What it's like to intern at one of Silicon Valley's billion-dollar startups

Intern Graffiti Group MRGN0291LyftLyft’s 2016 internship class.

In the world of competitive Silicon Valley internships, there have been plenty of rumours about the crazy perks of being an engineering intern: luxury boat cruises, secret concerts, and trips to Disney Land top the list.

But what is it really like to work at one of the Valley’s tech giants or unicorn startups? Do interns really get massage Mondays and summer stipends higher than what hourly workers earn in a year?

Business Insider asked Lyft, the $5.5 million ride-hailing startup based in San Francisco, about their internship program.

Here’s what we learned.

Lyft finds its interns through pretty traditional routes: employee referrals, internship fairs, college campus visits, and the famed 'Internapalooza.'

Getty Images/Chris McGrath

Internapalooza is a huge event for about 3,000 20-somethings that happens each year. Students can network and hand out résumés to some of the biggest tech firms in the Valley.

When it comes to visiting colleges, Lyft tries to visit smaller, more diverse schools.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

And when it comes to choosing the summer class of interns, diversity remains top of mind, the company says.


'We have 17 interns, half of which are from underrepresented backgrounds, which is an actual goal for us,' Peter Morelli, Lyft's vice president of engineering, told Business Insider. 'We're definitely looking for a diverse group because Lyft itself is diverse, our customers and our drivers are very diverse, so we're trying to mirror that as well.'

Hiring engineering interns is a competitive process. Most interns have three or four offers walking in the door, so Lyft has to be realistic. Morelli estimates the company's success rate for hiring the interns it wants is above 50%.

Most interns clock in around 9:30 or 10 a.m. each morning. Some leave around 5 p.m., but Lyft has a dinner at 7:30, and those who hang around might go back to work to do some coding after dinner.

'We don't have a lot of hard and fast rules, but I would say it's a full day,' Morelli said. But he's quick to add: 'it's not till three in the morning.'

A day in the life of an engineering intern involves coding, fixing bugs, and some design. Lyft has small teams -- groups of three to six people -- who act as mentors to the interns.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

So what makes an intern stand out to the company? If they're quick learners. Those who impress management are usually asked to do contract work after the internship is over, and some later receive job offers. The company hires about 15-20 new grads each year.

Lyft interns exploring San Francisco.

'You need to have people who can learn quickly about the technologies, pick those up, be able to use them,' Morelli said. 'But you also need to be able to apply base principles, like how to be efficient, how to be quick, how to be fast. I look for interns to be able to learn quickly, to be able to adapt and build products, and actually to ship them.'

One of Lyft's interns for the summer, Leah Dineen, works mainly on coding back-end and machine learning systems. She said the internship gave her experience she wasn't getting at school, and that she chose Lyft for one important reason: How they seemed to feel about her.


'They were very excited about me,' said Dineen, who's in her fourth year at the University of Waterloo in Canada. 'I was interviewing with other companies and I didn't feel that they were excited about me in the same way that Lyft was.'

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