Silicon Florist internship challenge

A week ago, I went off on a little rant about the sorry state of Oregon’s technology and education mix. And how I hoped that all of us startup types could use our creativity to figure out how to fix the problem.

Well, much to my surprise, nearly 30 people jumped into the comments, a number of folks contacted me on Twitter, and a bunch of emails came rolling into my inbox.

And while all of this was inspiring, it suddenly meant that I actually needed to do something.

The problem is a big one. And we’re not going to solve it tomorrow. But if we take small steps, we’ll get there.

But, we need to get the ball rolling. And quickly.

So I’m happy to report that I think I’ve come up with one of those small steps. I think.

I was going to announce this on Tuesday, but given the date, I was concerned about the announcement being perceived as a joke. And then I saw the hubbub about April 3 being Good People Day. And that seemed like the perfect day to announce the idea.

You let me know if this sounds feasible and we’ll go from there.

The Silicon Florist Internship Challenge

Summer break is right around the corner. And at the same time, most of the startups to whom I’m speaking are crunching on more work than ever.

Let’s see, underly busy people and overly busy people. What could we do with some of those smart kids and some of those startups needing help?

That’s right. Internships.

Just think. What if you had had the opportunity as a high-school or college student to shadow an entrepreneur like you? What if you had had the opportunity to learn some of the secrets of business or coding or planning or writing or whatever? How cool would that have been? How much better prepared would you have been to do what you’re doing now?

I think the value to the students is pretty obvious.

So, I’m suggesting that we all work to take on some interns this summer. Could be paid. Could be just a learning and experience kind of thing.

I don’t really care how you structure the compensation arrangement. I just want to see you do it.

Set up an internship. Make it 6 weeks or so. Get a few kids to spend 5-10 hours a week learning about your work.

You can do it. I know you can.

Oh, I hear you. “That seems like a lot of work. What—besides warm fuzzies—is in it for me?”

Well, you get some help doing some of your work for one thing. You get a fresh viewpoint, for another. You have to explain what you do and why you do it to someone else. You get to validate your reasoning. You get to teach. And, perhaps best of all, you get someone who actually wants to listen to you blather on and on about your project.

But, I’ll also work to throw in some other benefits. I’m not exactly sure what they are yet. But every company that volunteers to participate in the Silicon Florist Internship Challenge will receive something along the lines of:

  • A dedicated Silicon Florist article featuring your company and your internship program. Maybe I even let your interns post some entries about why your startup is so cool.
  • A mention in the press release I plan to put out when I pitch this program to the traditional media and schools. As well as my help flacking that release and your company to the best of my abilities.
  • A free post on the Silicon Florist Gig board to advertise your internship, and just for good measure, I’ll throw in a free job posting for use whenever you like. (I know that your company is going to be growing.)
  • Some cool Web graphic that helps you promote your participation in the program.
  • My promise to promote your internship opportunity, to help you find the candidates to get it filled, and to continue to support your program throughout the summer.
  • Oh, and of course, there will have to be some Silicon Florist swag.

… and probably some other things that folks more creative than me will suggest. As I said, I haven’t really thought through your fabulous prize package, yet. But I will.

So what’s next?

Well, first, you need to tell me if this is even a good idea. I’m going to work to hire a couple of interns this summer, one way or the other. But I’d like you to join in the fun. If you think it might work.

Second, I need you to let me know in some way that you’re interested in doing this. And there are a variety of ways to do that: comment below, send me a message on Twitter, or drop me an email.

And while I’m really interested in seeing what the small Web startups and individuals are capable of doing, I’ll more than welcome the big tech companies around town if they want to join in on the fun.

I just need to know if you’re up to the challenge. We can discuss specifics later.

So let me know, as quickly as possible. We’ll plan on doing the heavy outreach and promotion of the program and its participants on May 1, 2008. That gives you a few weeks to get your ducks in a row. And it will give me a couple of weeks to help formalize the internship guidelines.

I’m looking forward to this. I hope you’ll join me. This could be really good for both the kids and companies of Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, Bend, Vancouver—the entire Silicon Forest—in a number of ways.

Let’s get going on this.

  1. Many high schools have people whose job it is to set up mentorships and job shadows within the community. If the usual cast of characters (medical careers, school positions, police or fire station) aren’t a good fit, they’ll dig deeper to find likely community partners. Advocating for such a position in every high school would be good. Could you access administrator or school board organizations at the state or regional level about this?

  2. Great idea! One way to maybe make it more workable would be to partner with Saturday Academy’s Apprenticeships in Science & Engineering program, which can line up the interns if you can help line up the companies ready for interns. I’ll pass the ASE director’s info on to you offline.

  3. […] Silicon Florist internship challenge Posted on April 4, 2008 by Gary Walter » Silicon Florist internship challenge – Silicon Florist […]

  4. As I mentioned in a previous post, I would be interested in taking on intern to work on Level OS and/or one of my side projects. Not sure what I’d be getting into, but I think it seems like a good idea.

