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Ask HN: When is it too old to be an intern?
49 points by ramsaysnuuhh on Jan 4, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments
I went back to school recently for a 2 year master's degree in information science (think: UI/UX, data science, databases, statistics), and the program strongly recommends doing an internship at a tech company during the summer in between the years. However, I'm going to be 31 this year, and I assume most of my competition for the positions are going to be in the 18-22 range. Will managers at SV-type tech companies (probably younger than me) even look at my application? My background mostly linux sysadmin-ing and bioinformatics, looking to get into more analytic/statistical work like BI.



I've had 3 interns on my team since last summer. One is a bit older than a typical college student, I believe she's a 26 yo bioinformatics major.

I can only speak for myself, but I look for 1) definitely a student, so expectations of going perm don't hit us by surprise, 2) either not too far off from graduation or the ability to work part-time during school 3) interest in the work, has some tie-in w/ the direction they want for their career, and 4) open to the possibility of going full-time upon graduation.

I'd love to have someone making such a transition working w/ us, we actually might have a need coming up shortly. But then again, I'm 37, and we're in SoCal...

One word of caution - make sure the scope of work is locked down. A smaller company might see you as a cheap backup system admin resource since you have background in that (under the guise of "we wear many hats here"), but you really need on the job experience before going full-time in what you want to transition to.


It's much more common than when you were 22. Career changes, diff tracks through school, all sorts of reasons why people want to do internships into late 20s and thirties since the recent recession.

Companies are still desperate for top talent, and for specialized skills at growing firms (tech) that's especially true. We have interns starting with us in the summer at http://www.thinkful.com/ (edtech) and two of them are in or finishing masters' in CS from Columbia.

As long as you're not being taken advantage of by a cheap employer I think internships are a great low risk way to try a job and career.


You have a powerful background - use it to your advantage. Don't try to compete in web dev startups - go where the work is harder. Leverage your Linux / Bioinformatics background to your high advantage. Look at sensor based IoT companies, or healthcare companies, big data companies specializing in healthcare, Or DevOps.


I think you give yourself a hard time - part of the reason you're older is because you're doing a post-graduate program and not everyone does that immediately after their under-grad.

So I actually have an open req for such an intern at WP Engine (http://jobvite.com/m?3aIqcgwf) and I think a post-grad intern with your experience would be ideal. So there's no way age would be a factor, (and legally, it can't/shouldn't anyway)

On your side, I agree with other commenters that you want a clear definition of work to ensure you get the experience you actually want. You probably want to lean towards more established startups who can create a program of work that really needs your skills. We're almost 4 years old and I don't think we'd have been placed to capitalize on your skills and in return offer a meaningful experience 12-18 months ago just because the type of work your doing is probably not relevant during the 'scrappy years' of a startup.

Good luck!


Two things you have to take into consideration. Are you financially able to take on a job with low pay to learn for months to a few years at a time?

The second is that if a company is going to spend resources to teach you what you need to know, are you going to want to stick around for a full-time job and contribute back to the company? I don't see this being an issue at 31 years old. I would hire a 31 year old if they were dependable, eager, and committed to staying for the duration of their internship.

I see way too many people not apply for various positions because "degree required" or "3+ years of product x knowledge". I always tell them to apply and make the company say no, don't just take yourself out of the running.


I know people your age or older who have successfully transitioned careers to software development, from a standing start. I wouldn't let it put you off at all!


Chris Gardner was 27 or 28 and homeless when he became a trainee at Dean Witter Reynolds. If the name isn't familiar, a movie was based on him called The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), played by Will Smith.

If you meet the hiring manager's qualifications, you'll probably get a call for an interview. Just be sure to be ready to explain why they should take you.


That story was very inspirational to me. I know Hollywood glamorizes but it is a beautiful story in its own right. Good post.


You're never too old to be an intern! I was typically the oldest intern at the places I worked at (interned at 27 and 28).


I can't imagine it'll make any difference at the hiring stage (I certainly interviewed my fair share of older interns and often found them to be very strong).

The only way in which I think it will make a difference is if you end up working for a large tech company which has an intern community. It'll be harder to fit in socially, but you won't be the only older intern in general -- some of the PhD interns I worked with were late-twenties, early-thirties -- so you won't be totally alone.


