Computer science internships are among the most are among the most competitive in the country. Many of them are well paid, and can mean working with the biggest names in the industry. A computer science internship is not just a requirement for graduation. It is one of the best ways to get an ideal job out of college.

Computer science as a practice has existed for centuries, but it was not formally named until about 60 years ago. There are many specialties within the field of computer science, including programming, coding, information systems, and several types of theory. It is one of the most popular careers in the United States, partly due to the job security it enjoys and partly due to the benefits, from free breakfast and lunch to stock benefits, base pay, and productivity bonuses.

People who major in computer science may be interested in iOS and mobile development, memory systems, computational physics, robotics, computer game development, microprogramming or dozens of other area. It is one of the most diverse fields to get into.

What Is Computer Science?

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Computer science is a field of study dealing in the theoretical foundations of computation and information combined with real-life techniques for implementing and applying these foundations. The field of computer science precedes the existence of the modern digital computer. The term was first proposed in 1956, and officially showed up in publication in 1959. However, computer science has been in practice since 1673, when the first digital mechanical calculator was invented by Gottfried Leibniz. There are many areas of computer science including:

  • Theoretical computer science
  • Data structures and algorithms
  • Theory of computation
  • Information and coding theory
  • Programming language theory
  • Formal methods

Similarly, there are several types of computer systems:

  • Computer engineering and computer architecture
  • Computer performance analysis
  • Concurrent, parallel and distributed systems
  • Computer networks
  • Computer security and cryptography
  • Databases

Finally, within the field of computer science there are multiple computer applications:

  • Computer graphics and visualization
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Scientific computing
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Software engineering
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With so many specializations within computer science, you may wonder what typical computer science internships entail. To qualify for a software engineering internship, you must have excellent math and analytical skills, as well as soft skills including excellent teamwork and communication. Responsibilities include the documentation and testing of new software applications, assessment of new application ideas, researching competitor offerings, developing new applications including programming, and coding and interviewing beta testers.

If you have knowledge and experience with debugging, coding, and software design, either through previous internships or formal education, you have a good chance of being accepted for computer science internships.

When to Apply for an Internship

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The best time to apply for computer science internships depends on your goal. Some people apply their freshman year, particularly if they took college-level classes in high school. Reasons for applying to computer science internships include receiving credit for your academic program, which may be a requirement for you to graduate, and money.

  • Fall and Spring

Some students apply for full-time internships in the fall or spring where they do not attend school at all. If you will not be returning to your college town until the fall, apply the month or so before you leave town after your spring semester. If you are applying for spring internships, begin in October. Ask for the earliest date local employers are ready to accept applicants if they indicate they are not prepared to do so at this time. Local unpaid internships may be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis, so do your best to stay ahead of the competition.

  • Summer

Summer computer science internships are some of the hardest to get into. These are often with Fortune 100 companies with excellent compensation. Screening for these internships may occur as early as January to March. When you get to school in the fall, talk to your college's career offices for advice on how to land this type of internship, including scheduled dates for career fairs and information on other networking opportunities. If you cannot land a paid internship over the summer, ask your college about financial resources which may help you.

  • Credit

Check with your college's deadlines for taking an internship for credit required to graduate. If you miss your college's deadline for a for-credit internship and you cannot graduate with your major, minor, specialization or focalization speak to your college's dean. Without the dean's help, you will not be given credit for an internship if you do not first register it as a class you are taking. Apply well in advance of the semester you plan to receive credit for the internship.

Applying Late for Computer Science Internships

Particularly if you are applying for an unpaid internship, do not worry if you are applying as late as a month in advance of the internship. If you are applying late for an internship, reach out to local businesses who have not posted internship opportunities. Larger potential employers and paid internships will have already filled all their slots by this point.

Strategies to Get an Internship

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Networking is an important way to get any internship, but more relevant to computer science internships is building things. Create a portfolio to show potential employers you have the theoretical knowledge and real world skills to help a company, whether a tech company or company in another industry which needs information technology minds.

Do not, however, force yourself to learn, practice, and develop a skill you have no interest in. These projects will come across as disingenuous when you talk about them during your interview. Find a subset of computer science you are interested in and combine it with another passion of yours such as cooking, biking, or anything else. Look for a process in your life you think can be more efficient and improve it.

Finding Opportunities

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The first step in landing the computer science internship of your dreams is to network. Reach out to recruiters and hiring managers on professional networks such as LinkedIn. Join clubs relevant to your major as recruiters may visit these clubs before the general career fair. Go to every career fair hosted by your school relevant to your field of study. Rather than dropping off your resume at every booth, carefully review the list of attendees and pick out the five which are most appealing to you.

Carefully tailor your resume and cover letter for each of these companies and research them well before visiting their booth. Post on Facebook, ask older students who have had internships, seek a mentor in your field who may have connections, and cold call or e-mail. Convince a company they need you as an intern even if they have not publically posted any open positions.

Interview

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The hiring process for most computer science internships starts with screening through a phone interview. If you are at the grocery store, in class, or otherwise in a poor place to perform a phone interview, do not answer, and let the recruiter leave you a voicemail. Otherwise, answer but let her know you are not prepared for a phone interview and arrange a time where you will be available. If you pass the initial screening, prepare for a practical examination as part of your hiring process.

Follow Up

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Do not send a hand-written thank you note through the mail. You may be hired before they even get it. After the interview, reflect carefully on something meaningful you and the interviewer shared in common. Keep it short and straightforward but personal. Send this e-mail the day of or after the interview. Follow up after any informational lunch, cocktail, or coffee as well, even if you did not talk specifically about an internship. Sending a follow-up immediately after submitting an application is not usually useful.


Conclusion

Computer science internships are critical for many reasons. Large companies require you to have real-world experience, be they in college or with smaller companies, before they consider you for an opportunity with them. This means if you want to work for a large, prestigious company as soon as you graduate, you need at least one, if not more, internships in college related to the part of the field you specifically want to break into.

To find computer science internships, you need to network. Join clubs relevant to your major. Recruiters may come to your clubs before they recruit in general or at computer science-related career fairs. Seek a local mentor, or a remote one who is an alumnus of the university you attend. He or she may have contacts around the country and give you ideas of where to reply, as well as write you a letter of recommendation.

Expect the first part of the screening process to be a phone interview. Make sure you are prepared for a long interview when you answer the phone. When you make it through the phone interview, expect there to be a practical application portion of your interview. Follow up after the interview the same day or the next day, mentioning something to help the hiring manager remember you via e-mail. Remember, be yourself and enjoy the incredible opportunity you have been afforded.

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