Supporting the Next Generation… While Working from Home.

November 9th, 2020 7 min |

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If COVID-19 has had an undeniable impact on our jobs and industries, it hasn’t spared our students either, who find themselves reinventing work before having even had a chance to experience it. That first experience, in many cases, comes in the form of an internship – one of the cornerstones of many career paths. At GSoft, working from home has definitely changed some of our tools and processes, but not our approach to collaboration, mentorship and learning. So once our team was safely set up at home, our recruitment team quickly turned their attention to the future of our internship program.

Tackling such foundational challenges was the main reason we brought Alyssa on board. GSoft has had interns for almost as long as we’ve had an office to host them in, but a few years ago we decided to develop a more conscious approach to our relationship with these students. Alyssa had a vision for what we hoped to gain from these interns, but, more importantly, what we could offer them to ensure a successful launch to their careers. Many of our plans were swept away by the global crisis, but this vision has helped us manage the transition, and establish both ourselves and our interns in this new digital-first reality.  

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I know that it’s a fear of theirs, doing these internships remotely. Essentially, nothing has changed on our end in terms of the opportunities we offer, the mentorship or the projects.

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Alyssa Ierfino

Recruitment Advisor for the Next Generation, GSoft

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A decade ago, in January

In the before times, GSoft had a clear picture of what our internship structure looked like, and who we wanted to share it with. Yes, we have high standards for our interns, though far from unattainable ones. We aren’t looking for someone with all the experience, but rather those students who’ve shown drive and passion for software development: maybe they’ve collaborated in hackathons, launched personal projects or been involved in their school associations.

There’s a reason for that: internships at GSoft go a little bit farther, too. “We know that universities only go so far in terms of what you can learn, so we want to give them a full-scope experience of what it’s like being a developer,” shares Alyssa. Traditional internships will often toss students together in a bubble and give them a project to work on. We get it: it’s a lot easier that way, and there’s no risk of affecting your product development cycle. But the way we look at it, our interns have already done enough group projects in the classroom.

“We want to give students a comprehensive experience of what it’s really like being a developer.”

From day one, we integrate them into real teams, and give them the same tasks and challenges they’d encounter as full-time team members. Of course, that wouldn’t be possible without the linchpin of our internship program: the mentors. Right from the start, each intern is paired with a senior member of their team, who’s tasked with guiding them for their entire four-month stay. These mentors serve not only to ease the intern into their responsibilities and act as a resource to support them in their work, but also as personal coaches through which the intern can direct their learning. We don’t want cookie-cutter interns, so we don’t offer cookie-cutter internships.

Whether they’re looking for specific coding experience, wanting to broaden their skills or just looking to learn what those Agile buzzwords mean when applied in the field, we tailor the experience to our intern’s own objectives.

“We’ve got your back”

As COVID-19 altered the landscape, our recruitment efforts were not spared. The weekend before Montreal went into lockdown, Alyssa was preparing for a 300-student hackathon we had sponsored. Even with so much invested, we could not in good conscience take part in such an immense gathering. We cancelled our booths, our planned events, our partners and suppliers, not just for the hackathon but for everything we had planned over the next two months. Alyssa can’t help but laugh: “Two months seemed so generous back then.”

We all had lessons to learn, but first, we had to take care of our people. Staff and interns alike were sent home on Friday and would show up to work from home on Monday. As a tech company, we had the tools and certain advantages in place, but we’d never done it on such a large scale. Luckily, our cohort of interns had already been settled in for a few months, so we supported them in much the same way as our other teammates: setting up clear lines of communication, opening purse strings for setting up their home office, etc.

 

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The next step was taking care of our mentors. Their outsized impact on the intern’s time with us means that if we put them in a position to succeed, they would do the same for their mentee. We created channels for them to chat, share little victories and brainstorm best practices for supporting our interns’ learning.

From the interns themselves, we noticed a tendency to withdraw a bit and try to figure things out on their own. While we respect that desire to show what you can accomplish, a large part of the internship structure is being able to share those challenges and ask questions to a team of experts. Without the informal office run-ins, we organized a more structured system of check-ins and active support, whether it’s a morning one-on-one with their mentor or a Discord channel the team hangs out with to code and chat.

“ I very much felt that my learning experience was just as important to me than to my mentor."

- Anthony

Software Developer, Summer 2020 Intern

We also didn’t want our interns to feel like GSoft was just a 9-to-5 and log off. Whereas before it was easy to notice the after-work happy hour, the running club or the lunchtime board-game group, we’ve doubled down on highlighting our events and groups, so that whatever your interest you can find some coworkers who share it.

We’ve always done little ‘exit interviews’ with our outgoing interns, to learn from them as well as to keep in touch (when there’s a fit, we’re always open to bringing back students for another internship, if not hire them outright when they finish their studies). Our first digital cohort was thrilled with the experience, with an overall sentiment that they had not missed out on any of the practical or cultural experiences they had hoped to gain. In fact, the digital internship experience has gone so well that we’ve since welcomed new members to the team:

“Working at GSoft was just amazing. I’ve never heard of another office where you can feel such a part of the team and not just another intern. I was also pushed to go beyond my comfort zone, which is very motivating.”

- Guillaume

Software Developer, Summer 2020 Intern

In the new year, we plan on getting back to hosting our own digital events as well. And yes, it’ll be different, but if there’s one thing we love doing at GSoft, it’s learning to adapt and reinvent ourselves.

In the new year, we plan on getting back to hosting our own digital events as well. And yes, it’ll be different, but if there’s one thing we love doing at GSoft, it’s learning to adapt and reinvent ourselves.

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