What Student Blogs Say About Corporate Culture At Twitter, Intel, IBM, And Google

On-campus recruitment is a highly competitive process, and success reeling in students with hat-size GPAs and pristine resumes can depend on a brand's ranking and reputation. As the summer winds down, you'll likely begin seeing much more of an oft-used recruitment tool: the corporate blog post written by a summer intern.

They've already started to pop up all over—the so-called "diary of an intern," in which a young recruit must carefully walk the fine line of describing their experience in a "fun" and "challenging" light, while not coming off as too much of a company shill. And of course, the intern blog has the potential to lure in or scare off future talent. We scanned through intern blog posts from a slew of companies to see if we could glean any lessons. 

Our journey begins at Google. The search giant has made summer internship diaries a fixture of its corporate blog. They all strike a similar tone: Google is hard work, but you'll get hands-on experience and the opportunity to meet interesting people. Why, just last week Remo, a YouTube online media sales intern, was rubbing shoulders with Eric Schmidt and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Travel is another intriguing and recurring theme of Google's posts. Remo did his stint in Dublin; another intern, Erika, lived in Tokyo; while others described their time living in Munich.   

But it's not all globetrotting and hobnobbing at Google—as you might expect from such an engineering-focused company, some wonky bits find their way into the diaries. Remo, for example, started his post with, "As much as Noogler (new Googler) orientation initiates us into the world of Google, nothing can prepare you for all the insider phrases like, 'Pls check the SEEMEA CSR & their CID trix' (for an explanation, read on)." Fat chance!  

Erika fell prey to a different mistake. While her post is generally strong, describing her cultural introduction to the beauty of Tokyo, she starts her diary inside a T.G.I. Friday's. Does the Google Tokyo office not have a free cafeteria? If she's looking to positively impact Google's bottom line, I can only hope Tokyo's outpost of the popular chain has the 3-course dinner special for $12.99; still, interns looking to fit into Google's iconoclastic culture should maybe be doing more to take advantage of local cuisine near their offices.

(I'm only playing, Erika and Remo.)

Generally, Google's interns do a fantastic job giving you an inside look at what life is like for them at the company. Google seems to have a comfortable, busy atmosphere, and an environment where you'll learn a lot and where you'll have an experience you can brag to your friends about. Ending each post, smartly, are the "Fun Google Facts," fascinating trivia Nooglers learn from there time at Google. To wit: "On Tuesdays, we have a Mystery Lunch event where people from all over the office meet outside the cafeteria and draw a random card from a deck. We then find the other three people with the same card number and all enjoy lunch together. It’s a great opportunity to step out of your usual lunch circle, meet Googlers outside of your department and enjoy interesting conversation over lunch." (Step into a new Circle, get it?)

So, what's intern life like at other, more august, technology companies like IBM or Intel? When describing why he became interested in his field of study, IBM intern Kalvin proclaims, "Lack of physical labor!" Meanwhile, intern Tom says he's been interested in the field of computers "ever since I first got my hands on a x386 PC." But don't worry, IBM, life doesn't sound so unsexy there when compared with Intel. "My internship has been in the driver validation team for Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology software," writes intern Lucy. "This technology makes it easy to create RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) volumes." 

Compare the following headlines: "My Life As A Software Engineering Intern," via Intel, and "My Awesome Summer Internship At Twitter." Which would you rather read?

Twitter, judging from intern Siddarth's post, is a fantastic place to work. He describes what it felt like to commit his first lines of code to Twitter, and to experience his first karaoke session with Biz Stone. He talks of drop-ins by Russian President Medvedev and Kanye West. His post features pictures—pictures of people smiling! And there's even a recruiting video that introduces the Twitter teams and personalities, from the "monetization" group making it rain (dollar-dollar bills y'all) to the "trust & safety" group with blurred faces to hide their identities. (Intel features a few day-in-the-life videos. I dare you to watch them.) What's that I see forming? An actual company culture?

Indeed, and the differences between Twitter/Google and Intel/IBM could not be more stark. Intern diaries from Google and Twitter are fun, colorful, and brimming with energy and character. At Intel and IBM, the posts are literally in black and white, and read more like a trade magazine for engineers than a tool for talent recruitment. The posts might as well have been written in C++.

To be clear, this is not the fault of Kalvin, Tom, or Lucy. (Sorry you guys got dragged into this!) Their words only reflect the company culture around them. And while we of course realize that this is but a small sampling of intern diaries, the conclusions drawn here are roughly what many of you probably thought of these companies to begin with. That is, Google and Twitter are likely "fun" companies to work for, and Intel and IBM are likely not.

There's really no need for diaries to be boring or overly technical. If these blog posts are meant to entice potential candidates to join, companies better choose their writers wisely, or at least get them a coach who can help bring some sparkle to the prose. 

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  • Tanya

    I am not sure it's eight to compare IBM and Intel that have been about hardware and B2B companies for ages, with Twitter and Google are for you and me and are search engine and networking tools. Different companies, different products and tasks, different target audiences and different temperaments inside. 

