The rise of remote work over the last couple of years means that there are way more remote coding internships out there. This is great news for people who may not live in areas with a lot of opportunities (not to mention, for the companies themselves who now can tap a more diverse talent pool). And while it might seem like a remote internship would be fairly different from an in-person one, the nuts and bolts are essentially the same: You’ll have a set of responsibilities and tasks with timelines and benchmarks to measure success.
That being said, there are some unique aspects to remote internships that you’ll want to be prepared for, especially if you’re used to in-person collaboration. Here’s what you can expect during a remote coding internship — and how to find one in the first place.
First things first: What will you do during a remote coding internship?
In a word: anything. As an intern, you’ll likely wear several hats. One day you might work on a research project for most of the day and the next you might be pair programming with a teammate. This variety of work is one of the biggest benefits of doing an internship. It exposes you to different types of projects and challenges, and you’ll have the opportunity to work with a lot of different people.
Some tasks you can expect to spend time on during a coding internship are writing code, debugging code, working with front- and back-end design elements, and providing input on user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) features.
If you’re new to coding and nervous about missing out on the experience of learning to code right next to someone who is an expert in a language you want to learn, don’t worry. Eva Sibinga, a Skillacademy Data Science Curriculum Developer, says she probably learned more coding during her remote internship than she would’ve if it were in-person.
“I learned so much coding because it was remote,” Eva says. “Instead of standing over somebody’s shoulder watching them code, we were constantly screen-sharing, and that was honestly an amazing way to learn…[Code] is so much easier to read when it’s directly on your screen in front of you.”
And sure, you could get this kind of experience with a great mentor outside of a professional internship. But what makes an internship particularly valuable is how you’re solving real-world business problems, interacting with clients/consumers, working within budgetary constraints, and operating under the stakes of professional deadlines. Not to mention, you’ll get incredibly valuable networking opportunities as you work alongside your teammates. All of these aspects, by the way, are broadly similar between remote and in-person internships.
What does communication look like during a remote internship?
Where things will really differ is in communication. Ideally, you’ll have a set 1/1 meeting with your supervisor — if not, you should feel empowered to ask for one — and you’ll attend a regular team meeting, where you’ll get to learn a lot just by being there and listening in. With remote work, a lot of feedback happens asynchronously, so your supervisor may opt to add comments to a doc or Slack in lieu of talking it out. That said, don’t be afraid to ask for more clarity or context to the feedback — this is your opportunity to learn, and your supervisor is there to help.
Just remember: If you want to take advantage of networking opportunities during a remote internship, you’ll have to be much more proactive about it, since you won’t have opportunities to strike up a conversation as you, say, heat up your lunch in the office kitchen. This could look like attending a Zoom happy hour or asking someone at the company for a 30-minute remote coffee to hear about what they do and how they got there. (Don’t be shy about this! Most people love talking about themselves and will generally be impressed by your initiative.)
Luckily, companies are starting to catch on to this need for more opportunities for connection, and they’re offering regular virtual events for their team. “My company hosted lots of virtual events, like painting classes, cooking classes, and yoga sessions, which helped to maintain the great company culture,” Sylvana Santos, a Skillacademy Software Engineer, says about her remote coding internship.
In terms of assignments, you might be more likely to work on a robust independent project instead of a cross-disciplinary team project. You also may find that you’re forced to be more self-reliant during a remote internship than an in-person one, since there’s less hand-holding — which actually may be to your benefit in the end, since self-reliance is an essential career skill. (Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up if you need help or clarification!)
Another bonus? You’ll also be less likely to be asked to run “gopher” tasks since you can’t really get coffee for the team meeting if everyone’s remote.
What should you look for in a great intern company?
“Great people make great internships,” Sylvana says. “It’s important, especially early on in your career, to surround yourself with people who are knowledgeable, cooperative, and considerate.”
When you’re looking for an internship, she says to make sure you ask about how the company has set up systems to help ensure that interns are well supported. For example, do interns get paired with a mentor? Do interns get some sort of roadmap with individual goals? Do they get those aforementioned 1/1 meetings with a supervisor who can give them actionable feedback?
Also remember: Interviews are a two-way street. The hiring team is trying to decide whether you’ll be a good fit for the position, but you’re also trying to figure out if this is where you want to be. So ask your future employer questions and gauge whether the internship is right for you.
Danny Roberts, Senior Technical Recruiter at Skillacademy, suggests trying to get an idea of the types of projects you might be working on, even just at a high level. That can help you determine if it’s the kind of work that sounds engaging and provides a path to growth. Plus, if the hiring manager has a decent sense of the work you’ll be doing, that’s a good sign that the company has a program that’s geared towards making sure interns have a positive experience. Also, if you’re hoping the internship will turn into a full-time role, Danny says don’t be afraid to explicitly ask if that’s a possibility.
What about blatant red flags? According to Sylvana, “If the engineer(s) that conduct your technical interview deliberately make you feel incompetent or unsupported, that is probably a good indicator that it’s not the right place for you to start your journey as a developer.”
