- Ask a lot of questions – This is SO important! Don’t be afraid of sounding “stupid” or something. It’ll be worse if you get blocked (i.e. you can’t work) for an hour. So, be brave! And this applies to more than just technical questions related to your project. Ask your mentor any questions you have about working at the company, career development, leadership, career path, etc! They’re there not only as a mentor in the company but also to offer advice on how to be successful in your field
- Communicate with your mentor and manager – This kind of goes along with the last point! Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your mentor or manager. I think it’s important to be honest with them – if you need a bit more time or you’re struggling, let them know. If you’re ahead, it’s also good to let them know! I make it a point (at every company) to check in with my mentor every so often to let them know my progress. I wasn’t on a schedule per say, but for sure within the first hour or after I get settled in when I get into the office and then maybe after I finish a medium-large task. Something like that, just so that they know where I’m at or if I’m blocked.
- Set goals for yourself, but also be realistic – Definitely reach for the stars, but be realistic with yourself. It’s awesome if you get a huge project done, but if you don’t finish your project, then that’s kind of no bueno. An ideal internship project is one that makes you work and really push yourself but isn’t unreasonable. So, your mentor may give you a project that seems too hard, but it’s only so you can push yourself. I set weekly goals for myself (with the help of my mentor in our weekly 1:1’s) last summer when I was at Amazon (which worked really well!), so when I was making those goals, I tried really hard to be realistic with what I could finish in a week. Some times, those goals were higher than other weeks. I really wanted to be sure that I could complete those goals and at an appropriate pace (which is why my mentor helped me out). I would definitely recommend trying to set weekly goals for yourself.
- Remember to take breaks… – You need to be working, but don’t overwork yourself either! If you’re too tired or too stressed, you might not be in the right state of mind to write awesome code. So! Make sure you take breaks. Take them at appropriate times for you. For me, I need to take breaks and walk around every once in a while or walk to a whiteboard or something. It’s also important, health wise, to take breaks from staring at your monitor.
- …but also be productive when you’re working – Try not to multitask when you’re at your internship. I know this sounds intuitive, but trust me, it’s kind of hard the first time around. Make sure to be productive at work – focus at the tasks at hand. You think your team can’t see that Facebook or Quora tab that’s open? Even if you’re just taking a break to check a notification or chat with your parents, across the room, it just looks like a non-work tab. You were hired to do a job – make sure you do it. It’s not like school where you have work after you leave the building.
- Work hard, but make sure to have fun too! – In my opinion, part of internships is exploring the city where you’re working. This goes along with taking breaks – make sure you explore the city you’re in. If you’re excited about the place you’re working and living in, you’ll be motivated to do well to earn a return or full time offer! Additionally, part of an internship is that a company is “trying” you out to see if you fit in with the engineers that already work there. If you have fun in and out of work with your coworkers or other interns and people can tell that you enjoy yourself with the other employees, it’ll be more clear that you’re a great fit for the company (from both a technical and behavioral standpoint).
- Take initiative and be proactive – This kind of goes back to some of the other points, but take initiative! Don’t sit idly, waiting for a solution to just fall in your lap or for your mentor/manager to swing by (and thus waste an hour or something). Take initiative! When you get blocked, make sure you first try to solve the problem and don’t just sit and stare at the screen. And, once you’ve identified the problem or figured out what’s blocking you, be sure to alert your manager or mentor (whoever is appropriate for the situation).
- Take your feedback to heart (and not personally) – This is probably one of the most important points on this list. It definitely was hard for me the first time to not be defensive, but you really do have to learn to take feedback and critique to heart. Your mentor and manager just want you to get better and do well in your career. They’re not competing with you. So, if you receive non-positive feedback, make sure to take it to heart and try to fix it! Change their minds 🙂
(This answer originally appeared on Quora answered by Elynn Lee, former Software Engineering intern @Facebook, Amazon, Google)