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How we pulled off an all-virtual intern program this summer

MongoDB wrote a new playbook when COVID-19 forced the NYC-based tech company’s 85 interns to work remotely.

How we pulled off an all-virtual intern program this summer
[Source Photo: iStock]

For a decade, my company’s summer interns flew in from around the world to MongoDB’s New York City headquarters for an immersive mentoring program that serves as an important talent pipeline for our engineering team. But as the city became the epicenter of the pandemic earlier this year, we, like many companies, had to make a difficult decision.

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Should we cancel and disappoint the college students, who depend on internships to help land a job? We decided “no,” and in mid-April we announced our 10th intern class would be our first that was fully virtual.

It turned out to be the right decision for MongoDB and our 18,000 customers. MongoDB is a database platform that provides the back-end infrastructure used by many popular apps, including the online game Fortnite. From our founding, we’ve been competing with the biggest companies from both a technology standpoint and for engineering talent. One-third of our software engineering workforce is former interns, including 20% of those at manager-level positions or higher. Our intern and New Grad programs allow students to work with our engineers to contribute code and collaborate on product features that our customers use to drive their business. We’re proud of the retention rates and diverse group that feeds into our New Grad hire program. Mentorship is a key part of what makes the program so successful and scalable.

As the summer winds down, we wanted to share our main takeaways to help guide future virtual programs for recruiters and mentors:

Remote Logistics Planning

In total, we had 85 interns across different states and countries. We held mentor training that was centered around the remote environment and touched on biases specific to remote work, such as how an internet connection or the background of a Zoom call can impact judgment. For incoming interns, we encouraged an “ask me anything” (AMA) approach so they knew what to expect before their official start date.

Keeping It Fun

The in-person experience of past programs allowed our interns to build relationships in organic ways. You never know who you might meet in the hallway or spark a conversation with while in the kitchen. To replicate the in-person experience, we developed networking opportunities through virtual meetings to allow our interns opportunities to meet as many of their colleagues across the engineering organization and other teams as they would in a live office environment.

We had a mix of fun activities, including a virtual cooking class led by a chef where we shipped everyone ingredients for pizza and made our own via Zoom. We also did a murder mystery in part with the Met Museum and participated in a virtual “escape the room” challenge. An executive speaking series let our interns hear directly from different leaders at the company in informal roundtable conversations.

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Fostering Strong Mentorship Connections Remotely

Mentorship is a key part of our program, and given the virtual nature we wanted to make sure all involved felt prepared to hold critical conversations via video. We have a few kinds of mentorship at MongoDB, the first being a technical mentor who evaluates the intern’s work. Every intern also meets weekly with their campus manager from the recruiting team. These mentors help guide the interns through their time at the company. This dual approach makes us different from many other companies, where the recruiting manager might only speak once or twice to an intern throughout their journey. We regularly facilitate growth conversations and provide feedback through a tool called CultureAmp. Both mentors and interns are asked a series of questions to provide tangible, actionable feedback.

We also have a mentorship option for our interns who would like to have a mentor from MongoDB’s different affinity groups. These aren’t always a pure technical mentorship, and we specifically try to pair interns with mentors they wouldn’t normally work with. The past couple of years we’ve ended up with about a 2:1 ratio of mentors to interns.

The Remote Future

We are now preparing for a virtual fall recruiting season instead of on-campus visits. We’re excited because this will allow us to put on more creative events for prospective candidates and expand the number of schools we can visit given we don’t need to travel. We are prepared to host even more interns next summer to continue building on a successful program.


Emily Cardner is manager of campus recruiting for MongoDB, a cloud-based database platform company. More info about their next intern program can be found here.

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