When Katlynn Stone, 24, interned at a major automaker in the summer of 2019 and returned as a remote intern in 2020, she hoped to earn a permanent position. But because the 2020 program had to be shortened to six weeks instead of 12, Stone’s project was “disappointing” and solitary. (She worked 10 hours a day, but at her good-bye Zoom, she says many members of her team didn’t know who she was.)
Stone — a computer science major who graduated from Michigan Technological University in the fall of 2020 — scrambled to find a second internship to make up the cash she’d been counting on, and stumbled on ThermoAnalytics, a small software company that had virtual happy hours (bring your own beer) and Dungeons & Dragons sessions. Plus, the work was challenging. She chose a full-time job offer from them over one from Ford, in part because she thought the former did a better job with virtual internships.
“They actually paired me up with people and taught me things,” she said.
Internships have long been an indispensable talent pipeline for tech employers, which is why so many put forth a herculean effort to modify their programs for remote work when the pandemic hit. In some cases, the work could remain the same; in others, it had to change because of security issues. Although most interns were just grateful companies honored their hiring commitments, one happy surprise was how satisfied both sides were with the virtual experience. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the offer rate for interns rose to about 80% in 2021, from 68% in 2020.
“In some ways, interns are getting an opportunity they might not get in the future. They get to be at home and they can still do great work,” says Tanisha Howell, HP’s Global University Program Coordinator, who helped organize the virtual experience for some 300 interns in the United States in the summer of 2020. Howell, a former HP intern, says the company also benefited. “We had a lot of managers saying, ‘Oh, so-and-so is doing so well. I want to bring her back.’”
In an exit survey, 100% of the 2020 HP interns said they would recommend the internship, says Tania Rodríguez, brand and digital coordinator for HP Careers, who thinks the high marks were in part because the virtual environment helped interns hone their communication skills.
“A lot of them talked about how their soft skills were developed or how they were mentored at HP,” she says.
Silver linings of remote
Companies have found benefits in remote interns, from zero relocation costs to a bigger talent pool from which to draw. The virtual tech internship — developed as a short-term only-in-2020 solution — may become a fixture, especially as remote work or hybrid models become the new normal. As a May 2021 study about online internships from the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin–Madison put it, “the trend toward online internships became a torrent.”
“I don’t think virtual is going away,” says Kevin Collins, senior assistant director/career consultant for Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science. “I think some companies are saying, ‘Do we really need to have everybody at this location?’ There are advantages to remote.”