  5. @Audrey: thanks for the suggestion. I’ll check them out. Too bad I couldn’t make it tonight.

    @Isaac: thanks for the reply. I already sent you an email. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

  6. Great idea, Concordia has an entrepreneurship program and this opportunity would be appealing to many people. Here are a couple people at Concordia that I would recommend contacting:
    Dr. Steve Krause (Internship Director)
    Dr. Steve Braun (School of Management Dean)
    Are you thinking of setting this up for interns with coding, developing experience? Or would it be open to a variety of student types?

  7. Only skimmed the recent comments, but perhaps we could avoid some of the bureaucracy challenges by calling these mentorships instead of internships? Since I’ll probably be doing this more as an individual than with my company, that makes sense to me. But it might not for everyone else. Just an idea.

  8. @Tim Denney: Working on a social change/RoR project that you might be interested in. We are looking for another developer so let me know at isaac [at] squarepegged [dot] org if you are interested.


  9. @Tim Denney: This isn’t an internship exactly, but there’s a local open source project called Calagator that’s always looking for participants. We do most of our work during bi-weekly Saturday code sprints, so it’s a great opportunity to practice agile development techniques, and get experience with web development in Ruby on Rails. You can find out more at http://calagator.org.

  10. I’m currently a computer science student at Portland State University. I would recommend checking out their CS job board system. It always seems to have interesting positions and is readily available to all CS students. If you would like to post a position, email jobs at pdx.edu as per the instructions at (http://cs.pdx.edu/user/employment) There is more information on other internship options here: http://www.ece.pdx.edu/student_resources/industry_jobs.php

    It might also be beneficial to contact the ACM group. They normally have a good active group of CS students that meet weekly. Maybe someone could arrange to talk during one of their meetings. Their information can be found here: http://www.acm.pdx.edu/

    I’m currently involved with the MECOP program, which is an internship organization among OSU, PSU and OIT. This program involves students from multiple engineering disciples ECE, CS, EE, etc. I believe more than 65 local companies are involved and they are always looking for more. Students participate in two six month internships (April – Sept) over a two year period. This program has quite a bit more structure to get involved with, but it has a good group of students and exposure. More information can be found at: mecop.oregonstate.edu

    I’d love to get involved at a startup, but I already have an internship starting Monday with Intel. My position at Intel looks like it will be a hiatus from software development, so I’ll have to figure out a project for evenings and weekends. Any suggestions?

  11. @Dave – no, I didn’t contact the 4-year ones – but I’ll keep it in mind

  12. @Nick J – I reread your post in which you document your negative experience last year. I saw that you said you contacted “high schools and local community colleges”. Did you not contact the local 4 year institutions?

    We are at PSBA and so we have an easy in at PSU for interns. But in my experience, most colleges (my experience is limited to 4 year colleges) love internship oppertunities.

    In the future, you may want to check out PSU Business Admin’s Internship office (more focused than the campus career services for web based startups)- http://tinyurl.com/2ye7gn

  13. I love @gwalter’s suggestions!

    What about a bi-weekly get together for all interns? We could buy them pizza or something, share experiences, let them pitch their projects/products to each other.

    Put it all under 1 umbrella: the “Silicon Florist Internship Program”

  14. @Nick J: Oh, yeah I learned some negatives too, don’t get me wrong – which led me to go on and become a part of the solution.

    Most of the steps I outlined above should be taken on by a consortium of companies – not just by an individual corporation. In fact, I would nominate Rick to head that up – since he has nothing better to do. 🙂

    I agree with @ahockley – let’s at least by him a “con con con” or whatever that is.

  15. Gary – You know, I was in Explorers as well, in my case Search & Rescue with the local Sheriff’s office for five years. While I agree with you that there are some great opportunities, I think the number one thing I learned was how corrupt a lot of the officers in that county were… anyway…

    As for you other points, all great, but, at least in my opinion, a small company has more to offer an intern in terms of potential opportunities for learning and experiencing things, and for a small company, most of the steps you outlined are difficult, if not near impossible.

    Perhaps what is needed is a non-profit that is local, and handles the matching of the businesses and interns. Let the non-profit have the relationship with the schools and city. There are some national organizations based around the idea, but nothing that targets Portland, and especially nothing that really targets a wide range of opportunities for students.

  16. I too have some experience in this area. I was a fire service intern from the ages of 15-18. It was called the Explorer Scout program – and is still in existence. I was recruited based on my employment aptitude testing in HS. Fire and police departments around the country have some awesome Explorer programs. Many of us went on to have incredible careers in emergency services.

    We participated in the same training as rookie firefighters, responded to major emergencies, and after completing certain core competencies, we worked shifts alongside regular paid firefighters (I was the second one to complete the requirements and do this in Washington County – back in 1975).

    We were unpaid and just loved the opportunities to participate. I went on to have a 20 year career in emergency services and rewarded the sponsoring agency (Now Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue) with several years as a leader, manager, and innovator.

