At my first ‘real’ job, while still figuring out how to write Python bindings for my C++ machine learning code, three weeks after I had started, my boss came by and said, “An intern is coming. He is assigned to you. Kthnxbye!” I panicked. I read long and useless articles on the web on the what to do and what not to do with interns. It hadn’t yet been one year since I had been an intern myself, at research places, and there had been no mentoring there. This was a start-up. What did they expect of interns? I had no idea and was convinced I’d mess it up scarring the intern for life. Yoda teased me. I dreaded that May Monday morning. I arrived late. My regular parking-spot had been already claimed. The daft geese that thrive in the pond before my workplace had decided to block the entrance-way.
The intern was thin, bespectacled and unsure, wearing a hoodie and an ugly pair of sneakers. I arrived to find him hovering around my cubicle, carrying a laptop and a notepad. He was taller than me. I asked him to sit down. We set up his machine together. I survived the day. And the day after, when I walked him through basic Git stuff. And the day after, when we discussed support vector machines and logistic regression. It turned out to be among the best weeks of my stint at that workplace. When they came by again, carrying news of more interns, I looked forward to that. I liked the interns, their camaraderie with each other over the short period they worked there, their bravado in tackling unwieldy codebases and technologies they hadn’t heard about until then. I liked how they soaked up arcane how-tos from Stackoverflow and tried to outdo each other at lunch showing off what they knew. Everyone was busy and had little time to spare for them. I was busy, but I still made sure to pester them for the first two weeks, making sure they were set up with their machines, making sure they knew whom to ask what when they got stuck on something or the other. They taught me ping-pong. I sat up late and reviewed their pull-requests, learning more in the process than I have picked up from classes or teachers or colleagues. I wrote them recommendations at the end of their stint, waved them off back to school, got a new job and moved on.
Now it is intern season again. I suggest that we do something to ease them in. Everybody, I find out, has summer travel plans. I do too, but I have postponed mine so that I’ll be there to pester them for the first two weeks they are here. I am useful at work, at most workplaces I have been at, but I’ve never felt as useful and productive as I do when I am dealing with interns.
At least, this time, the daft geese won’t battle me when I go to meet the interns.