interns vs junior developers

Is Hiring an Intern Useful for a Software Development Team?

Andrew Zola
Andrew Zola on Linkedin

A lot of companies across industries hire interns (both paid and unpaid) for various reasons. More often than not, businesses engage in this activity as they can benefit from extra hands on board for a short period of time.

It’s also a great way for companies to invest in the next generation by helping students gain the skills they will need to succeed. But for businesses to get the most out of their internship programs, an adequate effort has to be placed on intern orientation and training.

In other words, the more resources the business expends on the internship program, the more they will get out of it.  If your company is hosting one of the better internship programs, it will also be more competitive. The more competitive the program, the better the applicant or talent pool.

But how does it translate to software development? Will an intern hold back the rest of the team?

The short answer is that it doesn’t make sense to add an intern to a software development team. This is because most won’t be at the level required to actually make a valuable contribution while working together with experienced professionals. So they can end up slowing down the whole project and hold the team back.

However, if your business is focused on the long-term, it makes perfect sense to invest in an internship program.

Mentoring is a no-brainer

If you’re planning well into the future, it makes sense to have an internship program now. This is because it’s a great way to identify (and hold on to) future talent.

The whole purpose of software engineering internships is to give students real responsibility with real products. So if they end up doing something else right now, you won’t be able to hire them later regardless of how much success they might have had.

Mentoring can help you get them ready to become future employees that will play an important role in your software development teams.

But to achieve this, you need to have your developers on board. They need to believe that they’re making good use of their time. One way to approach this is to tie their compensation to how successful their interns are (and how many make it into a permanent role within the company).

To run a successful internship program, you will also need significant resources to do it right. That’s because mentoring will require senior developers to spend several weeks helping students find their way until they get on their own two feet.

Interns might spend one or two summers with you. They might even base their senior project on solving one your problem or use resources that are provided by you. But later on, this can make the hiring process a lot easier because you already know how good they are and are sure that they can come in and make a contribution immediately.

Check out How To Manage Millennials On Software Development Teams.

Interns might also be emotionally attached to your brand and working culture. So their experience can mean the difference between taking on a job with you or a competitor.

But all this comes at an enormous cost up front, so it’s not going to suit everyone regardless of how long they plan on being in business.

It’s like an extended interview

For tech giants like Amazon, an internship can be viewed like an extended interview. In this scenario, both the company and the intern can benefit from getting a feel for each other.

At the same time, skillful interns will be expected to work on meaningful projects and provide real value. This usually comes in the form of implementing features in the production code which can then be shared with friends and family.

At the enterprise level, the company has enough resources to bankroll such initiatives. As a result, they can afford to have interns work on projects where the company won’t depend on them to deliver.

From an intern’s point of view, it’s an important opportunity and a great addition to their résumé. Furthermore, if they get hired, they already have a head start within the organization.

While not all companies will be able to have an internship program, many will work towards it as a means to solve the shortage of developers in the job market. For those businesses that want to remain relevant in the years to come, these types of initiatives will play a vital role in getting top talent in through the door.