As a 33 years old who's planning to return to education as soon as his wallet is comfortable enough to do so, I had similar doubts when I was thinking that I might be 38 or 40 the moment when I'll have to intern.

I guess there's no quantity of answers that you can receive to assure you that you won't meet hiring managers down the line who will be willing to deny your application just because you're old but assholes will always exist. Just do what you can do best and you will score.


I don't think you have anything to worry about. It's common to do internships in grad school & it's common for people to do grad school in their 30s. Also be assured the expectations will be different & you will have a much greater opportunity to do meaningful work than a younger intern. The best thing you can do is not obsess over the title intern & figure out who you can do some interesting work with that will count toward your school requirement.


They'll certainly look; SV-type tech companies are going to screen your application based on technical merit. I'd simply advise not to include your age on your application, because it's irrelevant to how beneficial an internship would be for you and the company. Once you get in for interviews they may be surprised, but any reasonable person would enjoy hearing that you're enthusiastic about improving your skills and doing an internship during the degree.


Right but the dates of his high school and undergrad programs on his resume will presumably give away that he's not 22.


At 31 you should be alright getting an internship. Obtaining an internship is more about your interest in then field, willingness to go full time after graduation, and your ability to bring something to the table for the time you are there. If all those criteria are met, at 31 you still have another 20-25 years (easy) of possible work in you. Most programmers stick around for only a few years in any one company anyways.


I wasn't as old as you, but I did an internship when I was 23. I was married and we were expecting our first child at the end of the summer. From the perspective of work, it was fine. It was however a larger company and there were 20 interns. They all lived in intern housing and hung out together. It wasn't a big deal, but my intern experience was different from theirs.


If you get on the wrong team it may not go well. What will happen is that your managers and people you work with will pretend you are 22 and treat you like a 22 year old undergrad student.

If on the other hand you are brought on specifically as a grad student info science intern working in a info science team, things may go better for you.


Probably my understanding of "intern" is limited. But I believe it is okay for anyone who is still in the collage/grad-school/high-school to do an internship, no matter how old she/he is. I know people who started his PhD study at UC Berkeley at his 50s. Nothing can stop him becoming an intern.


Most people will expect you to rapidly move to a higher paid position with more responsibility. If you're pitching this as a way to get your foot in the door of a company where you think you'll have a lot of potential, it makes sense.


As an aside I really think its crazy that its so difficult to change careers midlife. We have a solid 40+ years of working life. That would be plenty of time for two sucessful expert level careers in two completely different areas.


You can never be too old.


Knew a guy in his his forties who wanted to work for an ad agency. Convinced them to use him for free for a while as a test and they wound up hiring him. YMMV.


Cool! Slave labor and/or illegal minimum wage violations. Sounds like a great company.

Only an asshole company would do this to a future employee. And only an asshole would allow themselves to be exploited like this.

Guys: work on contract. Get paid. Your lack of self-esteem affects everyone else in the workforce trying to earn a living. Don’t sell yourself--or your peers--short.


Anyone wants to get paid, but not everyone has the chance at the very beginning.


If a company isn't even willing to pay you minimum wage (which is really not much in most places), it is one or more of:

1) They can't afford to, so probably aren't a very successful business.

2) They want to keep out the people who literally could not afford to live under this arrangement. (Disproportionately non-white, female, etc.).

3) You'll be of even less value to them than the minimum wage (so probably wouldn't be doing anything worthwhile/educational).

Don't take an unpaid internship, even if you can afford it. It perpetuates a terrible idea.


Most people will find it a bargain to get a 31 year old intern, with lots of experience. I wouldn't worry about it one second.


We had an intern last summer that used to have his own interns before he moved to software - people will definitely look.


i did it at 29 and it worked out well for me. many of the other interns were just out of college, but it didn't seem to matter that i was a bit older. after 3 months i got a full time position and stayed with the company for 4 years.


isn't it a matter of ambition? if you include apprentice in your dictionary, people still do it in mid-50s.

definition: less accountability, steep learning curve, short immediate economic returns.


Hahaha, very interested in seeing this. I'm same boat.




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