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Diary Of An Ex-Apple Intern

What’s it like to score one of the most coveted internships in tech?

Diary Of An Ex-Apple Intern
[Photo: Dan Gold]

It seems these days anytime the subject of internships make the news, it’s usually for the wrong reasons, whether it’s billion-dollar companies settling lawsuits brought by unpaid interns, or companies thinking it’s okay to pay interns with food. Even major job boards are now banning companies from listing unpaid internships. Yet despite the bad press lately, studies show that college students who intern are more likely to find full-time employmentespecially if those internships are paid.

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With that in mind, it’s probably no surprise that competition for internships is intense, particularly at hot companies like Apple, Google, Tesla, and others. So how do you get an internship at these coveted companies? I spoke to Maxime Britto, who is now a software engineer and the founder of Purple Giraffe, a French online school for mobile developers. But before he founded Purple Giraffe, he got his start at Apple working as an intern. In his own words, here’s how he did it and what the experience was like.

On His First Day As An Intern At Apple

I was there during the summer of 2008; I arrived the day before the WWDC. I remember it clearly because my manager met me at Apple’s front desk, but instead of going in, we turned around and went to the parking lot. He gave me a ride in his Mustang (we’re not used to this kind of car in France!) to San Francisco and I was able to attend the WWDC conferences with the team. We finally went to the office at around 11 pm, after a full day and the WebKit Open Source party. That was a great first day.

On His Internship Role At Apple

I was part of the WebKit and Safari Team. I was squashing bugs on WebKit and I also spent quite some time on Safari for Windows. Windows users were requesting that we add pan scrolling (where you wheel-click to enable pan scroll mode and then the web page follows your mouse movements). It was quite a challenge for me since I was still discovering the immensity of the WebKit and Safari code base.

My last two weeks were dedicated to early design research on a very cool (not yet released) feature for Safari, and I presented it to Scott Forstall who was our VP back then. Again, an awesome experience.

On How He Found Out About The Apple Internship

My previous internship was with a French company named Pleyo who wanted to contribute to the WebKit open source project. I spent the whole summer of 2007 working on WebKit bugs, chatting on IRC, and getting to (virtually) know WebKit regular members. Those members were mostly from Apple, and I didn’t know it then, but they were my future teammates. At the end of my French internship, my manager at Pleyo told me he exchanged emails with an Apple manager who said they were very happy with the work I provided. He advised me to get in touch with this manager to see where this could go. So I did.

On The Interview Process With Apple

Since they already knew me and my work, I think the interview process went a little bit quicker than with other interns. I had two phone interviews. The first one was more of a presentation and general questioning, and at the end, he gave me some technical areas to look at before the second interview (which would be more technical). I remember I was so stressed because one of the subjects I was supposed to work on for the upcoming interview was the Mach Kernel, and I didn’t know a thing about it, nor low-level programming for that matter. I spent hours reading and printing articles about the Mach Kernel. When D-day arrived, I was ready to go full encyclopedia about the Mach Kernel, but we ended up barely talking about it!

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A few days later, I was at a restaurant with my future wife when I received a call from a U.S. phone number. The adrenaline surged, I looked at her, and said, Honey, I think that’s from Apple!’ It was indeed the recruiter who said, “Maxime, we would like to make you an offer.”

On The Qualities That Helped Him Score An Apple Internship

Before applying, I had the chance to prove my value for four months while getting along with the team. I started as a rookie (it was my first year of programming, and the WebKit is huge) and once I started to fix bugs, it became easier. I guess they noticed that, and appreciated the fact that I never gave up and ended up actually fixing real bugs.

On The Average Workday Of An Apple Intern

Just like regular Apple engineers, I had my own office (with my name on the door!) and a magnetic badge to open doors. I was able to get in at any time of day or night. I also had two MacBook Pros and was able to connect remotely to the network to work from home when needed. Our offices surrounded a relaxing area with couches, and most of the time we were working on those couches with our laptops, working and chatting. When someone needed some quiet time to focus, he or she would go into his office and then come back later.

Also, having access to Apple HQ 24/7 allowed us to come back at night and play volleyball with other interns on the court inside.

On Some Of His Best Experiences As An Apple Intern

My first day at the WWDC is definitely in the top three! I also loved bonding with other interns from around the world. We were sharing apartments, playing sports together, going out to restaurants during the weekdays, and to San Francisco on the weekends. I learned so much from this cultural mix and came back a different person. Another exciting perk was the VP series: Once a week, interns were invited to a lunchtime talk with a VP. We got to meet and pose questions to incredible people like Jony Ive, Bertrand Serlet, Scott Forstall, and more. And, the last week of the series it was Steve Jobs. All those talks were mind blowing.

On Whether Apple Could Improve Its Internship Experience

Seriously, no they couldn’t. They took care of everything for me: travel arrangements, housing, local transportation, they even hired a company to help me with the J1 visa. They organized the VP series and other intern events (theme park outings, baseball games, etc.) and made sure everything went well for us. The team welcomed me in and I was trusted with real and challenging work. I had one of the greatest summers of my life, and I can’t think of anything missing from the equation.

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On The Lasting Benefits Of An Apple Internship

At the end of my internship, my recruiter repeated the same line that got me the Apple internship: “Maxime, we want to make you an offer.” I was psyched and I wanted to say “yes” again, but leaving my family and friends to live abroad was hard, and I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I figured I should first finish my studies and then would find a way to come back if I still wanted to.

Apple pays their interns really well, but the most impressive thing was that after I added that I worked at Apple to my LinkedIn page, I started being contacted by recruiters from other top companies. I’ve never tried to go very far with those interviews like I did with Apple because I had my own projects, but it was still cool to feel wanted.

On What Others Could Do To Land An Internship At Apple

The way I got the internship is a difficult one, but it is also one of the most likely to succeed if you’re a software engineer like me. It was difficult because Apple’s open source projects are often huge and come with a steep learning curve. I was lucky to have four months’ full time to do it (my 2007 French internship). But getting involved with Apple’s open source projects is a way that is very likely to succeed because few people go through with really contributing to the projects, and if you do, you are noticed by Apple’s team from the inside–and that is your ticket. So my advice is: Find an open source project you like, work hard on it, and be nice and helpful. It will eventually work out, and besides, you’ll learn a lot.