For a lot of companies, internships are notoriously difficult to leverage. As is, they require a lot of time and resources; but this is especially true with interns from non-traditional paths and without formal experience. That’s why many organisations decide against internships altogether. Platform45, however, not only hires interns from coding bootcamps, but seems to have managed to turn their internships into hiring success stories. Here’s how they do that.
Alex Calamas is the HR and Office Manager at Platform45, a tech development and solutions company. They decided to run internships despite the resources that go into inexperienced new joiners, because they create a more competent developer that is ready to move into a team and solve new problems. “We love the fact that we get to affect someone’s life like that.” But Platform45 does two things differently:
For the internship programme, they intentionally hire graduates over people with more experience, and hire graduates from coding bootcamps as opposed to from universities. In Alex’s experience, interns don’t come with the “bad” habits that previous experience can sometimes create. This makes initial company integration both easier and faster.
In addition, he believes that coding bootcamp graduates have a more focused knowledge of current trends in programming languages: “I think a lot of universities do a lot of legacy work, which isn’t necessarily relevant to the current development environment.” As a company that uses Ruby on Rails, Platform45 considers specific and “newer” knowledge as a big draw-card.
So far, this approach seems to have been quite successful: Of the three interns in the last round of hires, all three joined Platform45 in permanent positions by the end of their internship period. Alex is confident that this success comes from three things Platform45 focuses on:
- Interviewing interns as interns, rather than employees
- Integrating interns into the company through mentorship
- Leveraging mentorship for the intern, the mentor and the company
Interviewing an intern, rather than an “employee”
Normally, Alex follows a hiring process that takes a person from an interview to a tech challenge, and then to a culture-fit day. With interns, however, the emphasis is shifted onto the culture-fit day, which he says tells him a lot more about the person than a coding test would. This is because of the skill expectation involved with interns in particular: since they will be going through a period of upskilling during their internship in any case, the coding test is less valuable; the attention gets turned rather to understanding how the candidate fits in with the team and the company.
A culture-fit day is focused around meeting the team, understanding the company, and exploring the systems and tools within the company. This is because Alex says doing so reveals a candidate’s determination, their aspirational goals, their interests, and their confidence. By using the culture-fit day to show people the “family” environment that Platform45 creates, he gets a better sense of how they see their future at the company. A generic coding test wouldn’t do this.
Acknowledging that interns from coding bootcamps require a slightly different approach has helped the people interning better understand the company, and how they could fit in. Through doing that, it has also helped the company find a better fit for a specific position, right from the start.
Integrating interns through mentorship
Once he’s hired someone as an intern, Alex turns his attention to mentorship. With interns from coding bootcamps especially, having a mentor is something that Platform45 has found is absolutely key to add enough value for interns to thrive.
From the start, a mentor gets assigned to an intern; their initial role is to focus on equipping the intern with the technical skills they need at the company. Since Platform45 primarily works with Ruby on Rails, the mentor starts the first half of the internship with a temporary upskilling period. The assigned mentor is responsible for assisting with questions interns have about processes, and for assessing their work with constructive feedback. Halfway through the internship, interns are put on real projects and mentors now focus their attention to developing teamwork ethic, communication and softer-skills - the things that coding bootcamps aren’t always able to teach.
This, in Alex’s experience, sets up an intern incredibly well: They receive personal support from day one, and are encouraged to value building soft-skills as much as technical ability. Interestingly enough, mentors at Platform45 have found that teaching interns their coding habits and coding practices is easy because of their inexperience and lack of prior habits - rather than in spite of them.
Leveraging mentorship for collateral value
Something which makes this kind of mentorship so easy for Platform45 to leverage, is their culture; the knock-on effect this has filters through everything else they try achieve. By being team-oriented, and encouraging people to communicate openly and ask questions, a lot of the groundwork is already done for Alex. Because of this, he sees culture as a non-trivial consideration when trying to optimise one’s mentorship programmes.
From Alex’s point-of-view, designing mentorship in this way also creates collateral value in more than one place:
- For the company, an intern is levelled-up into an employee that knows the company, understands the culture and is invested in doing well from day one.
- For an intern, it enables them to develop themselves into a successful employee with more skills than they would have otherwise had.
- For the mentor, it builds them into a better teacher, and inevitably helps them find more satisfaction in the work they do. It also acts as a forcing function to self-develop, in the way it pushes them to double-down on their own understanding of things because they have to explain it clearly to someone else.
In Alex’s experience, a good culture-fit should have equal weight to a person’s current experience-level. Good mentorship, then, is what he uses to fill in the blanks. If a company can tailor its mentorship to the person, he says, then mentorship shouldn’t become a hurdle, but rather a stepping-stone.