Monday, May 02, 2011


DA-IICT 3rd year students usually do an internship in the summer. Good industrial internships are always hard to come by, although the situation is way better in IT than in other, more resource-intensive disciplines. 10 interviews, a hundred or so e-mails and lots of forms later this is part guide, part my internship search story. The first thing you’ve to decide is what kind of company you want to intern at. Most companies will have menial code jockey jobs which you don’t want. This is my first blog post typed out on the n900 for the most part while waiting for a flight home at Ahmedabad airport. What a keyboard!

Why not a GSoC again?

Having over two years of FOSS contribution and 7 years of usage and having done a GSoC previously, I could have done one again. While a GSoC is an invaluable experience, it is not the same as an internship. GSoC is excellent at improving e-mail communication skills and long distance collaboration and giving a feel of the open source development style. But it is not the same as going to office, talking to people, having lunch together and hanging out. In addition internships usually will be in a city or country other than the one you live so it can be a great excuse to explore a new place. So if you’ve already done a GSoC, getting a different sort of experience is way more important in my opinion. So I didn’t apply at all this year. Besides I was confident that my experience would serve me just as well to get into the kind of companies I wanted.

Have a good CV

Spell-check, design it well and put in only relevant things. If you are a good singer don’t put that in just to have stuff to show in a IT company. On the other hand positions of responsibility should always be highlighted. FOSS contributions top the charts in startups and other ‘cool’ or cutting-edge companies.

Start early

By luck or resolve my best move was starting to look for internships in December for an intern to start in May. Keep in mind that HR departments are busy places, resumes can take time to process and sometimes do get lost. Wait for a week for a reply when you submit your CV, then ping them aggressively on IRC, Twitter and e-mail to ensure you aren’t forgotten. Interview procedures can take upto a month and for international interns there are visa procedures that take time. Finally you are likely to get rejected by the first few and you should have time to apply for more. In any case companies with established internship programs have information available on their websites and start each season with prior planning.

Decide what you want to work on

The first two companies I applied to were Google India and RethinkDB. The RethinkDB folks were very positive about international interns. I had two interviews in early January which went ok. I was rejected, which in hindsight I know was due to me not really being passionate enough about what they were doing. So I narrowed down to the two specific interests I currently have.
  • Javascript engines and low level APIs
  • concurrency, distributed networking and web-scale computing.
and decided that I would only approach companies based on these work areas.

Stick to a few companies.

Interviews are always stressful because you have to think on the spot. If you are trying internationally they will be at very bad times (most of mine were at 6am and 10pm). Companies hiring solely on phone interviews will usually take atleast three interviews. In addition you will have to prepare atleast a bit for them. This adds up to a lot of things to do. So stick to a few companies at a time. Prioritise which company you want to work for if hired by multiples companies. When you agree for interview times, make sure you convert timezones properly and that you don’t have any appointments more important than the interview at that time. Finally, remember you have a life too :) I gave one of my interviews at, and another during Synapse. At such times be very careful with scheduling.


Off-campus internships (ie. ones you find on your own) are the way to go. The college will always aim for what is good for a majority of students, or towards established companies. But if your area of interest is niche you can do a much better job looking on your own.
Try to find out as much as you can about what interns do in the company. With some searching you can usually find blog posts of former interns which can be very informative. Talk to people in the domain. If you are a FOSS contributor ask fellow IRC users about intern opportunities or experiences.
Based on my areas I finally applied to:
  • RethinkDB
  • Google India
  • Directi
  • Opera
  • Mozilla
I was very lucky to meet a former Mozilla intern at the MIT Media Lab COEP workshop in late January. Without that I would never have thought of it as I was unaware of the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation dichotomy.

Be confident, but ready for rejection.

During the interview what matters most is being able to keep up a continuous stream of conversation going to show that you are capable of thinking. So if you tend to think mentally for 15 minutes and then produce the answer in a flash, it would be good to think out loudly. If you are confused, clarify the question, it does not penalise you. Remember that in interviews no one expects perfect code, and classes and documentation. If you miss edge cases thats fine, performance – not an issue until the interviewer actually asks you for a better algorithm. Graph and string algorithms are a favourite of interviewers. For algorithms the TopCoder tutorials are a good read. For C++, the C++ FAQ is invaluable. In fact I suggest always having that page open during the interview. For C++, templates and virtual functions tend to be a question spot. In addition, know the warts and good points of your favourite language. If you have FOSS projects, be ready to explain what they are, and how you implemented them. One favourite interviewer question is, “What was the hardest part to implement?”. In such a case be prepared to explain in as general terms as possible, since the APIs you use may not be something the interviewer has experience with.
A typical telephone interview will last 30 minutes to an hour. Half of that time will be the technical interview and the other half when you can chat with the interviewer. A full recap of my interviews with each company are beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say that I was lucky to have extremely nice interviewers. Google insists on algorithmic questions which you’ll usually answer via a shared Google Docs. Remember that in a phone interview it is important to know how to approach the problem. Since you have access to a computer, once you know what to do, you can look up your existing code or use the internet. Just keep discussing the approach on the phone and speak with utmost confidence. The interviewer may try to misguide you. For Mozilla and Opera the interview was purely on former experiences and some C++ stuff. Use the chat time later well. Good questions to ask are about prior interns, what they do, how they find the company etc. If you know their name before the interview, see if you can find out about them on the internet.

Get to know and learn from the interviewers

My most memorable interview was the fourth one with Mozilla when due to some daylight savings confusion I was woken up by the interview call. Desperate to get myself sane, I asked him a few questions before I let him start the technical round. After that I spent 45 minutes discussing spidermonkey and Mozilla’s general plans with Luke Wagner. It was a very humbling experience. If you can show the interviewer that you are passionate about the products and do you homework, there final review is much more likely to be glowingly positive. Finally they can tell you about some implementation features, constraints etc. that can be interesting to know about even if you never join that organization.

Congrats, now get to work!

After all this, I hope you get selected somewhere. I can’t really write the part about how to handle it if you get rejected. So what happened to me?
The response order was:
  • RethinkDB reject – January 16, 2011
  • Directi reject – March ??, 2011
  • Mozilla accept – March 22, 2011
  • Google accept – March 25, 2011
  • Opera reject – March 28, 2011
based on my interview experiences, stipend and location I opted for Mozilla Corporation! When I got the confirmation on March 22, it was unbelievable but I guess all the hard work paid off. The Mozilla folks have been really nice and punctual throughout the process, and damn they know how to take care of their interns :) I think a series of posts will of course pour out of me regarding the internship in the coming months. I will be working at Mozilla HQ in Mountain View, California from next week to the end of July. My first assignment is typed array implementation improvements in JavaScript so Firefox can perform WebGL, audio/video and binary data better. With Mozilla I found a great, FOSS friendly company, interesting work dealing directly with JavaScript engines, a new city to explore right in Silicon Valley and going to the United States of America for the first time ever. I couldn’t have asked for more :D

A note to DA-IICT students specifically! Our placement cell has an odd policy where when you apply for one or more internships through the placement cell, you are bound to accept the offer of whichever company accepts you first. So if a ‘better’ company delays their interviews, and a ‘lesser’ company hires you already, you are screwed.


  1. All the best for your internship :)

  2. Congratulations Nikhil! and thanks for this great guide :)

    Enjoy your time at Mozilla, MV :D

    Karan Pratap Singh
    KDE Plasma Educational Desktop
    Panjab University
    Chandigarh, India