ASU students enable peers worldwide to navigate internship uncertainty
Above: In-person internships are being canceled or moved online as the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic upheaval cause companies to change their internship programs. To help students learn the status of their internships or find open internship positions, three computer science students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University built an internship tracking website, ismyinternshipcancelled.com. Photographer: Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU
What started as a fun project for three Arizona State University computer science majors has become a lifeline for university students worldwide looking for summer internships during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second-year student Ananay Arora and graduating students Kaan Aksoy and Devyash Lodha from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU decided to put their skills to work with ismyinternshipcancelled.com, inspired by other event cancellation websites.
Internships, especially for software engineers like Aksoy, Arora and Lodha, are critical to building a variety of skills and connections for future full-time jobs. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic upheaval have resulted in many companies canceling their internship programs. This meant students who had been searching and interviewing for months were left without this crucial step in their career trajectories. In April, Glassdoor reported half of its posted internship opportunities had closed. The job review and recruiting website is one of the dozens of companies listed on ismyinternshipcancelled.com.
While Aksoy, Arora and Lodha all had their internships and jobs secured, they knew many students who weren’t as fortunate.
“A lot of these companies are so selective in the first place,” Aksoy says. “These aren’t students who are stumbling into an internship; they’ve worked very hard preparing and now they’re leaving empty-handed.”
The three friends saw how other websites were displaying internship data, but thought they could do a better job — something more visually interesting with a dash of levity by incorporating emoji.
Other websites also made it hard to add internship status updates. Aksoy says he thinks their site rises above the rest because of the ease of making contributions and the accuracy of submitted information.
Misinformation is rife across the internet. So, it was important for them not to display rumors, but actual, verified information from recruiters and contributors with official company email accounts. They also want to be transparent by showing the source of information about each company’s internships, whether it’s a crowdsourced submission or came directly from a recruiter.
Launched at the end of March, ismyinternshipcancelled.com has expanded from information about a handful of software engineering internships to opportunities in many fields across more than 60 countries. Their website traffic has grown from a couple thousand views to more than 50,000 views in less than two months.
The rise in popularity happened by word of mouth — first on their social media and Reddit accounts, and then organically and from mentions by Bloomberg business news, Money.com and more. Now, the founders often see their site spontaneously mentioned in group chats.
“The way it spins and comes back, that’s the best part,” Arora says. “It has really become a worldwide utility for students.”
The website isn’t popular only among students looking for internships. University career centers across the country are listing it as a resource, and big companies are even taking notice.
“[Website infrastructure and security company] Cloudflare saw our website and internship statuses and doubled their internship opportunities,” Arora says.
Because the website team believes a canceled internship can hurt the reputation of a company among potential future candidates, bringing attention to businesses that are canceling internships holds them accountable. Lodha says some companies have even revived canceled internships to be held remotely, possibly in response to the website putting their companies in the spotlight.
Even when some internship opportunities move online, there are still disadvantages. Remote interns are missing out on close connections with other students and industry professionals, and the experience of working in an office environment that provides opportunities to build soft skills.
“We want to preserve this information for after the pandemic, so it’s always embedded in people’s minds,” says Arora.
Aksoy, Arora and Lodha aren’t done developing ismyinternshipcancelled.com. Though they’d like to keep it simple, they’re adding a more robust hiring side of the website, collaborating with recruiting companies to expand their reach, finding ways to add social and commenting features, and building up their back-end resources to be able to handle all the new data.
As the website expands, it’s also becoming a snapshot of the state of companies and internships in areas hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The team added a map feature with locations of company headquarters and their internship program statuses, which can be compared to hotspot maps of COVID-19 case counts.
“We’re seeing a correlation between coronavirus cases in an area with the number of cancellations and remote internships, for example in the San Francisco Bay Area and in New York City,” Aksoy says.
The treasure trove of data they’ve collected has also caught the attention of researchers who want to study the current situation.
Arora and his team members say they believe the lack of opportunities for students this summer will have far-reaching effects for new graduates beyond 2020. When this year’s juniors graduate in 2021, they might be lacking experience on their resumes that would make them competitive candidates for prestigious jobs.
However, the trio believes ismyinternshipcancelled.com will have a life beyond the pandemic as a resource to find internship opportunities.
Aksoy and Lodha know from first-hand experience the importance of internships, and the two graduating students owe the start of their careers to internship opportunities.
Lodha will start a full-time position with American Express after he graduates in August. It’s a return offer resulting from an internship he had last year — one of three he’s had as a college student.
Aksoy had six internships before he graduated in May, starting in high school. He will begin a full-time position with the highly selective investment management company Two Sigma in New York City, likely in the fall if the COVID-19 situation in the city improves.
“I wouldn’t have received an interview with the company if I hadn’t done the internships I had,” Aksoy says. “My experience reiterates the importance of doing internships.”
Arora believes he’s one of the fortunate ones to have secured an internship with Apple that will continue online, though he’s disappointed to be missing the opportunity to be working at Apple Park in Cupertino, California.
“This is my first internship in the U.S. and it’s a big one for me,” Arora says. “It’s a door-opener for future employment options.”
The team members are proud of what they’ve accomplished in a few short months.
“The fact that we might be helping a cause is surprising because we thought it would just be a fun website,” Arora says. “We’re very happy we were able to create this resource to provide any sort of support that we can.”