by Sharon Florentine

How to run a successful IT internship program

Jan 31, 2019
CareersIT LeadershipStaff Management

Internship programs give IT organizations an opportunity to identify and nurture tomorrow's talent. Here, three IT leaders share their best practices for running successful internship programs.

IT internships provide students hands-on experience and a chance to demonstrate their skills, and they provide IT organizations the opportunity to identify and attract high-potential talent. But the benefits for enterprises and students alike don’t end there.

In addition to honing their technical skills on real-world business problems, interns also learn the soft skills needed to thrive in a corporate environment, including communications, presentation skills and teamwork. “These skills are important to the interns as they transition from the educational aspects of the program to the world of work – the interns need to be able to be self-sufficient, manage their time, take initiative, work well with others and continuously learn,” says Chris Drumgoole, CIO, GE.

While full-time employment is one potential outcome for interns, it’s not necessarily the only measure of success for these programs. “We strive to convert a larger percentage of our interns to careers at GE, but that alone does not dictate success,” says Drumgoole. “We hope all of our interns gain professional and technical experience while here and feel the potential and excitement of starting their careers [in technology]. But it’s also important to note what digital technology leaders across GE take away from the programs that they can use to broaden their expertise and viewpoint across their projects and teams.” 

At E&J Gallo, the internship program also serves as a marketing vehicle for the winemaker. “[C]andidates act as Winery advocates when they return to school, which helps us with future recruitment,” says CIO Sanjay Shringarpure.

Read on to learn how to run an internship program that will keep your IT talent pipeline full and your university partnerships thriving.

Leverage educational partnerships

Identifying and recruiting high-potential IT talent starts while that talent is still in school; whether that’s in a computer science or engineering program at a traditional university or in a non-traditional learning environment.  Infosys’s InStep program has developed academic partner relationships with 120 top universities and exclusively recruits interns from those schools, says Ravi Kumar, president and deputy chief operating officer at Infosys.

“These interns come from tier-1 schools around the globe,” Kumar says. “The InStep academic partner network is aligned with our business in each region including the US, UK, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Singapore and New Zealand. The overall split is 70/30 between technology and business schools, with a few students coming from liberal arts schools,” he says.

In terms of majors, 50 percent of InStep applicants are studying computer science, 20 percent engineering, 20 percent business, and 10 percent liberal arts, Kumar says, and 60 percent of the roughly 140 interns are from the U.S.

At GE, maintaining close relationships with universities and high schools is a way to show that GE is part of the community and to demonstrate the company’s investment in education and training, says Drumgoole.

“This requires regular presence on campus through presentations or hack-a-thons as well as recruiting events,” Drumgoole says. “We also have a very successful program at the University of Cincinnati that started as a summer internship program and has evolved into a year-round program.  The initial focus was more project-based, but now has become focused on software and coding — allowing interns to create their own solutions and pitch those solutions to senior leaders for implementation across the organization,” he says.

GE also partners with Year Up, an organization that works with talented underserved young adults who lack access to traditional education and work experience needed to change their career trajectory, Drumgoole says. “The initial program was introduced at our location in San Ramon, California, and given the success we saw, we quickly expanded to additional locations. The Year Up internship segment is a six-month paid assignment. The roles include cyber security analysts, data and analytics, end user support, project management, and operations center analysts,” he says.  Interns work on real-world GE projects, including end-user support at GE’s MyTech Lounges or global help desk, as well as incident response and analysis in the company’s digital operation center (DOC) and with the cybersecurity team, Drumgoole says.

Engage leadership

One of the fundamentals for a successful IT internship program is engaged leadership. Keeping leadership engaged involves a number of factors, not the least of which is understanding how internship programs funnel elite talent to enterprise IT departments and seeing first-hand how that positively impacts the organization, says Drumgoole.

“Our programs would not be successful if the CIOs across GE weren’t engaged and providing feedback,” he says. “These leaders see this as a core part of our development and growth across the company.  Our HR leaders are actively involved as well, working with the local managers to ensure internship assignments are robust and have a potential pathway to full-time employment. Supportive partners like Year Up and the local universities work closely with our leaders to ensure their curriculum continues to build skills for the workplace,” Drumgoole says.

