Why Google internships attract the best IT talent

Having an innovative Web site and smooth-running IT operations require up-to-date skills from technology workers.
To ensure that they always have a talented and well-stocked pool of future workers from which to choose, many employers are getting more savvy about their college internship programs, updating them to keep up with the needs of their businesses.

Here’s a look at the internship programs at seven large companies. In general, these companies are looking for college students with strong technical skills who could also become potential employees after they graduate. The good news: Most of them still have openings for this summer.

Google Inc. interns work on active projects

At Google, about 500 IT interns are involved in the company’s global year-round program, said Ann Forbes-Cannon, the university programs specialist who heads the effort. “We’re definitely growing our program internationally,” she said.

Google’s interns contribute to the same projects as regular company employees do, Forbes-Cannon said. “We make sure they’re working on active Google projects. They aren’t given side projects. They’re doing real work to help give them a sense of what it is like to work here.”

Having an internship in the company doesn’t guarantee a job with Google later, she said, “but anyone who does well, performs well, we’ll definitely consider that” for future employment. “We do want to make sure they return and finish their degree. We definitely value the educational piece.”

Google interns have made real contributions to the company’s online products, Forbes-Cannon said. One recent intern, for example, did a lot of work on Google’s online astronomical tool, Google Sky, in which visitors explore the universe online.

“Part of what we want to make sure we emphasize is that we want to give them a well-rounded experience,” Forbes-Cannon said. “We also want to make sure they have a good experience,” which includes regularly scheduled talks from company executives, authors and others to share details about their work, she said.

Google provides a pay package, free meals and relocation assistance. Candidates may apply internships online. Positions are still open this year, she said.

HP looks for a good fit

Hewlett-Packard Co. hires between 400 to 650 students for paid summer internships. The studnets are from U.S. high schools, colleges and graduate programs, according to Carol Dunn, the intern program manager for the Americas.

“The intent of the program is to see if we’re a good fit for each other, and we eventually hire the best performers,” she said.
Betty Smith, HP’s university recruiting manager for the Americas, said the interns are a “feeder pool” for finding qualified, talented future IT workers for the company. “It’s seen as a key part of our talent management program.”

HP’s global IT group seeks interns for hardware and software projects, and positions are still available, Smith said. “They would be involved in all types of work, from business intelligence to collecting and analyzing data. We would be looking for appropriate course work and skill sets for those jobs.”

One major benefit for the company is that students bring new ideas to the workplace, Smith said. “Because they are taking courses that teach new cutting-edge information, interns bring with them inspirations and new perspectives,” she said. “They look at problems and challenges with new, fresh eyes.”

HP interns have also submitted patent applications based on their innovations, Dunn said. “Because interns have grown up with technology as a way a life, along with their education, they bring a lot to HP to contribute to new ideas,” she said.

More information is on HP’s Web site.

IBM interns become part of the team

IBM Corp. also has paid internships throughout the year, but the summer programs are the largest, said Vera Chota, manager of IBM’s university recruiting and internship program. About 2,000 internships are available annually and some are still available this year, she said.

“We treat our interns like we do our professional employees so they would do whatever work is happening in those departments,” Chota said. “They become part of the team.”

After working at the company, IBM traditionally hires as many as 50% of the interns, she said. “It is a great place to start,” she said. “It is an opportunity for the interns to look at IBM as an employer, and it’s an opportunity for us to look at them and at their fit at IBM.”

“We’re in a very dynamic industry, Chota said. “We want people who can think on their feet and are very proactive, and as the needs of the business change, they can adapt.”

One trend this year, she said, is that more interns are being sought with IT skills related to large mainframe systems, which is different from recent years.

Applicants can find out more information about the positions at IBM’s Web site. Students receive competitive pay and benefits, plus housing and relocation assistance.

Microsoft Corp. has high expectations

At Microsoft Corp., about 1,000 paid interns each year work on various hardware and software products as well as product marketing, while another 30 to 35 work on internal IT projects, said Ben Guterson, program manager of human resources for the company’s IT department.

“We bring interns in, we recruit them to see specifically if they will be a good fit within our company,” Guterson said. “It’s a very competitive environment out there. We assign them to teams, then they meet with their managers once a week like regular employees. They are set up with mentors and a coach inside the company.”

“They’re not just job shadowing,” he said. “They’re learning. They’re expected to have robust job descriptions and commitments and to do what’s expected of them.”

After the first three weeks or so, the interns will “be working on real projects to contribute to the success of the teams they’re working on,” Guterson said. “The bar is set high. We really do believe that the younger talent brings new ideas … They’re definitely not given the impression that we just want them to listen.”

After the internship, the interns are given a final evaluation with a thumbs up or thumbs down recommendation, he said. Most get a positive evaluation because they were pre-screened before being brought on as interns.

