Letter to future self - How to gain the most out of your internship

Authored By:

Eugene F.

Today marks the last day of my internship at Little Sparrows Technologies. It was an eventful 11 weeks which went by really quickly. Taking the time to reflect on the experience thus far, I thought of some useful tips for the future.

Tip #1: Aim to be the expert of your given task or project area

Stating the obvious here, but certainly worth mentioning. In other words, own the task; be annoying; make sure you're all over it. I say this because most internships involve working very closely with one or more supervisors.  It's easy to feel that your work is confined to the instructions laid out by your supervisor, and hence is less "valuable". Instead, I would recommend trying your best to take ownership and to pursue solutions beyond what was asked for.

You can monitor your progress as your supervisors start asking for your recommendations. They also want you to work out the next steps, instead of telling you exactly what to do. Manage this well, especially once the company starts trusting you with more important work. Let this process help you become a better thinker and problem-solver.

Tip #2: Use your experiences to manage your future expectations 

Before I joined a startup, I held the common view that people in startups worked exceptionally long hours and survived on 10 cups of coffee a day. Well, I found out that it's really an overdramatized stereotype of Silicon Valley - just watch Halt and Catch Fire (recommended by a16z founders and myself), Silicon Valley or read reports of Elon Musk sleeping his office. I guess how a startup is supposed to be like vs. how it is actually like is a pretty grey area. Through my experience and interactions with different people who work in startups, a lot of it depends on things such as timeframe, opportunity, stage of a company, the cadence of the team, etc. I felt this Reddit discussion on by tech interns summed it up nicely. 

For myself, after experiences at both large and small companies, the main differences I would consider for a future job are:

1. More "direct" operational impact in smaller companies.
2. Startups in early-stages provide more flexibility to create your own processes for your work whereas large corporates have many protocols and best practices in place.
3. Less managerial resources mean you need to take more ownership over your career development. Meanwhile, big companies have more resources to invest in training and mentoring their employees. 

Tip #3: Create additional learning opportunities for yourself and always leave time for reflection 

During "down-time" (if any) you could develop yourself professionally by doing things like - writing a journal/ blog/report to remember what you've learned. Reading relevant industry reports and aligning yourself to future business needs also prepares you for future work. Other learning opportunities include online courses (plenty of resources on virtually any topic), attending interesting networking events, or even checking out what your colleagues are working on and extend a helping hand if it interests you.

Updating and scrutinizing your resume helps you think about you've actually accomplished, and comes in handy too since recruiting starts in fall. Lastly, setting targets and establishing routines also generally helped me in being more disciplined with independent learning. For me, I would set goals for the number of industry events I would attend, and the number of new people I would try to meet. It helps that there's always something going on in Boston.

Global Intern Experience made possible by AIC program managers, Cynthia Singer-Riordan and Bailey Carlson

This will be the last blog post from me on CIEE as I head back to Singapore to continue with my studies. Thank you for reading and a big thank you to Little Sparrows, NTU, and AIC for making this possible! This was fun and you can follow my future posts on Medium @eugenefjj