Intern, Get Me a Campari!

Making Trouble Volume 25
Saul Griffith

Editor’s Note: With summer in full swing, here at Make: Labs, our amazing engineering intern army just doubled in size from four to eight. Saul’s column from MAKE Volume 12 (November 2007) came to mind with its timeless pearls of wisdom. Enjoy!

Why Summer Internships Are More Important Than Ever Before

With the loss of industrial trades and craftsmanship, apprenticeships have declined steadily. They started in the Middle Ages, with young people spending about seven years living and working with master craftsmen in the hopes that one day they would become masters of their art.

The modern equivalent is the internship, devilishly satirized in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, when Zissou asks an administrator (who happens to be a topless blonde), “Do the interns get Glocks?” The answer: “No, they all share one.” It perfectly captures the two-edged sword that interns are faced with in this day and age.

This summer I had 13 interns. We rented a rambling, run-down house a short bicycle ride from the office, and the interns populated it. Two each were undergraduates from Berkeley, MIT, and Stanford, and one was from art school. Six more were high school students, most of them candidates from the InvenTeams program of the Lemelson Foundation.

Despite frustrations with California’s labor laws (it turned out that interns under 18 would not be allowed to use many of our power tools, access to which was probably the reason they had signed up for servitude), the summer was a huge success, both for my company and for the students who came to work with us.

Why was I offering the internships? It’s what I would have loved to do when I was in late high school. Interning in a high-tech company working on cutting-edge technology before going to college was not an option available to me, and probably not to most people. At the onset of the summer, I sat the students down to set expectations: “At worst you won’t get in the way … At best you will make useful contributions!” It definitely turned out for the best.

I can think of only positive reasons why this should be the norm, and not the exception. I write here to encourage those readers of MAKE who have the power to offer internships to do so. More of them, lots of them. It’s easier than you think. It’s more rewarding than you can imagine.

Saul’s step-by-step guide to internships:

1. Don’t expect core company work to get done by interns.

2. Expect a pleasant surprise.

3. Don’t underestimate the interns. They are likely smarter than you. Treat them like intelligent adults and give them responsibility over their own work.

4. If you have multiple interns, it’s great to have one a little older to help motivate and manage the rest. (Thanks, Jesse.)

5. Write a long list of things to do before they arrive. I found it useful to divide the list in terms of project duration:
a. Projects of less than one day. This can be a long list. Think of all the things that don’t get done around your office: tool organization, light installation, furniture building, internet research projects, etc.
b. One-day to one-week tasks. Things like helping engineers to assemble something (code or hardware), or self-contained peripheral projects.
c. Summer-long projects. These are non-core business projects, things that would be nice to have, or that you’d like to explore but can’t justify spending your own time on.

With a list pre-generated, your ADD interns won’t be able to ask the dreaded question, “What should I be doing now?”

6. Give them purchasing tasks. Let’s face it, engineering is a lot about researching and purchasing components. It’s time-consuming, so get them started young on how to do it well.

7. Invite them to your social events. Dinner parties you host, business networking events, public talks that are interesting, and sports activities. Our Interns vs. Employees softball game ended with many bloody knees, a drawn scoreboard, and huge smiles all around.

8. “Wax on, wax off” policy. Interns are learning what work is all about, after all. It isn’t a problem to give them menial tasks, but let them know that every apprentice has had to do it at some time in their lives, including you. If you give them repetitive tasks that are arduous, do some of the work with them, and demonstrate a lack of ego. Let them have pride and praise for the end result.

Our “wax on, wax off” project was a roof deck for our office, which is housed in a decommissioned air traffic control tower — not a core business need, but a wonderful thing to have. We helped the interns use CAD to design it, and you could see that after a few weeks of backbreaking, sunburnt work, they were delighted and proud that they’d engineered something from start to finish. It was beautiful and much better than I could have imagined.

9. Involve them in the brainstorming, and in the imaginative and creative parts of what you do. They don’t have the biases you have. Their ideas are fresh, perhaps uninformed, but absolutely interesting and worthwhile.

10. Ask them to write a story about the things they enjoyed doing while working with you. It will make them feel good. It will make you feel great. Here’s one from our intern Vicki Thomas:

Another of the most significant things I learned this summer was how to learn from a source other than direct teaching. I spent the first several weeks feeling confused, overwhelmed, and in the way. However, I soon realized that I was learning a ton even by just observing and listening to conversations. Basically, feeling stupid is actually a great way to get smarter. I also learned how to teach myself about, and more efficiently approach, problems that I didn’t know how to solve.

The last and most significant aspect of my experience that I want to include is the exposure to a real-world environment where extremely intelligent people are working, having fun, and making a difference simultaneously. I truly believe that it’s important to show kids that such an environment can exist, and to inspire them to pursue ideas that create one. And let me tell you, I feel very inspired.

