Hi! I’m Antti (spelled a-n-t-t-i), nice to meet you. I am doing my internship as a graphic designer at UserVoice. When comes to my studies I am soon starting my second year of master studies in Aalto University majoring in graphic design.
As an intern I’m a bit of an old geezer. I did my first internship for my engineering studies in 2007 for a French cosmetic company called Créations Couleurs. I applied there as a copywriter(!) but my the CEO gave me tasks to design logos and posters. That’s one of the reasons I came to be a graphic designer. My other internship was in Helsinki at Bonnier Publications where I did my bachelor’s thesis for Evita-magazine (R.I.P.). Bonnier became my first full-time employer as I spent two and a half amazing years there even having a couple interns of my own. Both of the previous internships were unforgettable and both have led me to where I’m now. I got paid and treated well. The latter criticism towards Finnish internship-culture is addressed to the companies I have chosen not to apply.
So when the spring came I got the opportunity to apply for a one more internship / summer job in between of the semesters. I felt a bit too old (27!) and experienced to fight over the unpaid intern positions in Finnish media companies so I tried the same stunt my great-grandfather did (gold digger, cannot be found in LinkedIn), try my luck in the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Even though I had worked a lot as a web designer and some as a developer, I had never worked in a tech company before, neither in a startup. This time the job description truly matched what I applied for and I got the feeling that also the company was prepared. At the first day my boss (Head of Marketing) had already outlined what I’d be working on for the entire summer and walked me through the company strategy so that I had the proper framework for my work. This was truly a kick start comparing to the previous internships wherein the first couple of weeks were spent getting to know the people and finding out what I was up for. Especially at this point where it was clear that my time here would be too short I was more than happy I got my hands on immediately. Also on previous internships responsibilities have grown in time but in here my skills for swimming were tested by throwing me into the deep end.
All the way during my stay here my own experience – and what I’ve heard from my fellow startuplifers – has told that the companies here are looking more for a long-term employees. As the US senate is overhauling the onerous immigration laws of US, most of the tech companies are fighting over the talented labor. What I have seen here is that the companies have realized the fact that having an intern gives you a rather cheap low-risk employee for a while and a chance to check if the one is up for something. At the same time the intern is absorbing influences from the colleagues and the company’s culture and both parties can see if there is a match to make. Whether the employee continues with the employer or not, he or she is an ambassador of that company for many years to come.
I think there is no fear that all the Finnish interns would flea to San Francisco for cash, but salary is certainly a way to show the appreciation and engagement. Even though living in San Francisco is way more expensive than I thought, I was able to achieve western standards of living and explore the great state of California on the weekends. The fact that in Finland even the biggest companies have guts to commission (at least graphic design) students to work for a lunch ticket shows a lack of respect towards one’s work. Only some of the students have the financial possibility to participate unpaid (or nominally paid) internships but rather do relatively well-paid odd jobs. This leads to the fact that there are fresh graduates who have not worked a single day in their shining new profession. That again leads to short-term jobs, unemployment and re-education, which could have been prevented with a single fair internship. I have never heard of an intern who hasn’t turned out worth of one’s salary.
Because of my responsibilities back in Finland and a few unlucky delays in arriving here my internship lasts only for two months. In many senses it was an internship way too short, but still long enough to make friends for a lifetime. My awesome colleagues at UserVoice and the great StartupLife family with its extensions are both full of crazy creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and talent that I’m sure that there are places in the future where interns have a chance to safely try to fill up the big boots they are given. And even get paid for that.