Entrepreneurs are strapped for cash, so we turn to interns to help out. Let’s face it: they’re cheap labour that can think. And they don’t mind being called that, because when they graduate, they can tell that big MNC HR team that they’ve “widened their horizons during a fulfilling internship at a startup”. And they’ve got the testimonial to prove it (which they write, we sign).
Interns are double-edged swords. Useful in the short term, but in the long term they’re toxic creatures that could spell the end of your Big Idea.
You get a fresh-faced NUS/NTU/SMU kid in April. He’s clueless till June, when he starts to get the hang of things. He may even become your MVP. Right up till August, when he decides that instead of working, he’s going to start planning his grad trip. And in September, he says sayonara, clocks his compulsory internship and off he goes to Estonia while you’re left with a mess of things.
You become a teacher — not a boss
Interns aren’t good at teamwork, their coding pales in comparison to qualified individuals. They won’t hand over things properly and they often make a mess of things. That’s okay for them, because they’re learning. But not for you, because you’re losing.
You also become a babysitter
You have to figure out how to fill their time. They’ll come to you earnestly, “How can I help?” You then search your mind for something seemingly important to give them. If they’re efficient they finish the task in a jiffy, and then they’re back in your room again.
Think of the Big Idea. You need someone focused on that, not someone who’s looking for a cool story to share at his Friday night binge drinking session. So a fun project for the interns might distract them but it does nothing to help you achieve your dreams. Interns will never embrace the same culture that your full timers have. If you spend time instilling that culture in them, you’ll find that you’ve wasted your time, because they aren’t here to stay.
Bottom line: If you’re using interns for tasks and roles and jobs key to your success, you’ve misunderstood their purpose. But if you’re using interns to get you coffee and pick up your dry cleaning? Then you’re using them right. Keep up the good work.
PS: This is an opinion piece by Keith Tan, Group CEO of Wonderlabs. Wonderlabs is the leading service provider helping companies build and manage software development teams in Indonesia and Vietnam. Across our various shared and dedicated centers, we have over 350+ active software developers. Since our founding in 2015, we have grown rapidly through innovation and our relentless mission focus - Connecting you to success and productivity. Alumni of Wonderlabs have gone on to work at some of the biggest companies in Southeast Asia.
"I started Wonderlabs because I experienced the problems of building and managing a distributed software development team in Indonesia from 2011 to 2015. I wanted to make it seamless and frictionless for companies to build and manage teams. On the other hand, I found that there are so many amazing software engineers in Indonesia and Vietnam and wanted to connect them to employers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Jakarta" - Ivan Chang, Executive Chairman, Wonderlabs Group