19 May 2012

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"Well, I wasn't really going to intern at X (say, Zynga, or Morgan Stanley) but they offered more than anybody else."

Don't do that.

It's easy to focus on the financial aspect of an offer, especially if it's the first time you've had a chance to make anywhere near this much. It feels kind of surreal.

It's not that money isn't a valuable proxy for how valuable the company perceives you to be. If you get an offer of "housing + we give you options in the company," that's a good sign that you are talking to Whartonite Seeks Code Monkey-esque enterpreneurs and if you have anything remotely more interesting available you should go do that instead.

But the point of an internship is not to maximize your profits - it's to learn what kind of work or industry you want to be in once you graduate, to try things out and live in cool places, and (more immediately) learn about how real-world software engineering works.

When you go out into the real world with six figures of college loans, sure: try to negotiate up your offers, consider the difference between $80k and $100k a year.  This will make a substantial difference in how soon you will be free from debt.  But when you are deciding where to spend your summer, the difference of a few $k is a small price to pay for learning about a potential industry or position or company that you are interested in as a career.

PS.  In case you're wondering, here's an approximate price that companies are paying these days for technical interns. I imagine this'll be out of date reasonably soon, but here it goes*:

  • ~$10k/month - crazy financial hedge-funds where they have you do algorithms trading or something along those lines. Expect +$2k/month for every greek letter in their name.
  • ~$7.5k/month - Google. I think Google still makes a point of paying 10-20% more than anybody else, but I haven't checked recently. Edit: Palantir appears to be in this bracket as well.
  • ~$6-7k/month - Facebook, Dropbox, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, etc - top-tier tech companies.  
  • ~$4-6k/month - Various smaller companies and legit startups.  I think normal finance-tech jobs are in this range as well.
  • ~$2-4k/month - Less prestigious (or non Bay-Area) start-ups or small tech firms.
  • ~$0-2k/month - Summer of Code, non-profit work, non-funded or silly start-ups.

* Note: I'm including housing in all of these. 

Keep in mind that a number of these companies also adjust by year, more willing to pay a rising senior than a rising freshman.  I've seen this be a factor of up to 50%.

[edited with suggestions from Hacker News comments]

Tags: #advice #internships