Build in accountability check-points to get the most out of your remote coding internship
While there are several ways for a company to create a positive environment for a remote internship, there are things you can do to ensure your experience is a good one too. Something we hear often is how challenging the lack of accountability is that can come with remote work. Sylvana noticed this during her internship.
“I was so used to working at a desk where my managers and peers could encourage me and keep me accountable,” she says. “But in the remote world, the temptation of my bed and the lack of people around me made it easier for me to lose focus.”
One way to combat this is with the Pomodoro Technique, a time management system that can help you focus while also making sure you get breaks when you need them. Sylvana used another approach: “I set up frequent pair programming sessions with people and made sure that I communicated my progress to the team.”
Also, look out for burnout!
Interestingly, the complete opposite of the accountability issue can also be a challenge for people, and that’s what Eva experienced.
“Because it was all online, I felt like I had to be available all day, “ she says. ”I didn’t want to walk away from my computer because that was where the entire internship was happening…If it were in a building, I wouldn’t feel any qualms about popping out for 20 minutes to get a coffee in the middle of the day and take a break. But it was harder for me to take breaks in the remote environment.”
If you notice that you’re not getting breaks and feeling totally drained, you should absolutely bring this up with your manager. They can help you brainstorm a solution, like a mandatory 15-minute break every couple of hours.
How much do you get paid as an intern?
The majority of today’s tech internships are “qualified paid internships.” This means that, in the U.S., you’re considered an employee (meeting seven criteria outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act, FLSA), and you legally have to be paid the federal minimum wage — at the very least. You also have to be paid overtime.
The federal minimum wage is $15/hour. So if your hourly rate is below this, you should bring it up with your manager. You can reference the Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act during your discussion if you need to. Remember: You’re legally entitled to at least $15/hour.
Now the good news is that you’ll likely earn more than the federal minimum wage as an intern in the tech world. For example, the average hourly wage for a U.S.-based coding internship in 2022 is $30.86/hour, according to ZipRecruiter. And a cybersecurity intern makes an average of $30/hour.
On the flip side, not all internships are paid. More often than not, an unpaid internship is tied to a formal education program and the intern receives academic credit for their time. But there are other situations that qualify an internship as unpaid, and if you move forward with an unpaid internship, you can still explore other means of compensation.
While earning her Master’s Degree at CUNY, Eva applied for and got a grant that was open to students in her program who wanted to pursue an unpaid internship. “The grant meant that I didn’t have to worry about my rent all summer,” she says.“It’s a good reminder that applying for a grant feels like a really big thing. But some grants are just a matter of a thousand dollars here or there, or even hundreds that make an internship possible.”
If you’re interested in looking into a grant for an unpaid internship, reach out to the head of your program or check with the career center at your school. You can also explore grants and scholarships outside of the school setting, like ones for the BIPOC community or women in STEM.
How to find a coding internship
Now that you have a good idea of what to expect during a remote coding internship, it’s time to actually find one. There are a ton of online resources to find remote internships, as well as a few other ways to search for them. Here are some to start with:
One of the best ways to find a coding internship is to check a company’s website or reach out to them directly and ask if there are any opportunities available. You can start by making a list of the top five to 10 companies you want to intern with and work your way through the list.
AngelList is a platform for startups, angel investors, and job-seekers who want to work at startups. One of the benefits of interning at a startup is that you’ll learn a ton in a short amount of time. You’ll roll up your sleeves and help a new and emerging company get off the ground. (Keep in mind that one of the drawbacks of working in an early-stage startup is that there’s often a lack of structure and you’ll likely have less hand-holding.)
Handshake connects recruiters with students and recent grads, giving them a chance to work with high-profile, fortune 500 organizations, as well as small businesses.
If you’re interested in working at a startup or tech company, Built In is a great resource, and they have a whole section dedicated to internships.
While Indeed is known for its regular job listings, it also has opportunities for interns. The site features dedicated internship listings that you can search through, and their filtering options can help you match your preferences to an internship.
Glassdoor is another powerful job search engine, and it lists internships. The site also provides reviews from past and current employees, so you can get an idea of the company culture and day-to-day working environment before applying for an internship.
LinkedIn is a great way to connect with industry professionals, recruiters, and company executives. Not only do companies list internships on their accounts, but you can reach out to folks directly and see if they’d be interested in doing an informational interview with you. This is a great way to learn more about their position, company, and internship opportunities.
Don’t forget to think outside the box!
If you’re an undergrad, graduate student, or still in touch with your college professors, don’t hesitate to reach out for any leads on internships. That’s how Eva landed her internship. “I knew that my professor worked for this small data visualization firm in New York City, so I just emailed her and said, ‘Hey! I’m really enjoying this work. Any chance that you or somebody else would want an intern?’” Moral of the story? When in doubt, just send the email.
Landing a great internship is easier if you have a solid foundation in the technical area you’re pursuing. Maybe you took an extensive list of college courses. Maybe you have a really impressive portfolio to show off during the interview process. Even so, you might be looking for new skills to add to your resume or ways to advance your knowledge in a certain area, which is where an online course comes in.
If you’re feeling like you want to brush up on any coding skills, check out some of Skillacademy’s most popular courses:
Looking for more? Here’s some extra internship advice from the Skillacademy team. Good luck!