Brandon White is “The Best Seven Foot Software Engineer in the World” working on machine learning at Uber. He is also an early /dev/color member, code2040 fellow, and the Director of Internapalooza , the largest gathering of Silicon Valley interns in the world.
AI, drones, Hyperloop, robotics, and the Internet of Things are all lauded as the future of the world, but hidden behind these things are grand advancements engineers are toiling away at their technical foundations. Everybody expects the established institutions to lead the way but, like the internet revolution, the authors of the future are currently unknown and desperate to make their mark.
Enter the thousands of interns from cultures and schools across the world who flood Silicon Valley every summer to build amazing architectures and widely used products. Typically, the intern is the coffee fetcher, the copy machine conquer, the dominus of spreadsheets! However, in Silicon Valley, this cannot be farer from the truth.
A recent survey of these interns revealed that their median monthly salary was $6,800 with many interns making over $11,000 a month. Analysis of last year’s 4,000 Internapalooza attendees shows that the future of Silicon Valley’s tech workers looks much more diverse than the present. In contrast with the 16% female and 4% Black and Hispanic technology workforce of Facebook , 40% of the Internapalooza attendees identified as female while 17% identified as Black or Hispanic. Long gone are the upper class, privileged interns who have obtained their errand-running hazings through family connections. Motivated by insatiable beginner’s hunger, the engineering interns of today are diverse, independent, and driven by their opportunity to usher in a future filled with artificial intelligence, drones, self-driving cars, and one whose suffering is drastically reduced through technology.
They want to share their secrets to a successful internship in hopes that more people from every background can succeed at driving the future forward.
- Ruthlessly optimize for impact and future growth. Always ask 2 questions when choosing to work on something: “Is this work going to make me better?” and “How much impact will this work have?”
- Ask a few executives to lunch. You will be blown away by how many executives are willing to chat and the insightful conversations that result. Do not be afraid of rejection.
- Bring amazing cookies, cupcakes, or donuts for your team after your first 2 weeks. Do whatever you can to make the people around you smile and be happy.
- Finish your “intern or summer project” in a few weeks then ask to be put on the weekly sprint projects. When you get these projects, obsess over completing them. You will experience the most growth and have the most impact by contributing directly to the top priorities of your team. Be fierce.
- Build your network and maximize human interaction. Never eat lunch alone. Cold email 10 people outside your company asking them to lunch. Work in common areas and spark unconventional conversations. Use the cookies, cupcakes, and donuts!
- Relentlessly search for voids to fill and to make things x10 better. Examples range from adding unit tests or tracking a new product metric to refactoring entire architectures or optimizing inefficient algorithms. These opportunities are not planned, they are seized upon. Succeeding at them will rapidly accelerate your personal growth.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up. If you feel your project is not challenging, tell your manager. If you disagree with a strategy or decision, share your thoughts. Most people do not do this because they’re afraid of being wrong or out of place, this is an invaluable opportunity to differentiate.
- Embrace the fear that you are worst than everybody else in the room. Let this fear persuade you to stay in and read on the weekends instead of going out. Let this fear force you to obsess over every detail of your work. Let this fear inspire you to do everything you can to not “throw away your shot”. Before you know it, you will be better than everybody you once feared.
There is an abundance of passion and ambition coming from engineering interns which they share with each other through building beautifully diverse and strong networks. A Facebook group filled with them called Hackathon Hackers has over 35,000 people in it. Another group specifically for Silicon Valley interns is coming up on 5,000. Thousands of them also come together to meet fantastic companies, learn from remarkable visionaries, and forge deep connections between one another at the Internapalooza . Finally, many descend on colleges for 48 hour long Hackathons filled with pure creation and friendship.
This is the largest and most connected network Silicon Valley has ever seen. Nobody knows exactly what it will accomplish but it is safe to say that we will finally get that flying car.