Khan Academy Internship, Summer ‘12

Teaser: we’re full steam ahead hiring for the summer ‘13 class of interns. Apply.

We had fifteen interns this summer and around that many full-timers.

It’d be silly for me to try to write a summary of what was accomplished. That task was doable last summer and fall, but this time too much was built. If I made a list of it all, I’d ramble even worse than normal.

Luckily, some interns took up the mantle (minus the rambling). If you’re here to get a feel for the type of work done by a Khan Academy intern, you can’t do better than Dylan Vassallo’s, Ben Alpert’s, Jamie Wong’s, Omar Rizwan’s, and Ankit Ahuja’s firsthand summaries. From launching a brand new way to explore computer science (*cough*alongside John Resig*cough*) to shoring up our backend infrastructure (*cough*alongside Craig Silverstein*cough*), these posts give a taste of how our interns spent their time (not apologizing for namedropping, sorry, it’s relevant).

But just a taste.

So before things gets any foggier in my head, I’ll share the summer themes that stick out most for me.

Theme #1 from the summer: did things? Don’t forget to tell people

I prefer to just tell people to “BRAG!!!” so often they think I’m more repetitive than Inigo Montoya, but I suppose “do things, tell people" does have a less abrasive ring to it.

The intern posts linked above create immense value…for Khan Academy, for wide-eyed future KA candidates, and especially for the careers of their authors (Alpert and Vassallo are already full-timers, though, so mitts off). They’re one of my absolute favorite parts of every internship.

But they don’t tell the full story.

On the issue of gender, they actually warp it. Four of our fifteen interns were female, and they each made serious dents in the world. Heck, Jessica Liu single-handedly created an entire library of computer science content which is now teaching hundreds of thousands of learners. It was the most gender-balanced group of interns I’ve ever worked with, and I’m more than convinced this is a big reason why it was also one of the best.

Just one example of a story easily lost. It’s important enough to let stand on its own.

The top student-created spin-offs of Jessica’s Nyan Cat program

Far more important stories go untold than boring stories are shared. My rambling blog may often be on the wrong side of that battle, but hopefully you and your team won’t be. We use dedicated intern demo days, hipchat rooms for the purpose of sharing screenshots, and “You Killed My Father, Prepare to Die”-like persistence when encouraging interns to share.

Theme #2: always more mentorship

I haven’t met an intern yet who complained, “I’m getting a little tired of all the mentorship around here.” I hope I do one day. No matter how much we focus on mentorship, it requires constant, conscious effort. Making sure all mentors are communicating well. Making sure interns are having a consistent code review experience. Making sure ownership is being handed out. Trying to learn from any and every frustration voiced by a previous summer’s intern. It’s a full-time job for every dev on our team, and they already have full-time jobs.

But it’s worth it. See below. You can bet we’ll be gathering next summer to discuss how to be even better mentors.

Theme #3: shipping is good for what ails ya’

Our interns ship to real users. Whether it’s from deploying quick fixes on day one or sprinting all summer for a splashy launch in August, they will have the unmistakable feeling earned by sending their creations off into the world.

I honestly believe this is one of our biggest competitive advantages when recruiting. One of the most talented interns I’ve ever worked with told me about his previous internship’s code — it’s still rotting in source control somewhere. The first week of his summer, he told me that wouldn’t be happening again. I have immense respect for that.


There was another intern, one we lost in a recruiting battle to a big company. He emailed me a week after he started, full of regret, after being shoved away in a corner to work on some internal-only documentation tool. What a waste.

I’ve seen frustrations of all varieties melt away when a dev, full of pride, pushes a new piece of work out to hordes of hungry users. It’s cathartic and a capstone experience in any real-world development effort. To not include it in an internship is a crime.

Our team can proudly say we nailed this theme this summer.

We’re all in again

Most tech leads or managers that I talk to think a 1:1 ratio of full-timers to interns is simply too crazy. Maybe.

One thing we know for sure? Working with interns blows the normal interview process right out of the water. As Desmond so rightly pointed out recently, if you’ve ever had an argument about whether or not to give an intern a full-time offer after three months of working side-by-side with them, you’ve really gotta question the effectiveness of your normal, oh-so-vaunted five-hour interview process.

And it’s well understood now that the best devs are only on the job market two, maybe three times in their lives. One of those is right out of college. For long-term recruiting health, you can’t beat internships. The new full-timers joining our team from the class of summer ‘12 are a testament to that.

Punchline? We’re hiring up again for next summer. We’ll be even better prepared and accomplish even more than last time. If you’ve read this far and want to be a part, apply for an internship and include “I read Kamens’s blog, and the monkey swings at midnight” — you may squeak through resume reviews a tad faster.

11/19/12 — 7:32am Permalink