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Take advantage of intern impostor syndrome

Experiencing impostor syndrome is often the nature of internships—you end up feeling unprepared because, well, everyone around you has been doing this work for years. If you already knew how to do everything & were experienced doing it, you’d have been hired full-time already—the whole point of an internship is to learn & grow in a real, professional environment.

I got my first internship shortly after building my first app, at a company called Highrise than spun out of Basecamp (makers of HEY). I was working primarily with someone I super looked up to & someone who’d just sold his startup to Dropbox. All my coworkers were incredibly smart & good at their jobs, & I was dropped into this company on a team of 4-5 where I had no idea how to use any of our (admittedly outdated) tools but presumed I was a genius who could solve it all. They were incredibly kind & mentored me—I ended up making some solid contributions by the end of the summer, but I was spectacularly unprepared for the job.

Learning how to use Rails 2.0 & edit a late-2000s codebase was actually probably my least important takeaway from that summer. I got paid for my work coding, which I think is a really formative experience, I learned how to work with teammates respectfully, which is a long but critical journey, & I left with supporters & professional relationships I still maintain.

If you’re starting a new internship, I would focus on that last part: building relationships with coworkers, where they’ll mentor you because they enjoy it & you really grow a connection that lasts past the summer’s end. Those relationships often end up being more meaningful than whatever technology you learn. Coworkers are surely impressed with everything you can already do—many will probably be thrilled to work with you 1-on-1 a lot, so take advantage of that.

Listen, a lot, & seek out learning from folks at the company. Judge a lot less how much you can get done every day, & a lot more on leaving the summer proud of having learned a lot, met some great people you can keep in touch with, & having made a few awesome things with folks. Impostor syndrome is natural—but if you can turn technical impostor syndrome into a reason to get to know the people around you, you can walk away with a lot more than new technical knowledge.

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