“A thumbs-up high recommendation means a job is there for you when you graduate,” Guterson said. “It’s a paid internship. It’s a very good deal. We have a great relocation and logistics program for new employees. The fact is, we’d rather they come work for us than for Yahoo or Google. We know they’ve got lots of options, so we want to give them a good experience.”

Interns are paid as full-time employees and also receive a benefits package, Microsoft said. The company also provides housing assistance in the form of a lump sum stipend or subsidized corporate housing in the heart of downtown Seattle. They also receive an allowance to purchase a bicycle or a subsidized rental car.

More information is available on the company’s Web site.

Red Hat sees a ‘recruitment pipeline’

Some 30 to 50 interns will be hired by Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. for the summer, said DeLisa Alexander, the company’s senior vice president of human capital.

“We’re looking to find talent that we can hire” after the interns are finished with their schooling, Alexander said. “It’s a real recruitment pipeline.”

Last year, about one-third of the interns were hired full time, while another 25% stayed on while they continued in school, she said.
One key project taken on by recent interns, she said, was a competitive analysis of file system features for Red Hat Linux compared to some of its competitors. Others have helping to redesign and improve the Red Hat Network Web site, adding new functionality and features.

“We don’t want [Red Hat managers] to waste money and hire someone as cheap labor,” she said. “We really want them to hire interns with the idea of long-term investment, for future hires.”

Interns who have graduated start at about US$15 an hour, according to Red Hat, based in Raleigh, N.C. More information is available on the company’s Web site.

Sun interns work with the new products

Jason Auld, university relations manager at Sun, said his company’s U.S. program peaks in the summer with about 300 interns, while another 150 stay on through the school year. Most interns are placed in hardware and software engineering groups, while some are in legal, human relations and marketing.

About 75 openings in the U.S. remain unfilled, with interns needed with experience in such areas as Java, Solaris, Linux and chip design, Auld said.

One trend seen in Sun’s program is that more interns are needed with specific skills when new products are about to be launched, Auld said.

“Last year, we released quite a few new servers, so last year our systems group had a much larger spike” of interns, he said. “The trends tend to be more around the internal product mix, so when we’re releasing new hardware in a particular calendar year, obviously those groups are doing more work so the interns can spike.”

This year, Sun is seeing a spike in its internship slots on the software side, he said. “It depends on what’s needed.”

At Sun, like many of the other companies, the intern program is a primary driver for finding new workers, he said. “From the recruitment perspective, it’s a lot harder to start a relationship with a new worker than it is to take an existing relationship [with a former intern] and continue it. We grow them to the next level.”

Sun benefits include a compensation package, relocation assistance and career services assistance. For more information, see the company’s Web site.

New York Times uses blogs to draw IT interns

At the Web site of the New York Times newspaper, an IT-only internship program was developed to give the news organization a better chance to find and nurture its next generation of highly skilled IT workers.

“What’s happening in particular at NYTimes.com is a tremendous amount of change in how we deliver the New York Times,” said Linda Tepedino, vice president of human resources at the newspaper. “We’re creating the journalism of the future.”

For decades, the print publication hired college interns for a wide range of jobs, including reporting, editing, advertising and IT, but as newspapers and technology have morphed in recent years, the company decided to create a separate IT internship program to help handle the rush of high-tech changes.

In the past, the 156-year-old daily newspaper and its younger online operations have used traditional avenues to find prospective IT workers, such as college recruitment, employment agencies, job postings and referrals, but finding the right people with the latest skills required a new approach, Tepedino said.

This year, the Times added blog entries about the program to get the word out to prospective applicants.

“When you start getting a bigger and bigger demand” among a wide range of competing businesses seeking the same skills, the talent pool shrinks, she said.

“It’s an aggressive market right now. What we are doing here is looking for a very specific type of person who is excited about technology and what they do, but also excited about what we do. If we can find that right kind of person, that’s who we’re looking to develop and nurture and add to our ranks.”

The NYTimes.com internship program, has openings for eight interns who have a variety IT skills to help bring a wide range of new interactive features to stories on the newspaper’s Web site. The deadline to apply was March 15.
Among the skills sought in the intern pool are Web developers and people with content management skills.

William Kelley, the company’s senior director of talent acquisition, said other desired skills from interns are experience with Ruby on Rails, Flash, MySQL, C++, Java and other technologies used in interactive news distribution. The Web site features innovative, custom-built interactive graphics that are created by the site’s IT staff to help tell the stories of the news and events.

“In order [for NYTimes.com] to have these kinds of things, we need really strong IT people to create them,” Kelley said. “We’re looking for creative interns, people who are interested in technology who can see how we do it.”

The company’s IT internship program offers a $950 weekly salary and a housing allowance to live on the New York University campus in Manhattan.

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