In March, when Google responded to the pandemic by moving its workforce remote, it wasn’t just employees who had concerns. Thousands of students from around the world had landed spots on Google’s coveted summer internship program, and were planning to descend on its Mountain View headquarters – and other offices – in a matter of weeks.
There was suddenly a big question mark over whether Google’s intern program, which had been running since 1999, would go ahead at all.
But in late March, Business Insider first reported that Google’s summer internship, which runs from May until August, was moving to an entirely online format.
Then it had to figure out how it would actually work.
“Even though hindsight is 20-20, it was definitely the right call,” said Kyle Ewing, Google’s head of talent, who oversees Google’s intern onboarding each year.
These problems went beyond logistical headaches like shipping thousands of laptops across the world or ensuring mentors were matched with interns on the same time zone.
It also meant ensuring everyone got the same exposure to company culture, access to other employees, and the chance to put their stamp on Google products.
“Historically one of the more valuable aspects of being an intern is physically being located next to your mentor and your host and your colleagues,” said Ewing. “We knew immediately it would be quite difficult, and we couldn’t replicate that.”
Replacing the “micro moments”
So Google tried to adapt. For example, it built a new platform for connecting interns with hosts for “coffee chats” so they could connect with Google employees.
“We used this algorithm that would help match interns with Googlers they would have otherwise not have interacted with throughout the summer,” said Ewing. The program factors in “anything from your professional interests, your technical interests, or your hiking interest interests” to match interns to likeminded Googlers, said Ewing.
“You do miss the benefit of standing in the lunch line and talking with someone. You miss those micro moments.”
It also made its mentor program – where interns are paired with Googlers who aren’t their hosts or managers to gain insight into the company – mandatory. “It was historically more of an opt-in type program, which not everyone took advantage of, and this year everyone is matched with a mentor,” said Ewing.
And in another first for Google, it shifted many of its technical internship roles to open-source projects. Several interns who spoke to Business Insider said they had been moved into these open-source programs, which meant Google didn’t have to cancel those programs entirely – and reduced some of the associated risks of granting thousands of people access to the company’s corporate programs.
“It was a really important part of the dialogue when pivoting to virtual that students will continue to work on the real things that have real impact, and that can help us assess if they’re someone who’s interested in being at Google,” said Ewing.
And, naturally, interns still got the signature Google hat. Just this time, it came in the mail.
‘We decided we would run a smaller fall internship’
But the process hasn’t been entirely smooth. Some interns who had been accepted on Google’s UX programs told Business Insider their offers were rescinded after the pandemic hit.
And in April, international interns who would have been traveling to Mountain View were told that their compensation was being cut by as much as 50% to bring it in line with their local currencies.
Ewing wouldn’t say how many interns Google has brought aboard this summer, but said it was in the “thousands” with interns from across 43 countries. Last year, the company said it received more than 125,000 applications for the summer program.
She also confirmed that, although Google has moved its fall internship online too, it has reduced the number of interns.
“We decided we would run a smaller fall internship” said Ewing, who added there would “probably a couple of hundred” fewer interns than usual.
“It will be a little smaller because we’re just being a bit more cautious,” she said.
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