Thanks to all of the following interns for reminding me why I do engineering, for working hard, and hopefully for carrying this experience into their future work and giving apprenticeships back to a world that needs inspired young people more than ever before: Alex, Erich, Jesse, Josh, Garrett, Guy, Monica, Naomi, Rob, Sam, Skyler, Star, and Vicki.

Saul Griffith is a new father, entrepreneur, and regular columnist for MAKE magazine.

This column is excerpted from MAKE Volume 12, page 78.


DJ Sures’ Hacked Toy Robots (video)

Watching an animated robot is certainly amusing, but interacting with a robot is an experience! you can make interactive robots with unique personalities out of many common toys using the EZ-B Robot Controller. Check out the complete tutorial in MAKE v27.

Subscribe to the MAKE Podcast in iTunes, download the m4v video directly, or watch it on YouTube or Vimeo.


On newsstands now! >> Buy or Subscribe


Cute, Green, Printable Mars Rover Model

I love Tony Buser’s 3D-printed Mars rover, especially how unrealistically cute he is!

Articulated, snap together, Mars Rover! No screws, glue, or support structure needed (although some glue in a few places wouldn’t hurt). All the parts can be posed, turned, twisted. The wheels turn and the legs even pivot like the real thing to go over obstacles! Unfortunately, it is not autonomous.

[Via the Thingiverse Blog]


The Latest in Hobby Robotics 14

Walking on 2 feet is not that hard… or is it? The answer is “yes,” if you are a robot. Well, at least it’s an ongoing challenge. In this week’s edition of The Latest in Hobby Robotics, Andrew and Frits are looking at some inspiring homemade biped robots.

Here are links related to the show:

Subscribe to the MAKE Podcast in iTunes, download the m4v video directly, or watch it on YouTube or Vimeo.

Check out all the episodes of The Latest in Hobby Robotics.


Make: Live 7/13/11 — Robots (video)

Make: Live episode 12 is all about robots, celebrating the release of MAKE v27. Our guests Simone Davalos, Andrew Terranova, and Tim Laursen brought the house down!

Tim Laursen performs in-studio with his incredible Robot Drummers, and Andrew Terranova from Let’s Make Robots shows off his impressive collection of homemade bots. Catch up on video and notes from the show here.

Subscribe to the MAKE Podcast in iTunes, download Make: Live episode 12 in its entirety (m4v or Vimeo). Also check out the chat room transcript!

Show notes:

The robot countdown! Our favorite ten bots:

Want to show us your project? Upload a video or photos and send a link to

Next show:
Make: Live 13: Maker Faire Detroit
Friday July 29th, 9pm ET/6pm PT
Watch at or on UStream
Please join us in the UStream chat or mark tweets with #makelive to interact live with the show.


In the Maker Shed: Maker Bundle #1

Maker Bundle 1

Does robot month have you itching to start building? Maker Bundle #1 from the Maker Shed will have you bot building in no time! This bundle includes the electronic parts to build four robots; Mousy the Junkbot, Trimet, Solarroller, and Beetlebot. The freely downloadable .PDF has wonderfully detailed instructions that walk you through all the steps and theory for each robot. This is the perfect way to get started with robotics and making. Just scavenge a couple of parts and you’ll be on your way!


How to Make a Superlens From Soda Cans

“Acoustic metamaterial” may sound exotic, but researchers in France have managed to assemble one from a few multipacks of cola cans. Arranged in a grid, the drinks cans act as a superlens for sound, focusing acoustic waves into much smaller regions than their metre-long wavelengths typically allow. The cans act as resonators, directing the volume of the sound to peak in a space just a few centimetres wide, and this heightened precision could improve acoustic-actuator systems.

Propagating light or sound waves diffract when they encounter an object, with the resulting interference preventing the waves from being focused to a spot smaller than about half their wavelength. However, the scattering process also involves evanescent waves, which prevent discontinuities in the electromagnetic field and fade away quickly – within half a wavelength of the reflecting object.

Superlenses pick up and amplify these evanescent waves and offer a way of beating the diffraction limit. Now, Geoffroy Lerosey, Fabrice Lemoult and Mathias Fink of the Institute Langevin in Paris have developed a system to build and control evanescent waves in order to tightly focus acoustic energy.


Solar Light Bulbs from Recycled Bottles

The 2-liter plastic bottle solar light bulb is n genius way to light up a room while reducing the amount of power you consume through creative recycling. Recently, a group from Manila called Isang Litrong Liwanag (A Liter of Light) got together to build and install solar lightbulbs in a 500 house pilot program. Not only do they get better lighting, but they can spend the money they save on other, more important expenses. It’s amazing what a little sunlight can do. [via NTD]


More Recent Articles

Click here to safely unsubscribe from "Make:." Click here to view mailing archives, here to change your preferences, or here to subscribe

Your requested content delivery powered by FeedBlitz, LLC, 9 Thoreau Way, Sudbury, MA 01776, USA. +1.978.776.9498