Lessons Learned from Managing a Front-End Developer Intern

Jason Garber, Former Senior Web Developer

Article Category: #News & Culture

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This summer, Viget hosted a handful of amazing interns. Anna, who has written extensively on her process of organizing the program and recruiting the group, asked me to put down some of my own thoughts on how the program went.

As the Senior Front-End Developer here at HQ (by age, they tell me...), it was my responsibility to oversee Viget's very first FED intern, Will Moritz. Trevor and I interviewed Will months before he started and had a good feeling that he'd gel with the team. To be honest, I was nervous about taking on the task of de facto manager. After all, it's been at least six years since I've managed people and it wasn't a job function that I found terribly agreeable back then.

Luckily, managing Will was a breeze! He absolutely had the right personality, determined work ethic, and positive attitude that we look for in interns and teammates at Viget. We completely lucked out! That said, looking back, it's clear to me that our success stemmed from more than just a personality fit. Let's take a look at some of the things that worked well and a few things that could've gone more smoothly.

What Worked Well

1. Weekly One-on-Ones

Will and I met briefly at the beginning of every week and chatted about what he'd been working on the previous week, what he intended to work on that week, and any questions he might've had. The meeting was short and to-the-point and set the pace for that week's tasks.

2. Almost-Daily Team Stand-Ups

Similar to the weekly one-on-ones, HQ FED stand-ups are just that. Everyone gets out of their seat for a few minutes and we run down what folks are working on. It's a quick way to keep tabs on what everyone's up to and exposed Will to the variety of projects we work on here at Viget.

3. The FED Campfire room

We rely heavily on Campfire for group discussions. For geographically diverse teams, it's an essential communication tool. For Will, Campfire was a great place to ask questions without having to worry about interrupting any one particular person. We generally have pretty awesome discussions in the FED Campfire room and Will benefited greatly from being able to ask questions to the entire team, regardless of anyone's particular physical location. This also gave other members of the team the opportunity to interact with Will and to serve as mentors.

4. Sitting with the Team

We've already got pretty tight quarters in the FED area, but we managed to get another desk in for Will. This worked out great because it kept him engaged in off-the-cuff discussions between the team and allowed him to ask any one of us a question. As a mentor, it was crucial that I be available to Will for questions and I simply couldn't have responded adequately if we hadn't been sitting mere feet from one another.

What Didn't Work So Well

1. Preparing a Schedule Ahead of Time

Before Will joined us, I created a week-by-week schedule that mixed research topics and hands-on tasks. A syllabus, essentially. I approached the timeline in what I thought was a reasonable fashion. Week 1? HTML. Week 2? CSS. Week 3? JavaScript. Etc., etc., etc. My goal was to provide Will a curriculum covering aspects of Front-End Development where one week built on the previous week's foundation.

Crafting the schedule ahead of time was valuable for me in that it got me thinking seriously about what Will should investigate and try and accomplish in his ten weeks with us. In that regard, it was a valuable exercise.

Unfortunately, the schedule fell apart as the internship progressed. Group projects creeped into research time and Will's own interests revealed that some topics I'd outlined weren't desired or required. Instead, a better approach would've been to sit down together at the onset and identify topics of study. This way, the crafted schedule is better tuned to the interest of the intern.

It's hard to say if completely abandoning a prepared schedule is a good idea. After all, I've only got a sample size of one to work with! Next year, I think I'll try the approach Will suggested: Have a core set of topics and work with the intern to determine a schedule that is interesting and achievable.

2. Workload Management

The interns' fantastic group project, Jackie and the Beanstalk, is an impressive product. The group quickly realized, though, that they'd taken on more than they could achieve in their limited time. I probably could've done a better job helping Will manage his time and assisting the group as a whole manage the scope of the project.

Advice for Fellow Mentors

To wrap things up, I have a few pieces of easy advice if you find yourself managing an FED intern.

  1. Sit as close by as possible; proximity is a huge boon.
  2. Plan, but not too much.
  3. Avoid a pre-determined week-by-week outline and instead create a rough guide that can ebb and flow as the internship progresses.

So there you have it: a brief recap of some things I learned managing our very first Front-End Developer intern!

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