CS Internship Guide #1: Create Personal Projects

Part of the CS Internship Guide

You Should Probably Ignore Me

Over the past few summers, I’ve experienced three computer science internships. Sometimes younger students ask “How can I get an internship?” I give them my advice only to have half of them laugh off my suggestions and end up spending the summer taking “Seventeenth-Century British Rhetoric” at a community college (or worse). The other half end up at Google. So I thought I should record the better parts of my advice before next year’s freshman¬†(perhaps rightfully) learn to ignore me.

In any case, this post is the beginning of a guide to show you how to get a CS internship. Many of these tips apply to every major, and some even to post-graduation jobs. But for the purposes of this series, I will assume that you are a college-age computer science major. However, it’s okay if you’re not a CS major or even a college student. My first boss was a self-taught developer.


Real internships usually involve more coding and less Quidditch. Usually.

Why Get an Internship?

Why should you get a summer internship? Summer classes can be useful, and studying abroad can be a great learning opportunity.

However, an internship gives you a glimpse of what it’s like to work as a software developer. If you enjoy your internship, you can be confident in continuing to study computer science. Or if you find yourself a bad fit, you can change majors earlier rather than later. Plus, having an internship will make the post-graduation job search easier. Students with an internship under their belt often receive job offers during their senior year.

In addition, software interns get paid anywhere from $15 to $40 an hour (much better than working at Willie’s Burger House). Some even provide housing, transportation stipends, and a host of other benefits. And if you’d like to spend the summer in San Francisco, Austin, New York, Seattle, or another technology hub, you’re in a great position.

The First Step: Personal Projects

An early prototype of PEACE, one of my personal projects on GitHub.

One of my favorite projects is a 2D Java game I wrote just for fun.

Here’s the first step towards getting a CS internship: Open a GitHub account (it’s free!) and upload the source code for one of your coolest projects. If you don’t have any outside-of-school programming projects, make one.

Why? Because recruiters love to see (and talk about) personal projects.

Personal projects, like a hackathon program or a just-for-fun mobile app, show recruiters that you know how to code and are passionate about programming. Even a small program can showcase your skills.

Also, imagine the following conversation:

Recruiter: So, tell me about one of your favorite projects.

You: Uhh, I haven’t really programmed much outside of class.

Compared to the following:

Recruiter: So, tell me about one of your favorite projects.

You: I made an app that does [really cool thing]. It was awesome because [insert details here].

Recruiter: Wow, that sounds impressive! I’d love to see the source code. Do you have an online portfolio?

You: Of course! You can find it at github.com/sheldonsandbekkhaug. Here, let me write that down for you.

GPA might get you an interview, but personal projects will get you the job. A high GPA is great, but for many engineers, talking about your just-for-fun programs will remind them about their days hacking away at a passion project. Show them that you’re skilled and passionate, and they’ll mark you down as ready for an internship.

What kinds of personal projects do you showcase on GitHub?

If you’d like me to review your GitHub (or other kind of) portfolio, post a link in the comments below!

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14 Responses to CS Internship Guide #1: Create Personal Projects

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