While interning at Google or Facebook is still heaven for computer science students worldwide, some have started to consider working at a small startup as a perfectly viable, if not more attractive, alternative.
“There’s certainly a growing interest [among students] in working for startups,” said Nathan Parcells, Co-founder of his own startup, Internmatch, which helps students find internships, particularly at companies in the technology space.
Parcells and Founder Andrew Maguire have listed many openings on their site for internships at startups, most with unrecognizable names. Yet Parcells said that they get a lot of interest in working for these startups from students at top schools like Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Just the title ‘Hot New Startup’ generates interest,” Parcells said. “Students want to be part of this culture where you can wear shorts to work and really make an impact.”
Internmatch is based in San Francisco and places student interns at tech companies, many of them startups in Silicon Valley. But there is also student interest in working for tech startups on the east coast.
“Entrepreneurship seems to be a big interest these days,” said Carole Jabbawy, the owner and founder of Internship Connection, a small company in Newton, Mass. that helps high school and college students identify and interview for internships in Boston and New York City.
Jabbawy has placed interns with startups from Mass Challenge, a Boston-based startup accelerator program, and with DogPatch Labs, a Polaris Ventures-backed incubator with offices in Cambride, Mass., New York City and San Francisco.
Jabbawy said that her student interns are excited to work for these startups for little or no pay. She said that some of the larger companies are legally bound to either pay interns or require that they receive school credit, which can exclude certain students. Startups, on the other hand, have no such requirements and have other benefits, she said.
“Since the startup operation is so small, the intern gets exposed to everything,” she said.
Two years ago, Kyle Conroy, a computer science student at UC Berkeley went to a summer internship fair where about 15 startups presented.He didn’t think all of the startups were promising, but he was impressed with one called Twilio. He applied for the internship and he’s been working for them them ever since.
He spent two summers working for the startup, then worked part-time for it throughout his junior and senior years, and after graduating this spring, he was hired as a full-time employee.
“I was the reason why they got their first office,” Conroy said, explaining that once he joined the team two years ago, the founders realised that the company was getting too big to continue working out of cafes. “My first summer I was sitting next to the three founders,” he said.
Conroy said that he could have gotten an internship at one of the large tech companies, like Microsoft or LinkedIn, where his classmates got internships, but he decided on a startup mainly because he felt that he could make more of a difference.
“I had the opportunity to make a large impact at this company, which is pretty cool for a sophomore in college,” he said.
As an intern, Conroy built Stashboard, a unique system for Twilio that provides a place for users to check for service outages.
“At a place like Facebook, you’re sort of going to be a number,” Conroy said, “where as this year at Twilio we only have three interns.”
True, an intern at Facebook could be identified as a number – from one to about 300 this summer – but Facebook and other large tech companies would beg to differ that its interns can’t have an impact.
Last year, Facebook intern Paul Butler garnered significant attention and praise in the tech community for creating a graphic called “visualising Friendships,” which shows patterns of Facebook friendships among users in different cities and counries throughout the world.
“Sometimes [our interns] get press for their work,” said Julie Deroche, Head of College Recruiting at Mozilla, the open source internet browser. “They love being ‘Nerdy Famous.'”
She also said that the long term goal is to convert interns into hires. Of the 35 summer interns Mozilla brought on last year, 20 of them were either offered another internship or a full-time job.
In addition to providing mentorship and free housing in a corporate suite, Deroche said that Mozilla offers a “highly competitive” salary to interns. According to Maguire of Internmatch, the big tech companies, like Google and Facebook, will pay its interns based on a yearly salary of about $70,000, or $15,000 for the summer.
There’s also the awe factor of working for, let’s say the biggest search engine in the world, for example. Former Google intern, Calvin Young, who has since created a startup called Buysimple, said that the Mountain View Google headquarters was like a “child nerd’s paradise.”
And not surprisingly, Maguire said that startups cannot compete with the salaries offered by the tech giants; most startups can usually only offer $7,000 at most for the summer. But he said that students don’t join startups for short-term compensation.
“You join a startup for the possibility of creating something huge,” he said.
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