Browsing today, I came across the following job posting.
Startup looking for highly qualified students that are interested in an internship with the potential of full time hire at the end of the school year.
We are a consumer focused Internet start up looking for a PHP programmer with previous experience working on high profile, complex websites. Please submit your resume Position would be an internship with an opportunity to transition to full time if things go well.
If a student has experience working on a “high profile, complex website”, he probably deserves to be more than an intern. The way I understand internships, it’s a mentoring process. If you’re a company focusing on web applications, then you want to mentor your interns in the ways of the web. Saying that you want an intern with this level of experience just means you are looking for cheap labor.
This highlights an important problem I discovered while job shopping a few years back, people looking for junior programmers with 4 years experience. Real entry level positions are hard to come by when you are starting up. When I finished my masters degree, I was happy to get a job. Having 4 years of part-time work experience allowed me to get a pretty good job. However, many of my friends were not so lucky.
I can understand employers being cautious with entry-level programmers. They are very expensive to train, and they require lots of time investment before you get a return. In addition, employee loyalty is probably at an all time low, which makes it all the more likely that you will lose your investment. To make the situation worse, some people with university degrees are very poor programmers. There are ways to graduate through some IT degrees with very little technical skills. Of course, the opposite is always true. Some companies will get the perfect hire: loyal, highly skilled and very productive. In my experience, this scenario doesn’t happen very often.
So, what is the solution? Well, companies still have to take risks with new hires. It’s one of the best ways to discover those perfect employees before anybody else. What about students? Like artists, they should build their project portfolio as much as possible, with both school and out-of-school stuff. However, please don’t settle for a job like the one described above. If you are highly skilled in a particular area, then you most likely don’t need to be exploited at the intern level. That’s just wrong.