    This may be one arena where the use of traditional channels may be able to augment web channels. With some experience working in the government-operated bureaucracies, may I suggest the following:

    1. Contact the mayor’s office and garner their support – most notably, the mayor directly.

    2. Contact the school super and do the same. (city council members wouldn’t hurt)

    3. Arrange for a press conference with several notable CEOs, the mayor, school super, etc and appeal directly to the parents. Even if the bureaucracy doesn’t see it, the parents will.

    4. Seek grants from notable high-techs (Microsoft, Boeing, Tektronix, Intel, Google, etc).

    5. Get a higher education institution to offer credit for time spent – even if it is just PCC – it is something.

    6. Don’t forget the unpaid, but coolness factor we had in emergency services. Many “kids” will work for swag, access to stuff their friends don’t have, titles, etc.

    This is a fantastic idea that has great potential to grow. I appreciate the eagerness to take off early, but realize it may take a few years to really gain momentum. When I was an Explorer Scout, there were only a few of us and our standards were low enough to allow even me in the door – but now those programs are a primary recruiting tool for the agencies that sponsor them.

  17. Rick –

    This sounds like an awesome idea. We have sponsored interns for years (in Tampa, our home up until 2 months ago). We were a not for profit research institute prior to becoming web start up so it was kind of a no brainier.

    The trick is to find the right kind of task. In Josh William of Garage Games talk at startupalooza, he said he started there as a intern working on documentation. This I feel is a perfect internship for a startup. Most startups are in sore need of documentation (ours included) and it is a great way for the intern to learn about the whole operation.

    We like this approach so much we jumped the gun. We announced our internship – largely going through PSU channels – 2 weeks ago. We got a great response and are now starting the interview process now.

  18. I should have mentioned – I am local to Portland, which is why I was really surprised by the response I got from the education institutions.

    @Isacc – I did try contacting the teachers directly, the main problem was identifying a teacher that might have some idea about which people might be suitable

    @Rick – We are probably willing to try again, but not until summer. We are in the middle of a serious crunch right now, and that is not the time for us to bring an intern in, especially a first time intern.

  19. Hey Nick,

    Both of my parents are public school teachers, and in my experience (which includes all of their stories), public schools can occasionally be very bureaucratic and occasionally untrusting of businesses. Many high schools teach an introduction to html or web design class, and I think it will be important to access those teachers directly. The school’s/district’s public affairs office may or may not be the best way to do that. I will talk to my parents and some of their friends about how we can best reach those teachers who are mentoring students interested in technology, and hopefully get back to you soon.

    Glad you’re doing this Rick. I would have loved this kind of opportunity.

  20. Thanks everyone! I’m glad to see the comments rolling in already. 😉

    Maybe, just maybe, we have something here.

    @Nick J: I really appreciate your taking the time to post and provide your insight on this project. This is incredibly helpful.

    Are you willing to give it another shot? Or are you going to sit this one out? I’m hoping you’ll be willing to give it another chance.

  21. I work at a small web design and custom programming firm. Last summer, we looked at trying to find an Intern, and we were even willing to pay. Some of the time they would be doing minor coding work, which we were willing to tutor them on, and the rest of the time they would be working directly with the senior developers, participating in planning and the like, to get a feel for it.
    It was sort of my pet project, so I actually made an effort – well before summer started, I contacted local community colleges, highschools (we were willing to take Juniors or Seniors in highschool), and I also put it out there on Craigslist.
    The educations institution, both the community colleges and highschools, were very much not interested in helping us find an intern, giving me the impression that unless we were a major company, they didn’t want anything to do with it – even though we were even willing to jump through the hoops so that the student would get some work credit.
    Craigslist was, if possible, an even worse failure – I mainly had immigrants with 5+ years of experience on their resume applying.
    We ended up not finding anyone, and after all the effort we went through, it was quite a disappointing experience. I should also my past experience from working with interns has generally been that they take as much time as they save – so I find your comment about them being good when you are crunched on time a bit inaccurate.

  22. I’m not in a tech startup, but I love the idea and will see what the corporate bigwigs have to say. I know one thing they’ll say: “unpaid”. Great idea, keep up the wonderful work.

  23. I’m thinking those of us not sponsoring internships might be able to pitch in by supplying Rick with a caffeinated beverage of his choice, since he’s likely to need it 🙂

  24. This is going to consume your life. In a good way. Mark my words. 🙂

    We should all be so lucky to be able to have a good, noble cause to work for. So of course, I’m in.

    I don’t know how it will work with the way Intel handles interns (they already have a huge bureacracy in place for that), so I’m toying with figuring out something outside of that. Thinkering…

  25. Oh, you have bit off one big, wonderful project, and I think it’s great. Let us know how we can help.

  26. I think this has a lot of merit. Kind of like Google offering free Google apps to non-profits. By giving to the community, we eventually all reap from the community. I applaud you Rick for your creativity!

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