    Most of brilliant engineers at Intel are introverts and they probably find more fun in challenging tasks  than in clowns and soap bubbles.
    I am not saying we are not having fun here, or that we don't need to consider the opinion expressed in this article and have another look at how we are seen from outside especially now that Intel is broadening its horizons to remain successful in the changing world. But the people at Intel I work with are talented, bright and a lot of fun, and it means that Intel does get the good ones, who either don't read the blogs, or like them :-)

  • acarr

    Thanks for all your comments. I must say, however, that I found it interesting that three separate comments here referred to the Intel diary as "the jobs@Intel blog," even though it was never referred to as such in the article. What's more, all these comments (two of which were written by Intel employees) came within the last 24 hours--even though the article is five days old.
    I find that...peculiar...but I suppose there was no coordination here on Intel's part?

  • Sejal Patel

    I replied to this comment yesterday but didn't see it post---possibly because I included an URL in here?

    You say diary, we say Jobs@Intel blog, it all takes you to the same place :) Like CJ, I was also on vacation when the article came out and didn't get to it until Monday--which is also when I think this article got some buzz and was being passed around. Intel has social media guidelines that encourage employees to participate in social media (this was the link I included---it's public so you can search for it) but there wasn't a coordination, that's for sure. @Intel:twitter P.S. Austin, I emailed you (and sent you a tweet)--would love to chat with you and get some feedback.

  • Sejal Patel

    You say diary, we say blog--the link takes us all to the same place :)I subscribe to FastCompany through my personal email but was out on vacation when it was originally published and didn't get to it until Monday--which is also when I think it started getting picked up. There wasn't any coordination on our part; employees are welcome to participate as they see fit and we have a set of guidelines they can reference: http://www.intel.com/sites/sit... 

    P.S. I sent you an email--looking forward to your response!

  • CJ

    Actually none that I know of, I'm on vacation and don't have access to any Intel resources.  I was just fortunate to have one of my fellow intern friends point out that someone posted an article talking bad about what I said, so I felt the need to chime in.

  • CJ

    I'm actually the one who wrote the jobs@intel blog (CJ Norris, not Lucy, though Lucy was the one who edited and posted the blog).  To be honest I thought it was funny to read about this.  I didn't write my blog post form fitted around what Intel wanted me to write, and I actually volunteered to write it because I enjoy my job so much and wanted to talk to people about it.  Though I may not be the best at showing or voicing my enthusiasm through writing, I thoroughly enjoyed my internship at Intel.  I tried to be realistic, not flashy, because in my opinion, being too excited about anything makes you sound fake.  I was honest, sincere, and straightforward with what I wrote, and though it might sound boring to some people, it was actually a blast. I also think it was a little bit unfair to give an entire company a bad or even good reputation based on a few lines that an intern wrote.  The words were mine, not Intel's.  Intel just let me voice them.

  • Jeffery Kerrison

    I think you have to balance this flashy talk of hobnobbing with Kanye West and Russian Presidents with a serious discussion of the work at hand. Glitz it up too much, and you risk alienating top talent and selling yourself to the marshmallow eaters (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... if you don't know what I'm talking about).
    Smart and focused people are looking for a challenge and don't need celebrity references to hold their attention.  Being mum on technical content really shows. Congratulations, you wrote 8 lines of code in 4 hours! (sorry Siddarth :p)
    I think our Fast Company "Journalist" is a marshmallow eater himself. He clearly doesn't read the posts for the details, missing the FIRST LINE in the Intel post where the author announced his/her name was CJ instead of Lucy.

  • Nate

    1. Who reads an intern blog to decide where they are going to work?
    2. Where do Fastcompany bloggers go to journalism school? Maybe they should get someone a coach to add some sparkle and write a concise argument with opening, supporting and closing statements to make a credible piece of work.

  • Sejal Patel

    Agree with your reply below: the article did sting a little but overall thought it was great that social recruiting is getting attention and it gives us a chance to improve.

  • Nate

    Actually, criticism is always an opportunity to improve. Good job. I would refer the folks at Intel to look at other intern blogs to see if 'fun' is a desired part of the culture. Thought I would take a look at FastCompany intern blogs as obvious shining examples, but could only find one from back in 2008. Maybe a learning opportunity here for many companies.

  • Victor Uriarte

    I have to disagree with the comment about the Jobs@Intel Blog. Further read into the blog shows that Intel is a great place to work (and a fun one too). I think the sample was too limit, one article does not tell the entire story. 

  • Sejal Patel

    Full disclosure: I'm Sejal, the Jobs@Intel blog manager.
    This was a good read: you make some good points, but I don't agree with everything you wrote. What I really liked about your article is that it goes to show how much the recruiting landscape has changed with technology and social media and how companies have to adjust their recruitment strategies as well. Kudos to all of the other companies that are sharing their stories and culture--we've come a long way!

    I think it's a bit harsh to call the article the best and worst of tech diaries--wouldn't the worst be not sharing at all? We could definitely bring some more vibrance to our posts with more photos and videos, but we're sometimes so focussed on what we're doing that we forget to pull out the camera to document and share with the rest of the world! Boring is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, the blogger. I don't know C++ so I can't say how similar it is to our blog posts, but I do know that our bloggers are passionate about the work they do and like sharing details about the projects they're working on and the impact they leave over the course of their internships. As for videos, keep watching our blog; we have a pretty fantastic video on software at Intel coming soon as well as a montage of intern events from this summer that might change your mind about our fun factor. (Or not, but we still had a blast!)

    Bottom line: every company's culture is different and what is attractive to one candidate is a turn off to another. What's important is that companies share their culture so that a candidate can make the decision on their best fit.