You’ve made it my friend.

If you’re reading this blog, then chances are you’re about to go into your first internship in software development. Congratulations!

My intention in this post is to let you know what has and hasn’t worked for me in the past when I was in your shoes, and to give advice that can hopefully guide you to more success in your new role.

For background, I am about to wrap up my software development internship for this summer, at PTC. My aim here is to give advice that’s company-neutral though, and by the end, I believe you’ll have a better idea of just what exactly you can utilize this opportunity for, and how to use it to accelerate your career.

Part I: Before the Internship Starts

In a lot of ways, starting a new internship can be an exhilarating period in your life — but for me, I remember feeling exhausted, and throughout my orientation, at PTC I felt oddly disconnected from my peers when I first began working. How could this have been possible, you may ask?

If you had asked me then, I would’ve told you I just didn’t feel passionate about PTC. Thankfully I had an advisor who passed along advice to me from the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You (2012), by Professor Cal Newport of Georgetown University. This book shocked me —here’s one of my favorite quotes from Newport on the subject:

Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.” — Cal Newport, So Good They Can’t Ignore You (2012)

If I could back in time to my former self, I’d tell him to worry more about having a lack of patience, than a lack of passion. In my case, I thought PTC was boring just because its products — SaaS software that helps global industrial manufacturers be more productive — was hidden from my view as an everyday college student. Therefore, I prematurely wrote it off as a boring, lackluster place to work.

Through personal reflection and more advice from mentors, I eventually became aware that this was holding me back. I now believe the solution to this problem is to get in learning mode.

If you’re looking towards starting your first internship in tech, here are 3 things I would suggest you do right now:

  1. Follow the company on social media.
  2. Sign up for any networking events hosted by the company.
  3. Search for the company on GitHub. As a developer, it’s additionally helpful for you to learn the company’s technologies and to get involved in any open-source projects they have open.

Ultimately, remember the greatest thing about an internship is it’s only temporary. You and the work you do matter, and if the company has done its part well, your internship will most likely be full of opportunities to invest in long-term growth. For your part, my best advice is to immerse yourself in the company’s ideas, and what your coworkers are passionate about during, and I believe you will be much better off in eventually figuring out what this internship will mean for your career, rather than trying to decide those things before you’ve gotten your hands dirty in the actual work.

In my case, I believe I am passionate about using technology to build a sustainable world. PTC hasn’t changed that part of my identity but deepened it. My evaluation for how exciting the company is now is much mature since I can see the products that PTC creates (again, digital tools that support global industrial manufacturers) would drive forward the kind of world I want to live in: one where our devices, home appliances, clothing, (and just about anything else that is made by humans that you can think of) would contribute to making the world carbon-neutral by 2030.

Lastly, keep in mind a lot of companies will illustrate their vision very tangibly through social media and events (see this Tweet from my business group in PTC for an example). So please consider following them there as well!

Credit to @PTC_Windchill on Twitter

Part II: The Onboarding — How to Get it Right!

So what does it take to successfully onboard a company?

It’s more than just getting your work laptop on time. It’s more than making sure you know how to fill out your time cards to get paid on time (although that is important as well!). This is where we as interns can set up good habits for success for the length of the internship, if not longer. Here are two examples from my PTC internship:

Speaking for myself, I felt absolutely lost the first few weeks on the job. No idea how to set up my developer machine, and working in a completely new language made a major dent in my self-confidence. I realized I needed to ask more questions of the senior engineers on the team, but couldn’t find the time either because of 1) thinking they were too busy with other meetings, or 2) falsely thinking if I just “worked harder” on the problem that I would find the answer, and 3) I didn’t want to look dumb. Eventually, my solution was to set a daily reminder on my own calendar, that was at the same time each workday, where I would be reminded that I had to go and ask my senior engineers for their input on the development issues I was facing. The best part of this is (contrary to my fears) they never took my asking questions as a sign of lower intelligence. The blessing here is that I not only was able to work more productively, but I surprised myself at a midsummer performance review with my manager, who told me one of the best pieces of feedback he’d received about me was that I asked intelligent questions!

Within the first three weeks of my internship, one of the first pieces of critical feedback I received from my manager was that I wasn’t making it to the intern-specific meetings set at PTC. I remember feeling shocked — “say whaaat? how in the world can that relate to the project I’m doing for the team?”, I remember thinking to myself.

