Silicon Valley internships are the stuff of legend.
Once spoofed in 2013 comedy film “The Intern,” interns at companies like Facebook and Google get the chance to try working at some of America’s buzziest companies – and can earn eye-watering salaries of $US8,000 or so a month.
But does the reality match up to the hype?
Business Insider recently shadowed two interns at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, to see what a day in the life of an intern really looks like.
Facebook takes in thousands of interns a year, across more than 20 different offices around the world.
It’s a way to get a taste of life at one of the world’s hottest companies — and there are two different paths available to prospective interns.
First, there’s a “traditional” internship program, in which the interns are assigned to a team at the company and work on a real Facebook product for the duration of their 12-week internship.
And there’s also “Facebook University” (FBU) — an 8-week program aimed at younger people in which they receive training then work on their own products in teams. It’s aimed at students from groups who are underrepresented in the tech industry.
This is Danial Hussain. He studies at the University of Virginia, and works as a software engineering intern at Facebook at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
And this is Konce Quispe, a New Yorker studying at Rochester Institute of Tech who’s enrolled in FBU as an engineering intern — also at FB HQ.
So what does a typical day in the life look like for the two of them? Well…
Their days begin like most people’s: By waking up. They stay in complimentary accommodation provided by Facebook alongside other interns, and then catch free shuttles the company runs to and from its campus.
12-week interns, like full-time employees, have a degree of flexibility in their working hours. Hussain normally gets in around 8am and grabs breakfast and a coffee before heading to his desk to start working — though on Wednesday he’ll head in a bit later, around 10 or 11am.
Quispe, meanwhile, gets into the office by 10am, then catches up with her team of interns and starts work.
There are often Facebook University-specific events scheduled for 11am — there have been Q&A’s with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and other execs — and then they’re off to lunch at noon.
So what do they actually … do? Hussain works on the Growth team, on Facebook Lite — a stripped-down, data-light version of Facebook that’s designed for use in emerging markets with limited internet connections. He specifically worked with the team that builds the log-in system for the app.
Related: This is “Needy,” the man-sized polar bear mascot of Facebook’s Growth team. “It was commissioned by one of our engineers because it was their favourite animal and everyone else agreed on it,” a spokesperson said in an email. “As the team grew, Needy became the glue that held them together. Needy wears XL t-shirts and is tall enough to maintain a strong happy presence in all team photos.”
Quispe and her fellow FBU interns receive a three-week training course on Android development, and then move on to develop an app with a small team of fellow interns, with the assistance of a manager who works full-time at Facebook.
Hussain’s tasks are all ones that a full-time Facebook employee would otherwise be working on. FBU interns like Quispe don’t work on the core Facebook platform. The focus of their program is learning skills and experiencing the work environment, rather than the end result of the app itself.
Lunch at Facebook is a pretty fancy affair. The company’s headquarters is littered with restaurants and snack bars, from traditional buffet cafeterias…
…to Indian restaurants…
…to sweet shops…
…to “micro-kitchens” from which employees can help themselves to snacks and drinks throughout the day…
…and it’s all free, with the exception of a few coffee shops run by outside vendors.
During lunch breaks Quispe also sometimes attends a “Lean In” circle organised by her fellow interns — a professional community promoting female empowerment founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Hussain often grabs lunch with a fellow intern, biking around campus with the company’s famous complimentary bikes to try new places. “I think full-time employees default to the closest — to me everything’s so bright and shiny.”
So why does Facebook hire interns? “The purpose of our program is three-fold,” Hyla Wallis, the programs and operations manager for university recruiting at Facebook said. First: “It’s a chance to gain industry experience and develop skills in order to be successful long-term.”
“It’s also an assessment program for both the intern and for Facebook … it’s really an opportunity for students to assess Facebook, and see if it’s a place where they see themselves growing.””
And third: “Our program is an investment in the future of management.” Many intern managers are first-time managers, and taking on an intern is a way for them to tip their toe into management and see if it’s a part of their career they want to pursue.
After lunch, it’s back to work. Most of Hussain’s meetings fall in the afternoon — whether that’s a weekly team meeting, or sit-downs with designers, taking up about an hour or so a day.
Once a week he’ll also formally catch up with his manager — perhaps grabbing a smoothie from one of the free juice bars on the office roof garden — though they will informally check in throughout the week as well.
He might take a break, sticking his headphones on and going for a stroll around the office, and starts “winding down” around 5 or 6, grabbing dinner from one of the cafeterias before either doing a little more work or heading home.
He’s typically in the office for 10 to 12 hours a day, he said — though he doesn’t feel like he’s got a bad work-life balance.
Quispe and her team will return from lunch at 1 and then code through to 5 or 6, “depending on how much work I get done.” There’s also a team meeting twice a week — and in times of uncertainty, she’ll either turn to a Facebook colleague or a tutorial on YouTube.
Both interns praised the perks, particularly the food as well as the complimentary transport and accommodation, making it easier for them to temporarily move to a new city.
They also said full-time Facebook employees were surprisingly approachable, and happy to grab lunch with them to explain what they were working on even if it had nothing to do with the internship.
The company also throws events for interns, including trips in the surrounding area and Saturday night parties at its offices. “We curate a ton of events to provide them with opportunities to engage with each other as well as to get exposure to … those communities outside of Facebook,” Wallis explained.
Wallis declined to say how much Facebook’s interns get paid, but according to job review site, they can make as much as $US8,000 a month.
There’s also plenty to do as interns explore campus. Along with the “traditional” perks like a gym, there’s large volumes of art to explore…
…pop-up events like wine-tasting…
…interactive wall displays…
…the rooftop garden, where they can wander among wildflowers, look for Facebook’s resident foxes, and check out the view of the Bay, and more.
When it’s finally time to go home, the interns hop back on their buses and head back to their hotels and apartments. Hussain will sometimes grab a board game from his team’s communal collection to play, and he also writes poetry.
Quispe, meanwhile, is into acapella and runs a cake decorating business (on Facebook), if she’s not spending her evenings working on her own coding problems.
And after all that, it’s the same thing again tomorrow!
One more thing…
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