While the COVID-19 pandemic meant that all students worked remotely in 2021, is not unusual for some of our interns to work remotely even when there isn’t a pandemic going on. It’s a global program and about half of our interns, year on year, choose to work this way and others need to work remotely due to living in different time zones around the world. In a number of cases, the project mentor may not be office based and located in a different time zone. Our development team is also dispersed, working in different time zones in the USA and Europe, so we are used to successfully managing team working at a distance.
This means we are well placed to make sure that the intern experience for our remote working students is as immersive as it is for those who are office based and this is how we do it.
Supporting our interns
Our program is underpinned by encouraging a high level of regular contact and communication with a mentor as well as designated times for working closely with others on the team. In my view, you can’t beat good communication for laying the foundations of a successful internship, particularly at the start when it’s all new and potentially a little daunting. Getting off to a good start is important and then there’s maintaining the interest and motivation to keep going, even through those tricky times when a development project can throw a seemingly unsurmountable roadblock in the way.
We have a layered approach which can adapt to the needs and preferences of those involved. Here are some of the mechanisms we use to make sure interns can hit the ground running and maintain a high level of engagement with their project and mentor.
Welcome Meeting – In advance of the start date, we meet to discuss first steps and raise any concerns or helpful hints regarding, for example, any preparation work that it may be useful to complete. There may be a training course that would be useful to take, some background reading or some thinking to do about possible ways of solving the first few tasks. Since our interns use their own equipment, it’s also a chance to make sure they have everything they need and answer questions and concerns on their mind.
First day check in – Any office based worker will have things to organise on their first day on arrival which will be done face to face. This meeting is arranged to make sure that the mentor and student connect on that day, whether they are working remotely or in the office and the aim is to run through anything that helps the student overcome those initial nerves and make them feel welcome. It is one of the strengths of our program that all students know exactly what they are going to be working on before they start. A check in point on the first day, whether in person or virtually, provides some initial support and encouragement.
Email and chat – Some mentors and students are located in different time zones. This may be considered a disadvantage, but it can work in the student’s favour in cases where the students can post a question in the evening their time and find an answer waiting from their mentor the next morning! We also have Gitter rooms setup for projects so students can chat in real time with mentors and any other team members that may have skills and experience to share.
Weekly virtual mentor meeting – Mentors and students are continually in contact with each other. This meeting provides an opportunity to look at ongoing progress based on what has already been achieved and also to focus on areas that require more in-depth thought and discussion. Sometimes this work can benefit from the spontaneity that can happen during a face to face meeting or virtual brainstorming session over Teams.
Weekly progress report – This provides an account of what has been achieved during the current week and what the student expects to achieve during the week to come. It also can include details of any roadblocks, unresolved questions and a list of issues raised that may affect ongoing progress. It’s great to look back on these as well as being a valuable resource for mentors. As well as showing good progress made, they may give early clues about slow progress due to unforeseen obstacles or knowledge gaps indicating the need for some extra support.
Evaluations – There are two of these; One in the middle and one at the end. Both are reflective experiences, intended to provide an opportunity to step back and look at the wider picture. The mid term evaluation is an opportunity to look at how things have been going and look at what might be useful to do to enhance or build on the intern experience. The final evaluation rounds off the program, looking at what code needs to be checked in, checking that testing and documentation requirements have been met as well as a learning point for us to find out what we can do to improve the intern experience in the future.
Daily 5 minute stand up call – For the first month, we asked mentors to check in with their students every day. When office based, this is so easy to do and can be a source of additional support and encouragement, particularly when you’re new and maybe don’t have lots of office experience. It’s a chance to say hello and make sure the student is all set for the day. It worked really well, particularly for our high school interns and some continued with this meeting throughout their internship. In fact, some of our more experienced and returning students also chose to keep these daily meetings going.
Weekly Intern Chat and Share – Some time was set aside each week for a guest speaker to come and share knowledge with our interns over a wide variety of topics. Interns had a virtual tour of the data center, learned about our regression and performance suite testing, found out about possible career paths from experienced members of the team and HR as well as finding out about specific areas linked with our platform such as our ongoing cloud native development project, using HPCC Systems machine learning, finding out about the ECL user perspective and many more. These meetings widening the horizons of our intern, exposing them to other projects and parts of the business outside of the demands of their own work. Each week, once the presentation was done, the meeting was handed over to the interns, so they could meet, chat as a group and get to know each other as they might have done while grabbing a coffee break in the office kitchen.
It’s not just about the project work though. Other external factors can impact us all at any time and often unexpectedly, so providing pastoral support to our students and mentors is also very important and this is one of my roles.
All interns and mentors know I am here to help whether they are having an admin issue, perhaps a student hasn’t been touch with their mentor for a few days or vice versa, or maybe something has happened at home that is affecting their work. Whatever the reason, providing pastoral support oils the wheels when it’s needed.
Thank you to our mentors
The success of the HPCC Systems Intern Program is heavily dependent on the experience, knowledge and dedication of all our mentors, but mostly it is simply down to the time they spend nurturing the learning and development of our interns. We can’t thank them enough for everything they do and I know our interns would agree wholeheartedly.