Things I Learned as a First-Time Intern Host

I hosted an intern for the first time this summer. It was my first time being somebody’s manager and it became a huge learning experience for me as well as a really fun time. My intern worked on adding many features to velocity-tracking charts, rewriting both of our ML models in TensorFlow 2.0, and a few other projects.

Here are the biggest areas where I struggled as a host and the important lessons I took away from those experiences.

Where I struggled #1: Being responsible for other people’s time

A little after I helped my intern get their coding environment set up and sent them off on their first task, I had the sudden realization: “if I don’t do my job to scope out her work, she’ll have nothing to do, and that’s all on me”

And then and even bigger realization dawned on me: this is something every manager I’ve ever had before has had to do for me. Mind blown. Perspective shifted.

What I learned: as a manager, it is 100% on me to carve out impactful work for my intern and make sure they have stuff to work on every day. Until I did this myself for my intern I never fully realized that every manager I’ve ever had before had to do the same thing for me.

I learned that a big part of being someone’s “manager” is being responsible for making sure they have impactful work cut out for them. I learned well defined, impactful work doesn’t just exist out in the ether, it’s the product of strong technical management.

Where I struggled #2: Scoping Work

I found it difficult to scope a project that is supposed to last the whole summer, without first-hand knowledge of the intern’s experience and pace of work. Fortunately my intern worked very fast, which gave me a lot of experience scoping more work for her.

A balance I discovered - and struggled with the entire summer - was between giving my intern that’s way too big in scope, versus work that’s patronizingly small in scope.

I’m still not good at this, even when it comes to my own projects.

What I learned: I think only practice in this area, scoping many more projects first-hand, will improve my skills.

Where I struggled #3: Giving feedback

Giving feedback was tough because my intern performed so well relative to my initial expectations. I struggled at first giving her actionable feedback.

Having engineering level rubrics with explicit expectations made this easier.

What I learned is to ask “okay, if I assume my intern is the next level up, where does that break down? why aren’t they already there?” within that gap lies their feedback.

Where I struggled #4: Having productive 1-on-1s

The last place I struggled was making sure my intern was getting the most out of our 1on1s, and not imposing my own ideas and structure onto those meetings. They’re for the intern, not for me.

As someone who feels the need to fill awkward gaps in conversation with more conversation, this was a place I needed to improve.

What I learned: sit back, relax, and let the intern drive things. Even if things seem a bit awkward, it helps draw out topics they want to speak about.