paper before you do this, though. And if you don't understand it, that's fine too - go to their office hours and ask them about it. Then say the above.)
  • If all else fails, try to find a medium-sized open-source project to volunteer on. Which one will definitely depend on what you're interested in, so let us know. We could probably recommend one.

posted by oostevo at 8:22 PM on November 20, 2008

Response by poster: Ah oostevo! Yes i go to the university of maryland college park. University of Maryland is default associated with that school. I didn't know about ACM being an actual club/them taking part in programming contests I will definitely look into that! Thanks! Stuff like that is what I am looking for! Online versions as well :D.
posted by Javed_Ahamed at 8:28 PM on November 20, 2008

One more thing:

If I'm remembering correctly, if you end up going to one of the ACM/ICPC programming competitions, you can get a free ACM (student) membership. Those are valuable.
posted by oostevo at 9:43 PM on November 20, 2008

Consider just cold calling/emailing companies in your area. One of our best guys sent me an email out of the blue last spring and asked if we offered internships. "Why yes. Yes we do." There's got to be 100 companies like ours in your area.

If somebody came to me without appropriate coursework, I would be hesitant. Here your code samples would make the difference. The fact that you learned something useful about c# over winter break without a mentor would probably convince me that with a mentor you would do fine.

Also: Don't panic yet. We don't start thinking about this stuff for real until January, so you are probably ahead of the curve.
posted by brian60640 at 5:40 AM on November 21, 2008

There are basically three reasons that companies hire CS interns:

1. They have short-term work that can be done by experienced interns, which is cheaper than hiring contractors.

2. They want to find and evaluate the top talent from universities, so that they can offer jobs to the best ones they can find when they graduate.

3. Random CS students "know someone" high up in the corporate structure who can strongly suggest that they get hired.

If you don't have strong programming skills, a very strong academic record, or strong ties to people at the company, it's going to be hard to beat out people who do for the limited number of opportunities out there. Just taking more classes will help, because the average senior CS student will usually have a lot more experience than even an above average sophmore.

The good news is that, as a second year CS student, you aren't really expected to be able to get an internship yet. If you did get hired, you probably wouldn't be able to get up to speed enough in a few months to get any substantial work done. As others have said, get involved in student projects, open source projects, personal hobby projects, etc. In a good internship interview, you're going to get questions like "Talk about a time when you found and fixed a bug in a large program" or "What's the most technically sophisticated project you've worked on?" and you'll want to have real experiences to draw on for those. An internship is not so much about getting experience, it's about proving that you can use the experience you already have to do something useful in a professional environment.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:42 AM on November 21, 2008

Seconding burnmp3s.

Even if you did have the necessary qualifications, you have to be quite a bit more well-qualified to trump undergrads with a higher class status. There are plenty of sophomores out there with experience (research, part time, open source) who will get rejected just the same because there are juniors and seniors equally qualified.

(I snagged such an internship at Amazon the summer after my sophomore year, but only because I started doing part-time work and practice interviews the second I landed on campus, and had already started research and upper-level courses. Most people don't even try until after junior year. YMMV.)
posted by mezamashii at 6:57 AM on November 21, 2008

Response by poster: I guess i just feel a little behind since all my CS friends say oh be sure to get an internship over the summer in this field experience is god (which it is) and i have friends who even got internships in high school so :/.

On a side note anyone know a good way to look for open source projects that are geared more to more inexperienced people as me? Especially in the C# area so i can have a better reason for learning it? Thanks!
posted by Javed_Ahamed at 9:14 AM on November 21, 2008

If you're friends with any professors, ask around. They often have relationships with recruiters or others in industry. I got an internship at Google in the summer after my sophomore year because a professor friend submitted my name for an opportunity. Over that summer it turned out that almost all the other interns I met had also been faculty referral candidates. Google is a little weird in their obsession with academics vouching for their students, though - but I know for example that my company has a strong relationship with one professor at my old school, and most of the people I've met at my company who also went to my school worked for that prof at one point or another.

So, long story short: faculty know about the good opportunities out there. If you are friendly with a professor, you can get your resume in front of the right people, and may end up skipping screening steps or otherwise getting advantages because of it. I got my current job after about 2 hours total of interviews, which is almost unheard of for a programmer fresh out of college. Everyone else I know went through much longer screening, but I got grandfathered through most of the process.
posted by crinklebat at 3:06 PM on November 22, 2008

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