For a program like Infosys’s InStep, which is in its twentieth year, commitment from executive leadership is crucial, says Kumar. “Our leaders are actively invested in the program: they review project work, involve interns in strategy discussions, provide subject matter expertise and contribute to keep reinventing the program to make it better every year. We put a lot of time and energy into our interns. Each intern gets three-tier mentorship: we arrange three Infosys employees dedicated to the intern’s learning and experience at Infosys, including a senior project mentor, an InStep coordinator, and a buddy, who together work to ensure the internship experience is a fulfilling and educational one,” he says.

Leadership engagement also includes sponsors, buddies and interns’ direct managers at E&J Gallo, says Shringarpure. “In addition to an intern’s direct supervisor, each are assigned a buddy that helps them understanding company culture, things to do outside of work, etc., and an IT leader team sponsor which helps with getting the most out of the internship and career advice. We also assign a member of the IT leadership team who oversees the recruiting and internship program to ensure everyone understands the value the program brings to the winery and are committed to its success,” he says.

Solve real problems

Involving interns in real-world, cutting-edge technology projects benefits both the interns and the enterprises that support them in a number of ways, says Drumgoole. At GE, interns focus on agile software development, data science and analytics, information security, and other critical areas of focus for the company and they take roles spanning product managers, scrum masters, software engineers, UX and more, with the specific roles based on project needs and each intern’s education and prior experience, he says.

At Infosys, interns work on real, critical challenges for Infosys’ business, Kumar says. There are around 300 real-time projects and challenges available in Infosys’s Centre for Emerging Technology, for instance, which gives participants the opportunity to work on the latest and greatest in the tech space. The problems solved over the course of an intern’s time at Infosys bring tremendous value to the company, he says, and allows interns to engage in experiential learning. This is an incentive to attempt something innovative but also gives the intern an opportunity to explore live projects and see an implementation of their education at the university, Kumar says.

“We extensively invest in and encourage interns to participate in experiential learning during their internship,” says Kumar. “For example, all interns participate in a hackathon exclusively organized for the program. During this hackathon, teams of interns and full-time employees work on problem statements with strategic significance to Infosys. This ensures that interns gain a strong understanding of the business while recognizing the bigger picture of their role and importance to the company.”

Have a path to employment

The emphasis on involving interns in solving real-world business problems allows employers to identify potential full-time candidates who’ve already demonstrated the skills and aptitude, as well as the cultural fit, to succeed within the organization, setting the stage for a path to employment.

One such path to employment is GE’s Digital Technology Leadership Program (DTLP), a two-year career accelerator program for early-career employees. “Approximately 75 percent of our DTLPs were interns at GE first,” Drumgoole says. “DTLP members get four, six-month job experiences — we call them rotations — at different GE locations, businesses, and job roles. The four rotations are supplemented with a world-class technical, business, and leadership development curriculum that overlays the two-year experience and aims to build the next-generation of digital technology leaders of GE,” he says.

Maintaining visibility into the hiring process allows GE to bring on interns that can contribute to the company’s most critical areas and also increases the possibility for future full-time employment, says Drumgoole.

“It also helps us maintain great relationships with our university partners, like the program we have with Georgia Tech, for instance, or with Year Up, to show that interns have a future here, if they perform well and continue to demonstrate the capabilities needed in core areas,” Drumgoole says.

E&J Gallo recruits interns into three primary roles: business analysts, programmer analysts, and data analysts, says Shringapure, though candidates whose skills and experience don’t necessarily fit into those molds are also brought on as needed, he says. “These roles represent our greatest need in IT — process-oriented candidates that understand efficient business practices, full-stack developers, and strong statistics, regression, and data skills,” Shringapure says.

“Candidates work on two to three different projects while at the same time preparing a capstone presentation. We feel that this presentation, which is made in front of the extended IT leadership team, enhances the interns’ experience as well as serves as a ‘group interview.’ After the presentations, the leadership team decides to whom to extend full-time offers, or invite back for a second internship [in the case of] underclassmen,” he says.

“In many respects, the internship program is an extended interview process,” says Shringarpure. “We make several full-time offers at the end of the summer. We like the opportunity to help people get off to a good start with their career. We believe that by working in a real-life job, they are at an advantage when later beginning their ‘real job,’” whether that’s with E&J Gallo or another organization.