However, I realized that sentiment could not be further from reality. According to HubSpot, “68% of entry-level professionals value face-to-face networking more than online”, so it became important to me to make it to these events.

Photo by Rohan on Unsplash

I recommend if you find yourself in a similar situation, try looking at your calendar every night, for the day after — see if you have any networking events scheduled. Just as with many soft skills, my networking improved when I simply became more aware, and I believe this increased my preparation dramatically, both in showing up (albeit over a team call) but also getting ready to use common conversation starters to the people I met, such as these I would recommend to you as well.

Part III: Learning All the Way

After a few weeks, I can almost guarantee you will notice yourself beginning to settle into your internship. For me, this is a scary thought: neuroscience tells us that the act of learning strengthens the mind just as lifting weights strengthens the body. That means we must continue learning all the time—therefore, here’s a topic I went out and learned in my free time during my internship, which I believe will benefit you as well:

Here’s food for thought: in 1986, my mother (who was then Head Girl in her high school) was appointed as the school librarian. As you might expect, she tells me today that the experience taught her many skills — organizational skills, cataloging skills, skills in nagging people to return their books on time, and the list goes on and on.

Fast-forward thirty-five years: it’s 2021, and tech companies have made libraries all but a rare artifact of the past. Why? Because today instead of going to the library to find evidence that vaccines work, or to casually research modern parallels with Huxely’s Brave New World, I can find those answers with just a simple search on Google.

Software architects plan, prepare, and aid in implementing apps that can be spread across multiple different machines, and become accessible to people all around the world. Photo by Ian Battaglia on Unsplash

This is hugely in part thanks to advancements in software architecture, which is how engineering teams can plan, prepare, and implement scalable applications that can be easily used by billions of people around the world.

Software architects play a huge role in tech companies today. They take responsibility for planning, preparing, and aiding developers in implementing apps that can be spread across multiple different machines — as a result, the combined computing power of all these different machines is what makes these kinds of apps possible. As an intern, you may not be expected to take on these responsibilities just yet — but it is truly a part of what separates the “grunt programmers” from bona fide engineering leaders! Here are a few resources I would recommend you to get your feet wet in this topic, so eventually you too can participate (and someday lead) architecture lessons at your engineering organization if you so choose:

Part IV: Internship’s Over — Now What?

On a final note, how do we approach coming to the end of our software development internship?

Over the course of your internship, you’ll undoubtedly have learned how to improve your skills based on your manager’s wishes — but now what about your own goals? As the last week of my internship came to a close, I wrote down one commitment I believe I’ll keep to myself, to make sure in my next steps I will deeper into the domains of software development I am truly interested in:

“I will become an expert in deep learning, and someday lead world-class teams pushing forward the state of human machine interactions.”

Writing down this statement is not an end-all, be-all — but I believe it can act as a guide so you can be inspired to improve yourself in the months and years ahead in your career.

Being an intern is not always easy — it’s not intuitive to always be pushing yourself to improve. It requires focus, both in mental energy and actually executing on the commitments we have for ourselves.

Before coming to PTC, I admittedly did not pay much attention to keeping up with my network. But one of the mentors I met on the internship, Varun Mani, gave me the advice to stay in touch with the connections I made over the summer. For context, this is a man who has done the impossible: he went from leaving his home country of India for college to rubbing shoulders with Alex Kipman of Microsoft’s HoloLens just two years right out of school, to starting his own company and eventually getting acqui-hired at PTC as a VP of Advanced Research, and making the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2019. When I asked him what his secret was, here’s what he told me —

Just. Stay. In. Touch. Some of your coworkers very well may help you keep moving forward in the career ahead.

In this blog, I’ve written a lot about learning. From your first days in orientation to the final goodbyes on your last day, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about how you interact with others. In the day-to-day, you’ll exercise the hard skills that got you hired for this role (and potentially many more to come). Lastly, after the internship is your chance to solidify what you’ve learned by helping others. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • writing blogs (like I did to make this post!) on technical topics
  • becoming a TA at your school
  • volunteering to mentor someone

Admittedly, this is the part of my story that’s still being written as I tell you about it in this blog. However, these are the ideas I believe will cultivate the fondest of memories in the future when you and I look back on our internship. If you can implement these into action as well, then I have just one last thing to tell you about your future:

Congratulations.