Talent is king in Silicon Valley. Any CEO knows that the success of his or her company depends on hiring the best and brightest. But talent is expensive and can be in short supply when it is in such high demand.
Fortunately, there exists an abundance of highly motivated and energetic computer technologists who crave a chance to test their skills in the real world: Interns. In return for valuable experience, interns provide a cost-effective talent boost, particularly for startups.
Visit any tech company during the summer months and you’re sure to find a slew of these interns working away at a variety of projects. In fact, interns have become a key part of the ground-level work at a lot of companies. They have proven crucial to business efficiency, allowing engineers to work on the more expensive projects that require senior experience.
Unfortunately in the Valley, I can only have interns during the summer months. When summer ends, we’re left with a hole in the ground level of our business.
It just so happens that there exists a growing high-tech mecca in New Zealand, a country where the summer occurs during our winter.
I know firsthand that New Zealand offers more than just breathtaking landscapes and pristine pastures of sheep (as if that wasn’t enough). I lived there back in 2010 and continue to visit often. In addition to the much-needed "extra summer," New Zealand offers a unique entrepreneurial spirit. Because it’s an isolated island nation, the people have a deep commitment to independence, and that’s reflected in their enthusiasm for innovation and technology.
So I thought, why not fill the gaps left by North American summer interns with interns from New Zealand? And thus, the Winternz Program was born.
More than 30 students applied for our first winter internship positions, and we ended up choosing three—two from the University of Auckland and one from Victoria University in Wellington—who gave up their glorious New Zealand summer for a Silicon Valley winter of Nerdvana.
Our three Kiwi interns gave us everything we hoped for and more. Of course, the extra manpower freed up our engineers to extend "coding time." That was to be expected. But the entire experience also gave us a renewed appreciation for the amazing breadth and depth of talent in the world—a world that is far larger than the often-insular Silicon Valley might have you believe.
Bringing students over from another country provides benefits for both the students and the companies. The interns were exposed to the fast-paced tech world of Silicon Valley and returned home with invaluable experience on their resume. Our interns were also exposed to the business aspects of how a company is built and grows, something unique that startups can offer.
Hosting international interns does require a little more effort than domestic students, however, so ensure you begin you're planning far enough in advance to allow for the interview process, visas, and travel to the states. Additional considerations include offering guidance on housing, transportation, and banking and occasionally reminding them which side of the road we drive on.
Generally speaking, an international winter internship offer should be made three months before you expect the students to arrive in the United States and include:
- Pay between $2,000 and $3,000 USD a month
- Round-trip economy airfare
- J-1 Intern Visa application cost in full (including SEVIS and Embassy fees)
- Assistance with finding housing and transportation
It’s also very important that each intern be matched with a mentor at the company. The mentor can not only guide them through professional projects, ensuring the interns become an integral part of the team, but they can also act as a friendly face to make the entire process run more smoothly.
All in all, the international internship ends up as a win-win for both the company and the interns. We gained invaluable support for an extra three months, and the interns all say they would consider coming back to Silicon Valley some day. Not to mention that we all enjoyed deciphering each other’s accents.
—Craig Elliott came to the Silicon Valley from Iowa after being awarded a Porsche by Steve Jobs and then a job at Apple. He spent 10 years at Apple in senior product, marketing, and GM roles. Before co-founding Pertino, Elliott was the CEO of Packeteer.