InfluxData has a history of hiring talented students into summer internships. We started hiring interns for software development in 2016 when we decided to hire some very talented students who were referred by full-time team members. At the time, we had just two interns but in sequential years, we gradually increased the number to 5 in 2019. We also took the leap into hiring and managing remote interns. You can read more about this in my previous blog series here. While that previous series focused primarily on how to create a valuable experience for individual hires, this post focuses on macro concepts: how to start and fulfill a formal internship hiring program.
InfluxData crossed a total employee count of 200 in early 2020, versus being just over 100 in 2019. Accompanying this rapid growth, we decided to change our mindset around summer internships. Instead of taking the approach of “we hire interns,” we have shifted our mindset to “we have an internship program.” This subtle difference was important to us, because we see many benefits to this formality. First, a formal program is…formal. This means it has clear processes and expectations. How did the interns perform? Will any of them convert to full-time hires? How did we perform last year compared to this year? A well-designed internship program should offer us answers to these questions, as well as many other tangible benefits.
For example, the program can also be designed — from the start — for growth. We implemented a loosely-coupled internship program in which 5 engineering managers, working closely with our recruiting manager, collaborated to draft a shared job description and hiring plan. The job description was generalized to briefly identify each hiring team, and the hiring plan was a truncated version of our plan for full-time engineers.
Once established, each manager ran their own pipeline to hire 2 interns for their team for a total of 10 hires into a single internship cohort. In the future, each manager could hire more than 2 interns if management capacity and budgets allow it. More practically, we plan to pull more teams into the program in the future to grow the program at a manageable pace.
The program was also designed for consistency. By sharing a hiring plan, we had some assurance that the standard for hiring interns was similar across teams even though we had different technical needs (e.g. front-end developers vs. platform engineers). By establishing a separate-but-together organization for hiring, we also established the idea that managers should be collaborating centrally for some outcomes. For example, we are now collaborating on onboarding plans so that each intern has a consistent and positive first impression of our company.
A well-designed program also gives us strength in numbers when solving problems. With the obvious challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been faced with some unexpected planning for interns. Firstly, some of our teams were planning to colocate their interns in our SFO headquarters. With our offices likely to be closed for most or all of the summer months, it was valuable for those managers to have a channel open with peers that were already planning to run a remote team. We were able to quickly communicate and adapt our plans to their team with the outcome that we could confidently assure our interns that we were prepared to adapt to the social changes and had every intention of running the internship program as planned. We are also working together to brainstorm different ways of creating shared social experiences for interns since meeting peers, making friends, and expanding social networks is an important part of the intern’s experience.
Finally, an intentionally designed internship program has clear, measurable goals. The core principles of our internship program are learning and growth. This applies to both the interns as well as the full-time employees involved in the program. We aim to put our interns — as well as their managers, mentors and coworkers — in a position to safely take risks, learn as much as they can, and contribute value where they are able.
For example, as a recently promoted hiring manager, I was offered the opportunity to be the lead manager on the hiring plan in order to gain experience in team-building. Because our goals are centered on learning and growth, I was given ample autonomy to try and fail a few times with minimal risk of consequences. In the end, what I was able to accomplish was what I’ve described in this post. And in the future, when I have an opportunity to expand our full-time ranks, I will be able to leverage what I learned this year for building out a talented full-time team. I am excited for our interns’ arrival in June, when I can enjoy the privilege of being a part of their own career growth.