The Developer Internship Interview From The Other Side Of The Table

Five thoughts on interviewing for a software engineering internship as a Computer Science student or recent code academy graduate, from the perspective of an Engineering Manager who’s just wrapped up hiring a 2019 internship class.

1. This might be the toughest tech job to land in your career

The funnel is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom for a software development internship. Check this out:

Over 15,000 total candidates applied for a software developer internship at Home Depot this year across 8 nationwide campuses.

Less than 250 were accepted.

That’s a 1.66% hire rate per applicant.

Contrast that with a Senior or Lead req I might have open that will have 15 serious applicants and we’ll hire one of the them. 6.66%

Take-away? Don’t let not landing any specific internship bum you out. This is hard stuff.

2. Be serious about your search.

When I ask candidates what other internship programs they are considering, in addition to sizing up my competition, I’m also trying to find out how seriously they take themselves and their careers.

The candidate with a list of internship openings, organization in their approach and thoughts on the pros and cons of each opportunity they’re considering is several steps ahead of the candidate who answers with something like I don’t know, I only found out about this one because my professor told me I should apply.

3. Internships aren’t just for CS students.

The intern program that we run out of our Vancouver Tech Center in the Portland Metro has for several years now been made up of 50% or more recent code academy graduates.

A bridge for career changers and others trying to get into tech is something I value strongly.

If the code academy is the bridge, then the first job offer is the offramp, the critical last mile that enables a smooth exit.

My observation is that, coming out of a code academy program, your first job in tech is the unlock; once you’ve been working as a professional developer for a few years, and provided you’re working in a modern / 12 factor-ish stack, then your tech career is launched and the world is rich with possibilities.

4. Find a way to stand out and show interest in a niche.

If the internship you’re applying to is front-end web focused, highlight browser application projects you’ve worked on.

If the internship you’re applying to focuses on data science, show me you’ve done something with TensorFlow.

Applying for that Front End Engineer, University role? Highlight a front-end project from your university experience and you’ll stand out from the applicants who don’t.

I try not to be overly impressed with quantity; the difference between someone in a life situation who has 80 hours a week of free time versus a career changer with a complex family situation is massive in terms of their ability to work on side projects. For that reason, I don’t discount homework, school projects and/or code academy projects. Anything a candidate has done while learning the craft counts as showing interest. Extras are nice but not required.

5. Study up, but don’t stress solving a problem… instead consider how you approach problems.

We do whiteboard sessions in our interviews but they’re much less about reaching a solution that they are about design, collaboration and how you handle questions and critical feedback about your work.

A good, collaborative effort that fails at arriving at a solution is much more positively received than a thorough solution with poor interactions or with un-shown work.

If I only had four hours to study for a whiteboard interview, I personally wouldn’t spend them on leetcoder or flashcarding sort algorithms. I’d spend two hours sourcing and building for myself a generalized framework for solving problems, and two hours practicing with a friend sketching and writing pseudo-code while my friend gives critical feedback.

This is just one perspective of many in the industry, but hopefully it helps you either with the confidence to apply for that internship or at least not be disappointed when you don’t get it.

If you’d like to chat about internship opportunities with Home Depot, either in Atlanta or at our Vancouver Tech Center specifically, reach out to me here, on Twitter or on LinkedIn.