Like so many companies in the technology and advertising worlds, our perspective in late March was that, because of the pandemic, it would be too difficult to move forward with the summer internship program we had been running for 11 years.
However, after much internal discussion, we decided to go forward and welcome our summer 2020 class of 10 interns. We were greatly inspired by CloudFlare CEO Matt Prince, whom I have gotten to know from Union Square Ventures portfolio events, and who famously announced in early April that his company was not only going forward with its summer internship program but going to double its size.
Our developing a virtual program turned out to be exactly the right decision. Here are some of the reasons why:
Virtual can really work for an internship. For sure, a virtual internship is quite different from an in-office experience for both the intern and the company, but no different from all of the virtual versus office issues that so many of us have been grappling with for these past six months.
Fully integrating interns into operating teams as if they were new employees meant that their “virtual” experience this summer was no different from what was the “real” experience for all of us operating companies largely or fully virtual at this time anyway.
Another plus: There was no danger of anyone asking interns to get coffee, pick up takeout or make copies!
Interns got a lot out of it. A big theme we heard from all of our interns was how much they learned. They ended up attending many more operational meetings than they probably would have if their internship was in person, since the process only required adding another person to the Zoom. Plus, since so much decision-making happened in the Zooms, rather than in small private huddles after meetings, they really got to see decision processes in way they never might have normally.
We got a lot out of it. If you want to do market research on the potential for permissioned ads in console video games, there's no better group -- probably no other group -- to lead that research than high-school and college-aged students. If you want someone to tell the emperor they have no clothes -- that your website is terrible, is hard to understand and is poorly managed for search optimization -- there is nothing like a couple of interns in your marketing department to give you the tough love.
We should always be growing talent. Internships are critical on-ramps into industries. If we don’t provide ways for students or those changing careers to learn about how technology is changing the world of advertising, we won’t have as much talent to draw from when we make permanent hires.
Yes, this pandemic has put enormous strain on all of us, our families and our companies, but it has been even tougher on students hoping to enter the workforce. That is what inspired me in Matt Prince’s blog and was my biggest takeaway. This was our eleventh summer internship program and, for sure, we had some of the best interns and best experiences we’ve ever had. Now that it’s over, and we’re on to our fall internship program, it’s hard to imagine we once considered not doing it.
What do you think? Do you see internship programs as essential?