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Internships for Computer Science major?

I graduated from high school this June and I will be attending college. I plan on pursuing computer science, and I would like to know what internships will be beneficial in the future, and when is the best time to start?
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Beverly’s Answer

Hi there,

I'm a new grad who recently entered the working field and I definitely understand your concerns about college and the possible future with a computer science degree.

Based on what I've personally experienced, freshman year is when you begin to explore computer science as a whole on the surface, explore the opportunities that may come out of learning this skill, and getting to know your environment in college in general. It'll be a little overwhelming and with that said, freshman year internships are hard to come by. This is partly also because you are vying for opportunities that are looking for rather experienced (at maybe junior/ senior year level) college students (unless of course you have prior experience then this would be subjective). What I recommend is that you put equal energy into honing your skills and finding your specific interest within computer science as that is something recruiters would like to know too. This means things like summer bootcamps or hackathons would be a perfect opportunity for this.

When sophomore year comes around, this is usually when what you've learned outside of your typical curriculum/ classes would set you apart from your peers within the same year vying for an internship too. There is definitely a higher chance of scoring an internship during this year than freshman year, but the chances are still quite low as compared to when you're in your junior/ senior year (based on what I've seen). If recruiters find that you stand out with the extra skills and projects you've achieved outside of the classroom, chances are you'd quickly score an interview with them. Summer bootcamps or hackathons are still perfect opportunities to participate in if you could during this year.

Junior and Senior would be the perfect time to start looking for an internship because your experience during this time correlates to you getting a full-time offer when you graduate. This is also when college students start shifting their focus from honing their skills as a programmer to getting experience working on real-time projects with impact. Ideally, you should also know what you're interested in within computer science which would help you search for job opportunities and interviews.

This was a lengthy answer but I hope it brought light to your questions on what kind of internships and when to start.

Thank you! Chandresh S.

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Linda’s Answer

Hi Chandresh -

My first suggestion is to contact your advisor, once you start college. Many times, companies work with selected colleges to recruit for internships.

Second, make a list of companies where you would like to do internships. List companies where you would like to work. Contact each of their HR departments, inquire if they do internships, ask how to go about applying for them, and find out when they do internships.

Computer Science contains a broad spectrum of careers. Do not automatically turn down an internship at a company you want to work for just because it may not be the exact type of work you want (for example: you want to specialize in cyber security, but the internship is for a developer) . Be open to learning something a little different. 'Get your foot in the door.'

Internships can be a win-win for you and the company. They get a preview to the work you do. You get a taste of what it is like to work at the company. Many times, the companies hire their interns, once they graduate.

Best wishes!

Thank you! Chandresh S.

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James’s Answer

Hey Chandresh,

Great question.

The simplest answer to your question of 'when to start' is 'as soon as possible'. While it will likely be easier to get an internship as a Junior or Senior after a few years of studying comp-sci, most companies do not have specific restrictions on what year of study students must be to apply for an internship. It can never hurt to start looking and apply to internships at companies you are interested in. Some companies even have specific internships for first and second year students such as Microsoft's Explore internship: https://careers.microsoft.com/students/us/en/usexploremicrosoftprogram. Additionally, many companies will send the same recruiters to the same university in future years to help build relationships with the university and students there so it can never hurt to engage with them early in hopes of getting in internship there in the future. Many companies also note candidates who have applied or interviewed previously and appreciate those who show repeated interest and continue to apply in the future (note: this is true for applying for full-time positions later in your career as well). Preparing for technical interviews is also a skill that requires lots of practice to improve and perfect. So the earlier you start the more practice you will get.

One specific note is that in my experience most large tech companies (i.e. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, etc.) fill their internships for the following summer during the fall semester. If your university has one career fair in the fall and one in the spring as many do than it will be well worth your time to go to both but if you are targeting one of the bigger companies especially make sure to find them at the fall career fair, apply online, or otherwise engage with them during the fall semester.

As to 'what kinds of internships' I would say any and all. Any (relevant) internship will look better on a resume than no internship so look at lots of different companies, teams, and roles and pick ones that are interesting to you and apply. That being said in my career I have found that having one of the 'big' tech companies (i.e. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, etc.) on your resume will carry a little more weight and help get you an interview for most software jobs. Those companies also provide, in my opinion, a very fun internship experience for their interns beyond the work experience you are gaining. They will plan lots of events for you, create social groups for you, give you lots of swag, etc. Finally, if there is a specific company you are very interested in working full-time for after graduation then that should absolutely be your first choice. One of the best paths to a full-time position somewhere is to start as an intern.

Hope this helps.

James recommends the following next steps:

Research companies and internships during fall semester
Attend fall career fair
Apply to multiple interesting companies/positions during fall semester
Attend spring career fair
Apply to any new interesting companies/positions during spring semester

Thank you! Chandresh S.

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Sydney’s Answer

I would say this depends on your skill set. If say you're way ahead of your class and have college level skills then you could start interning now, although it may not be that lucrative or pay at all.
However, most people in college attempt to look for an internship their 3rd year in hopes that in their 4th year (typically the graduating year) they'll get an offer to come back by the end of their internship to join full time next year or you'll be offered to come back again for another session in which will also turn into a full-time position.
Personally, I think that's the best course of action. I will say I went to the career fair my 2nd year to scope it out and just give it a shot and attempt to work on my professional skills that day and I only got 1 interview out of the 20 resumes I handed out.
I think you can start as early as you like but know the earlier you start out the more likely it'll be harder to land an internship (but it'll look great on your resume) and it wont pay as much, or even at all.

I hope this helps and it's great to see that you're looking to the future.

Thank you! Chandresh S.

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S.’s Answer

I would suggest talking to your advisor to locate companies that are recruiting interns from your university. These companies will usually be larger employers with offices in the area. However, I would also suggest that when you develop an interest in a particular topic in computer science (networking, UI, graphics, data processing, security, orchestration, etc), you should also look for smaller companies on your own that are involved in that type of engineering and approach them about possible internships.

Computer science can lead to a variety of different careers and getting internships at differently-sized and differently-managed companies can help you figure out what sort of work environment you'd like to be in after graduation. Do you want to work at a large company with stable projects and good benefits? Do you want to work at a startup where you'll have to put in extra hours but also get stock options that could pay off big? Do you want to work at a company that has 100 customers or 100,000,000 customers? Will you be writing code for a fresh new product (that may be hard to sell) or maintaining code that's been there there for decades (but has a reliable customer base)?

You won't know what it's like until you get inside with an internship.

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Justin’s Answer

The other answers offer good guidance, but one thing I'd like to add is picking a school that has internships required in the program is a good way to go. They tend to have strong business relationships with local tech companies that can get you internships sooner than the last two years. I personally went to Waterloo in Canada and co-op as we call it is required: you do eight 4-month school terms interspersed with six 4-month work terms, so by the time you graduate you have 6 internships done and usually your pick of offers. I wouldn't have gotten my chance at Microsoft without it, I'm sure of it. So definitely a bit more aggressive of a schedule vs Beverly's answer for sure, but that's how my program was.

Thank you! Chandresh S.