By Ben Chandler, CashStar Software Engineer
Building & Growing a Healthy Pipeline with a Robust Intern Program
Three years ago, the CashStar Engineering team established its own summer internship program with the goal of building a pipeline of engineering talent from local colleges and universities directly to CashStar. Each year since, we’ve grown the intern class size from its initial one intern and strived to improve the program.
What began as an interesting experiment has grown into a successful, mature feeder program for CashStar hiring. To date, the program has hosted ten interns and yielded two full-time employees. Our internships are among the most desirable tech apprenticeships in the Portland, Maine area. This year I had the privilege of helping to organize CashStar’s summer internship program. While there are many ways to keep interns engaged and ensure they are learning, I think there are three key elements that can really help an internship program succeed:
- Provide REAL Experience—The most valuable thing I learned from the last two years of managing interns is that they learn more and gain more useful experience when they’re working on important projects that require them to collaborate with full-time employees, rather than being siloed off on an “intern project.” This year we opted not to do an “intern project” and instead gave the interns intensive training to get them working on software development teams as quickly as possible. Our teams are organized as small units of six to eight people practicing Scrum, which is a variant of the Agile software development methodology. Our achievement this year was to integrate the interns onto those teams where they were able to work alongside our engineers. For every intern, an engineer volunteered to be their mentor. The mentors answered questions, listened to concerns, and gave advice to their intern to keep them learning and progressing. As part of our teams, the interns worked on company priorities just like everyone else, with a lot of pair programming and informative talks to help them along.
- Provide Community—This year we also tried something new: Partnering with other software companies in the area to create learning opportunities and give our interns a view into what it’s like to work at other companies. We collaborated with two more Portland-based tech companies: Kepware and Freeport Metrics. Over the summer, our interns had several opportunities to meet interns from those companies. Between the three intern programs, we presented a lecture series on topics such as “Test-Driven Development,” “Using Chrome Debugging Tools,” and “UX and UI Design.” At the end of the program, our interns along with their new friends at Kepware present on what they had worked on and learned over the summer. It was a proud moment seeing their excitement in sharing their accomplishments and learnings.
- Be Flexible—Planning is good, but be nimble enough to change a plan when there’s reason to. We allowed team assignments to shift over the course of the summer to fit the needs of our scrum teams and the interests of the interns. One intern stayed on the same team for almost the entire summer because he felt very productive and wanted to keep doing the same work. There were times when we gave interns work that was too difficult and they got stuck. That’s okay – it happens to everybody. We gave them the leeway to work on something else and perhaps come back to it later in the summer with more experience and preparation. This approach provided a boost of confidence when they ultimately completed work that was very challenging at the start of the summer.
The CashStar summer internship program gets better with each year. This year was awesome and I look forward to next summer, as I’m sure it will be CashStar’s best internship class yet. If you’d like to know more about the CashStar internship program please reach out to us at: .