Pau Sanchez
Programming, technology & business

That time I took over a project from a superstar intern

Here goes a story that taught me a couple of good lessons.

It was a long long time ago. The company I was working for at the time offered plenty of internships, so I had the chance see numerous interns coming and going. One of them left a lasting impression on me.

There was this guy who was going to do a 3-month internship. His CV blew my mind away. Despite not having graduated yet, he seemed to have mastered a bunch of technologies already. Everything listed on his CV seemed nothing short of amazing, including some projects he worked on. In comparison, reflecting on myself, there I was, with several years under my belt, having contributed to multiple projects, and yet my CV looked like crap in comparison.

Just a tiny bit of context before I continue:

  • I was not involved in the recruitment process for the internship
  • I was not involved in the project the guy worked on
  • I was not this guy’s mentor either

Now, let’s move on with the story.

The idea of this internship was that my company would give him an easy project to work on, easy enough for the project to be finished during those 3 months, and he would get some mentoring from other, more seasoned, engineers. The guy would get experience and the company would get a project completed at a low cost. Win-Win, right?

Fast forward three months, and the internship is about to finish. Nobody really mentored the guy and the project was not finished. The project was “almost done” or so I heard.

During that period, the project became part of a bigger initiative and became a roadblock for another Very Important Project. It needed to be finished ASAP. Unfortunately, the guy was leaving, and somebody needed to take over and finish it.

Here I am, happily working on another project, when I am abrutly pulled away to take over this project “a really cool intern has been working on”. “It should be easy, this guy is a rockstar, the project is almost done” or so they say.

So I go talk with the guy to learn about the project and its status: “almost finished”, he says. “It only needs a couple of things here and there”. The guy leaves and, guess what? I’m officially the new owner of the project. I’m the one that needs to deliver.

So I do what anybody would do. I take a deep look at the code and…

What. A. Huge. Piece. Of. Crap.

Nothing works. The project is far from done. A mess.

I won’t get into the specifics, but suffice to say, I threw every piece of that code away and I rewrote the whole thing in three days. Mission accomplished. Project finished. Very Important Project unblocked. Managers happy.

I don’t blame the guy for not being able to do it in 3 months. I truly don’t. He needed a mentor and probably the specs were not clear or lacked context. The company was unable to provide both. What is interesting to notice though is that the guy’s resume was updated and looked even better. His own perception was that he did a good job. Upper management’s perception was also good, since the project was completed only three days after the guy left. Everybody but me and a couple of coworkers thought this guy performed.

The classic Dunning Kruger effect

Who can blame them? At a high level, the project did seem “almost done,” didn’t it? Hey, it took less than a week for one programmer to wrap it up in the end. The intern must have done a really good job after all.