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Intern(al) Payments

Value Is Not Just ROI

Fri Aug 30 15:28:20 2019

This summer there were two young faces in Castle Shadowcat as we had a pair of interns working with us. From this point on I shall refer to them as F and T for reasons of protecting personal information. That’s all by way of introduction, what I want to talk about here is why we decided to pay our interns, and why you should as well (and rail against anyone who does not).

My point is in the subtitle of this blog above, that value isn’t just Return of Investment.

Historical Context

So how did F and T get to be interns for the summer? Good question and I am glad that I asked myself that. T was a student at a local college doing a course in Computer Science. His college and Shadowcat have had a relationship for a number of years where we offer work experience (usually one or two weeks) to their students so they get an idea of the industry.1 The college course has a 30hr placement as part of the required certification so is unfunded and unpaid by the employers, all costs are borne by the college.

T was one such student and we liked their dedication so when they mentioned they would be free over the summer and they offered to work so they could get more experience we took them up on that offer. I should note that they offered to do this for free, they didn’t need paying they wanted the experience.

F was finishing their final school year this year before moving to tertiary education. We have known them for a couple of years via a local MakerSpace. F is a smart person and interested in infosec and cybersecurity. They wanted some experience in scripting applications and again offered to work over the summer for free.

So we had two bright young things willing to give up nine weeks of their lives for free. We would ‘bear the brunt’ of their free labour and be ‘forced unwittingly to’ have to train them a little or give occasional advice (Sarcasm).

We, of course, paid them.

So What Was the ROI?

Well I am not sure there was one. Honestly, if you want me to quantify this in regards to outgoing costs versus income then it is likely to be a negative. Not that I would do that as I feel it is a fallacious way of assessing the impact of people in an organisation. Seeing things as numbers alone gives a very narrow view that is implicitly flawed.2

At this point you might think that this is a good reason not to pay interns or to have them or to do such a silly harmful financial responsibility to a company, in fact it is immoral in any sane business sense.

But it isn’t.

A return on investment is not only quantifiable by the cost. Our interns, and I suspect any intern, bring a whole lot more to the company than what can be measured as a financial benefit. Let me give you a list of what F and T gave us (there’s no particular order or value to the list placement, I just spewed my thoughts):

  • They do work, there is no doubt that there is effort expended and a dedication to your company;
  • They bring a fresh face and a positive attitude that spur the other staff members;
  • Internships are often in summer so there is always staff gaps due to holidays and parenting duties and so you have now got extra bodies on the floor to help cover that;
  • They bring a fresh perspective;
    • They often make mistakes that you made before and this can make you remember why you don’t do those things, you can teach and relearn your own past;
    • They will have a different viewpoint, they are likely to be a different generation to your staff and so their understanding and opinions are different;
    • They bring their own sets of knowledge and experience, yes even a lack of experience is a type of experience that we can all learn from and is good to be refreshed on;
  • You get to teach, and there is a lot of value in having to think and reason why you do something a certain way, why you have a certain practice;
  • Change spurs innovation, any change. Having different people spurs the way you and your staff think and approach things and breeds ideas and thinking.
  • Interns ask the ‘dumb’ questions that you forget to ask and they look at your company with fresh eyes.

Those are just some of the reasons. I could carry on but I don’t really need to. I think I prove my point. The return on investment is valid. You’d pay consultants to give you a fresh look, or approach, or viewpoint. Trust me, employ a few people from 16 to 19 for a couple of months and you’ll get more than one fresh thought out of it.

F and T

As for our interns, well they are worth the investment. We have gained a lot from them, we got them to produce good, useful, code;3 alongside having all the other benefits I mentioned above. Added to that it has been fun having them both in the office and I think all the staff felt a benefit from working with them.

A Last Point

The most obvious reason for paying interns is the one I leave for last. Not paying people who work for you is morally repugnant. Don’t do it. You pay people for their time and if you live in a country that doesn’t have sensible minimum wages and a social fabric then you pay them a living wage.

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  1. Yeah I know using Shadowcat as an example of a standard industry company is hugely hilarious to me as well. Those poor, poor souls who get to be imprisoned with us :). (By the way the reference for this link in the Markdown was OMG, thought you might want to know). ↩

  2. I am not going to discuss all of my reasons as to why I think that in this post. It is a long winded set of opinions, thoughts, analysis and reasoning. Just take it as read that valuing people only by their financial impact is fatally flawed. ↩

  3. Still not going to examine whether this is a financial ROI though. I mean clearly it is, but I am not going to care about what level as it is really reductive to the point I am making :) ↩