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Insights / February 14, 2018

Mentorship Lessons: What We’ve Learned from Working with Interns

By Eddie Glenn

A year ago, Software for Good tried something new: We launched our Giving Program with our first cohort of interns. The program is our way of matching need with need, offering up-and-coming software developers the hands-on opportunity to build meaningful products for organizations that do good. As we kick off a new semester, we’re proud to say that all of our interns so far have reported positive experiences — not to mention we’ve been recognized by a couple of awards shows — but we’re still learning and working to make the program the best it can be.

One fact that’s always been clear: There is no shortage of talented young developers ready to use their skills to create lasting change. We want this program to keep growing, and to see other companies adopting similar models. With that in mind, and in the spirit of open source, here are a few of the lessons about working with interns I shared with the rest of the team as we welcome Spring 2018’s cohort:

Broad, big-picture knowledge is awesome: In working with interns, our team frequently shares technical knowledge and resources — maybe a quick answer to a question about code, or a link to find something in Github. But I’ve seen interns really light up when an engineer takes the time to share broader insights and background knowledge. It’s easy to forget how much you’ve learned over the course of your career that can be valuable wisdom to pass along.

Filing cabinets versus sponges: An experienced developer’s technical knowledge is like a filing cabinet. When they learn something new, they’re able to identify where it fits in among all their other knowledge, and file it away in the right spot. A person just starting out is more like a sponge. They’re taking everything in, learning a lot but not always seeing how it all fits together. So when teaching an up-and-comer, explaining the context is a huge service — and helps them start assembling a filing cabinet of their own.

We don’t know what we don’t know: People just starting out in a field don’t know what they don’t know — or even if they do, they may be afraid to ask or have trouble articulating a question. So just tell them. Give them all the information they need, and don’t be afraid to repeat yourself.

As Eloá, Obinna, and Ilhan join the team for Spring 2018, we’re sure to keep learning and finding new ways to make the program successful. We’re also continuing to add opportunities for interns to hear from the whole team, including Fireside Chats and Lunch and Learns.

Learn more here about the program and how you can get involved for Summer 2018!