The unexamined and untapped benefits of High School Software Engineering Internships
In Summer 2022, Code2College (https://www.code2college.org) will see its first high school program alumna graduate from college and enter a full-time Software Engineering role with our longstanding corporate partner, Indeed. By that time, she will have held six software engineering internships with the company, contributed to scores of projects and shipped at least a dozen features.
This may seem like a dream . . . and it was. But that dream is now being realized.
For the last five years, Code2College has been equipping high school students — predominantly Black, Hispanic and girls — with professional skills, coding proficiency and experience, as well as placing them into paid, software engineering internships with corporate technical teams.
To date, we’ve placed 100+ high school students into technical internships ranging from software engineering/development, IT and mobile app development, and we’re planning to significantly scale that placement starting in 2022.
But the conversations that lead to companies becoming Visionary partners (our classification for corporate partners who hire our high school students into these paid, technical internships) vary from enthusiastically curious to unflinchingly skeptical.
It makes sense though. Corporate internships are most commonly used as conversion tools; to assess which rising undergraduate or graduate school grads will be hired for full-time roles. High school students — whether as young as 15 or old as 18, but pursuing a college degree — are so far from full-time hiring, that there seems to be a misalignment between the purpose of an internship and this demographic.
But after five years of this work, there are at least three reasons why a high school software engineering (or other technical) internship is a great idea and investment.
- “You reap what you sow”: let’s get to the point: hiring a high school intern is a Long Term Investment. And I understand, it’s not right for every company. That said, for those who make the investment, they realize outsized returns. As an example, consider Angela Glass.
Angela graduated from Code2College in 2018 when she was a Junior in High School. She interned at RetailMeNot as a Code2College Software Engineering Intern that Summer. She had such a stellar performance that Summer, RetailMeNot invited her back to help with backlogged projects during the school year. Add to that, she has been invited back every Summer since and is now a Sophomore pursuing a CS degree at the University of Texas at Dallas. And while RetailMeNot recruits for undergrads (Sophs — Seniors), they have one less role to fill and have an experienced, highly effective intern with them who is already VERY familiar with their codebase. This was only made possible through that early investment made just three years ago.
2. “Walk it like you talk it”: over a year later, with so many companies having made PGF (or “Post George Floyd”) financial and cultural commitments, many teams are still waiting for action. Diversity days, ERG stipends, cultural sensitivity/implicit bias training . . . and altering your corporate logo’s colors are all short-term responses that don’t address a deeper challenge faced by all companies. Building a diverse, inclusive team must happen at all levels and making a very intentional decision to hire ultra-early interns who will contribute to the team is a step in that direction. Take Moustapha Toure (featured in the cover photo), for example. Years ago, Kendra Scott committed to hire high school interns from the Code2College program. We placed Moustapha at Kendra Scott Jewelry after he graduated from our program in 2019. As a high school Junior, he joined the Kendra Scott team as a Code2College Software Development Intern and, just like Angela, was asked to return for follow-on work. Since then, he has helped to develop the Code2College Learning Management System and Mobile App, from scratch. He’s currently a Sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin pursuing a dual degree in Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer Science. And while Kendra Scott is one of the companies that made a recommitment to diversity last year, it had already been a priority for Kendra Scott and her Leadership team. Action and long-term investment (i.e. walking the walk) is far more important than public commitments (i.e. talking the talk). High school technical internships are an excellent way to start acting on any public commitments your organization or team have made to building a more diverse team.
3. “Though they are young, they be mighty”: You have no idea what anyone — regardless of age — is capable of until they are given an opportunity. High school students are no different. Take Alejandro D., for example. Alejandro graduated from our program in 2019 as a High School Junior, and after his Summer 2019 employer was acquired, accepted a Code2College Software Engineering internship with vmware. Despite being the youngest and greenest on his team of all PhDs, he not only shipped product during that Summer but completed his eight-week project in less than two. Or what about Annie P. who graduated from our program in 2020 and joined athenaHealth, and also finished her product feature before her mid-Summer review. I could go on, but the point is that more than half of the interns that we place write code that gets pushed into production during their Summer internship. These aren’t job shadowing experiences or “consultancies”. These are impactful, beneficial internships. But these were only made possible because a leader — a visionary, if you will — evaluated the potential of this program and these students. Rather than a risk or liability, they saw these students as appreciating assets.
There are immense benefits to building a more diverse, equitable technical workforce by hiring high school talent. Code2College has been on a mission for years and continues to make evident the potential for this nascent talent development work.
Want to learn more? Visit Code2College.org or contact me at Matt@code2college.org if you’re ready to take the next step in developing your technical workforce.