At BTI360, we love growing and developing young software engineers. For more than ten years, we’ve done this through our immersive summer internship program at our Ashburn, Virginia office. We train and mentor interns in a wide range of topics from technical and professional skills to personal development. When COVID-19 rocked the country in early 2020, we found ourselves facing the thorny question of what to do about our internship.
STARING DOWN A PANDEMIC
By the beginning of 2020, we already had a strong class of six interns lined up for the summer. When the COVID-19 outbreak in March forced waves of shutdowns and dispersed our workforce, we realized that it would be impossible to conduct this year’s internship in the same way we had in the past. We had to decide whether to postpone, cancel, or press on virtually.
Intern season is one of our favorite times of the year. We didn’t want to disappoint our interns, but we also wanted to maintain the high standards we have for our program. We convened our Internship, Engineering, and People Ops teams to problem solve and consider our options. By the end everyone was confident we could still provide a high-value experience to our interns. We had made a commitment to our six interns and we were going to keep that commitment.
Here’s how we did that.
THE VIRTUAL FORMAT
Our program runs 11 weeks and involves over 55 hours of workshops on topics like testing, databases, AWS, Angular, Docker, and Spring Boot. From that foundation, the interns then build a web app soup to nuts.
We knew we would need robust collaboration tools, but Google Meet and Zoom didn’t seem sufficient. We found that Discord was our best option for daily interaction (and one that was already quite familiar to our college interns). We set up our Discord server with multiple virtual meeting rooms where we could run through technical workshops, pair program, or just hang out and socialize. They were open to anyone in the company.
KEEPING IT PERSONAL
To be an authentic BTI360 internship, we knew we had to foster relationship building—amongst the interns themselves and with their mentors and technical leads. What would that look like in a virtual environment?
First, we asked Andy, a BTI360 teammate to act as the full-time Tech Lead for the summer. Andy is a graduate of the College Hire program, so he was an ideal choice to help prepare the next generation. Andy took two months off of his normal project work to focus on the interns. He provided a high-touch mix of coaching, mentoring, and project support. Andy met with the interns every day, providing advice, cracking jokes, and helping them grow as developers.
In addition, we migrated our formal mentorship program to be virtual. Rather than meeting weekly with mentors at local restaurants, our interns got those meals delivered via GrubHub and UberEats. We also added other group lunches to the schedule to give the interns a chance to meet with other people throughout our company. We wanted each intern to meet plenty of teammates and get a great feel for the company.
The interns didn’t wait for the company to do all of the work facilitating interaction. They played Rocket League together during their lunches, built a music bot to provide a shared soundtrack, created a Full House Challenge video, and jumped into organizing and executing their own charitable serving project.
Looking back, we are glad we didn’t cancel our 2020 internship. We heard from the interns how much it meant to them too. One 2020 intern told us, “I know a lot of us have friends that just had internships canceled outright, so the fact that BTI360 was able to make this happen was really important to us.”
We had a great summer with our interns and are even more excited to see them return next summer to become our next group of BTI360 Ultimate Teammates. Life, like software development, will be filled with new challenges from one day to the next, and we have seen that this group has the ingenuity and flexibility to tackle those challenges.
We are as eager as everyone else for the world to conquer COVID-19 and be free of the restrictions that currently complicate our lives. We hope that happens before our 2021 intern class begins. But if not, we are committed to pressing on with a virtual internship. Given our experience this year, we are confident that we can provide a great experience.
Interested in learning more about BTI360’s College Hire Internship Program? Click here to check it out!