Expert Advice for Aspiring Software Engineering Interns

**Navigating Your Startup Tech Internship: Insights from a Software Engineering Intern**
*By Shreya Sridhar, SWE intern and senior at UC Berkeley studying Computer Science*

The summer internship season is coming to a close, and it’s a good time to reflect on the experiences and insights gained during this period. In this article, I will share my journey as a software engineering intern at a startup tech company, providing valuable tips and tricks for those seeking or navigating their first startup tech internship. With a focus on the do’s and don’ts, I hope to inspire and guide you to make the most of your internship and stand out among your peers.

**Phase One: Getting the Internship**

**Do: Show Up**
When it comes to recruiting for startups, the process often differs from traditional companies. Instead of relying solely on online applications and interviews, it’s essential to attend career fairs, hackathons, and other events that involve emerging companies and products. These events provide opportunities to network with visionary leaders, showcase your skills, and stay up to date with the latest innovations. Startups value face-to-face connections, as it helps build the DNA of their growing company.

**My Experience**
Despite a long day of classes, I decided to attend a startup fair on campus. It was there that I met Aparna Dhinakaran and Jason Lopatecki, whose inspiring conversation left a lasting impact on me. The energy and brilliance surrounding the fair were invigorating, and I couldn’t help but feel excited about the possibility of interning at a startup. So, the next time an opportunity comes knocking, ask yourself, “Why not?” You might just discover why you should seize it.

**Do: Show Initiative**
Initiative is highly valued in the startup world, where self-starters thrive. After making connections at events, take the initiative to follow up with the opportunities that excite you the most. Since startups are smaller, they may not have a dedicated hiring team, so it’s crucial to make the first move by sending LinkedIn requests or thank-you emails. Remember, showing initiative doesn’t stop at recruitment; maintaining the same level of proactivity during your internship can yield great results.

**My Experience**
Impressed by the company’s product and the founders’ passion, I expressed my interest in pursuing an internship. By taking the initiative, I demonstrated my enthusiasm for the opportunity and secured the internship.

**Don’t: Think You Have to Know Everything to Apply**
Don’t be discouraged if you feel like you lack knowledge about a specific area that a startup specializes in. Instead, approach each topic as a learning opportunity. Do your own research by exploring the startup’s resources, such as their website, blog, and LinkedIn posts. During interviews, ask questions to fill in the gaps in your understanding. Applying what you’ve learned from one interview to the next shows your commitment and helps you stand out.

**My Experience**
While I had some prior knowledge of AI and Data Science, I was unfamiliar with certain aspects important in industry, such as ML lifecycle deployment and model observability. However, I took the initiative to learn about these topics before my interviews, which enabled me to have productive conversations and better understand the product.

**Phase Two: Thriving During the Internship**

**Do: Become a Sponge**
During the initial weeks of your internship, expect to be overwhelmed with information. However, instead of feeling intimidated, embrace the opportunity to absorb as much knowledge as possible. This foundation will boost your confidence and empower you to ask insightful questions, contribute meaningfully to team discussions, and make the most of your internship. Additionally, try to get hands-on practice with the startup’s product to gain a client’s perspective and provide valuable feedback.

**My Experience**
In my first few weeks, I dedicated time to learning about the company’s structure, culture, and tech stack. By utilizing the company’s resources and immersing myself in their products, I gained a strong foundation and was able to contribute effectively.

**Don’t: Mistake Casual Setting for a Laid-Back Work Environment**
Startups often have a more casual dress code and a relaxed atmosphere compared to traditional companies. However, it’s crucial not to mistake this casual setting for a lack of professionalism. In reality, startups foster a friendly and highly productive environment, with employees who are committed to excellence.

**My Experience**
During my internship, I encountered some of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. Despite the relaxed ambiance, the team’s commitment to excellence propelled the company’s success.

**Do: Embrace the Culture**
Each startup has its own unique culture that sets it apart. Take the time to understand your company’s core values and observe how others embody them. By aligning yourself with these values and embracing the company’s culture, you’ll create a positive impression and contribute to the startup’s growth. Additionally, don’t hesitate to reach out and seek guidance from your peers and mentors. Startups often encourage interns to ask questions and actively participate in team discussions.

**My Experience**
By embracing the startup’s culture and aligning myself with its values, I felt more connected and invested in the work I was doing. The supportive environment facilitated my growth and allowed me to contribute meaningfully.

Navigating a startup tech internship can be both exciting and challenging. By following these do’s and don’ts, you can enhance your chances of securing an internship and making the most of the experience. Remember to show up, show initiative, and continuously learn and grow. Embrace the unique culture of your startup and be an active participant in the team’s success. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to a successful internship and a promising career in the tech industry.

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