Internships at Adafruit (Why we do not have un-paid internships)

It’s almost summer! And with that we’re getting a lot of emails about opportunities at Adafruit for un-paid internships. So, we wanted to do a quick post about this topic. The short statement is: Adafruit will never do un-paid internships. We don’t think it’s a good thing for us in a tough job market and tough economic times to encourage internships for free labor.

Instead we’re always going to offer paid project-based work and will continue to do so, in addition to actual real positions at Adafruit. This is one of those things we have an opinion about as a company, like the products we make, the IP we give away, and the products we choose to stock, we have specific ideas about how we work with each other here to do the best work. We love to pay people fairly and give them any and all benefits we can provide for being part of this adventure. Many of us here at Adafruit have been in the un-paid internship zone and it wasn’t as glamourous as it’s usually described.

There are industries that are known for their un-paid internships as a way to get a foot in the door, that’s good for them – but not good for us we think.

We also recall a really good article on this topic from the NYTimes

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.

Ms. Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.

We’ve even seen job postings that require the candidate to be an EE with 6 years of experience, just for an “intern” position, not all un-paid, but unfortunately we think the term intern is being a little abused when people actually just want to say “we’re not going to pay you a lot”. The word intern might just need to be defined a little better too.

What is available at Adafruit? For Adafruit we encourage young folks (and really anyone) to publish their projects online, make videos and share their talents with the world. Most/many of the recent hires at Adafruit have been because the maker was sharing what they do online. We actively seek out amazing people sharing and publishing online, if you want a paid position at Adafruit, this is the best way to go about it for sure!

There might be apprenticeships, paid interns, junior staff assistants here (all paid positions) but we wanted to make it clear we’re not offering un-paid internships and why. When we reply to the email requests we can point to this post and any discussion. We’ve cross posted this to our Google+ as well!

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  1. I’ll be graduating with an EE degree and a minor in physics within the next year. I, too, am starting to think about internships, perhaps for this summer, and definitely while I’m still in school. The vast majority of the internships available around here are paid, so I suppose I don’t need to worry about that too much.

    My bigger worry is about finding employment after I’m done. People tell me that taking on an internship helps with that, but I’m not so convinced. I’ve also discovered that my Alma Mater is blacklisted by several of the larger local corps because we get a focus on first principles rather than on modern CAD tools. I’m not sure I want to work for a company that cares more about skills that can be taught in a few weekends at a trade school.

    Have any room at Adafruit for someone really getting into FPGAs? 🙂

  2. @darren – if you can do something fpga tutorials for the board we stock, driving the LEDs/panels we also stock… very possible!

  3. @Darren – You are missing the advantages of an internship. First it is the longest interview that you will ever take. 🙂 Unless you really screw it up it is likely that you will have a job offer from the company when you graduate.

    Secondly it distinguishes you from all of the other new graduates who have great grades but no experience. It gives the potential employer a work reference to check and puts you at the upper end in the pile of resumes.

    Also you’ve grossly underestimated the learning curve in modern CAD packages. You will still be learning tricks after using one daily for a couple of years.

  4. On the other end of the spectrum is “Architects”. I’m an enterprise architect with 30 years of experience. The latest trend is to give people that 2 years ago would have been a Tech Lead the title of Architect.

    So one of two things happen, I get calls for Architect jobs that turn out to be Tech Lead managing a small team, or when I quote my rate for Architect I get told that I’m about $100 over for that position.

    So titles are often misleading. So maybe you should change your titles from Intern to Apprentice Engineer.

    I do applaud your not doing interns for free. Our company gets interns out of Drexel’s co-op program. At $25 an hour we are below full time rates, but it’s enough to attract the top students.

    We always give the interns stretch projects since they have not learned the ugly “there is a corporate mandated box you must live in” So we get really cool answers most of the time. Good luck with your summer interns.

  5. Hey,
    Are international applicants encouraged to try too? Or is Adafruit not looking for such candidates as of this summer .. ?

  6. If you study EE you might want to check out ARM. We have paid internship positions advertised on the company web page. Check it out.

  7. Good call. The problem I have with unpaid internships is that only those that are relatively well off can afford to take them. Those that have to work extra hours to pay rent, tuition etc. miss out, and end up even further behind as they’ve less industry experience.

  8. …And this is exactly as things ought to be. Thanks for doing the right thing (not that I ever had my doubts! 🙂 )

    For the up-and-coming engineering folks out there- even if you are nowhere near graduation, get out there and do stuff. It is an important part of your education. The ones who purposely set out to do more than just fulfill their academic requirements will be much more valuable to a potential employer, but you also have to act the part. Be proud of what you have accomplished through your own initiative, and don’t be afraid to talk about it.

    One more thing- engineering is never done in a vacuum. In the strictest sense, engineers only produce intellectual property, although some also (hopefully) have a chance to get their hands dirty from time to time. In most organizations, there will be other skilled professionals who implement the engineer’s ideas- skilled tradespeople of all kinds- designers, machinists, electricians, millwrights, etc.

    Get to know them, and take an interest in their work- going in with an attitude of respect for their professional experience. They may not have a degree, but they have much to teach you. In the workplace, you will depend on them as much as they depend on you. You might find some to be disdainful of engineers if they have had the bad experience of meeting a snobby one. A little respect and kindness will go a long way to fix that. If you ask them to teach you something from their own hard-won experience, you will have a friend for life.

    So, even if you get a job at a machine shop, or electronics assembly contractor, that has great value. The best designs in the world aren’t worth squat if they can’t be built.

    Good luck to all the grads and grads-to-be. Despite what anyone may tell you, this is still a great profession if your heart is in it!

  9. @Adafruit: Well, I *have* been wanting to make a function generator for some time. I’ll go have a look at what parts you stock. Thanks!

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