Build a Brilliant Computer Science Resume with no Internship Experience

Photo by Radowan Nakif Rehan on Unsplash

It’s no secret that scoring a summer Software Engineer Internship is difficult, and that many aren’t lucky their Freshman or Sophomore year. I know I wasn’t. I only broke through in software engineering Junior year of college.

In my experience, students who got SWE internship experience in their first two years of college generally fall into 3 categories:

  • Those who programmed heavily in high school and had the strongest resumes compared to their peers — advanced projects, competitive programming background, and/or high school internship experience.
  • Those who had strong connections to a company (read: their parents got them a job at their own company).
  • Those who were financially stable enough to accept an unpaid internship.

If that’s you, congratulations. I’m sure it was far easier to land additional opportunities the subsequent year. If it’s not, you’re in the same boat as me, which means that when Junior year roles around, you’re worried about what your resume says (or doesn’t say) about your viability as a software engineer.

But you’re not behind your peers. I feel strongly that Junior year is the best year for your first internship, because you have enough years of programming under your belt where you wouldn’t be total dead weight at a company.

And don’t worry, there are ways to beef up the experience on your resume sans internships. With just a few of these tips, you can drop “summer camp counselor” or any other fillers you have on your resume that don’t directly relate to computer science.

You’ll be able to kill it for your Junior year recruiting season like I did — 6 SWE internship offers all stemming from a resume that had no prior internship experience.

What you should already have on your resume

First, you should have a resume that is tailored specifically for software engineering (or a related computer science field). It’s totally fine to be targeting other job types too, but you’re not going to be as effective when using a generalized resume.

There are some things that are no-brainers for your computer science resume, but I’ll go over them just in case you’ve missed them.

  • Especially without internship experience, your Education section should be at the very top with your computer science (or similar) major and your GPA (which you should be trying to keep above 3.5).
  • You should also have a subsection under Education for Relevant Coursework where you highlight a few of your most advanced CS courses so far. Especially if you’re a freshman or sophomore, recruiters are going to want to see your Data Structures & Algorithms course up there as that’s a prerequisite.
  • Link to your Github account (or where your portfolio is) at the very top. It’s okay if your account is a bit sparse or messy for now, since you can rectify that situation later on. This is also a common prerequisite and Github seems to be industry standard so I would advise against using any other repository platform.

If you’ve done these things, at least the top 20% of your resume should be filled already with computer science stuff. Now, let’s infuse more CS related elements into the rest of your resume!

Experience you should target

Okay, so getting an internship offer is hard. That doesn’t mean there aren’t many options for computer science related work that you can be doing right now. Before I landed at Amazon my junior year, I was a CS Teaching Assistant at my college and an online CS instructor at a company called Juni Learning.

These jobs served as strong substitutes for no SWE internships and showed that I was gaining experience through other avenues. They were also comparably easier to get a foot in the door compared to any internship.

So if you aren’t ready for an internship, make sure you’re doing something related to computer science over the summer or during the school year (outside of your CS curriculum, of course). That’s how you signal to recruiters that you are committed to getting better.

When I was a sophomore, I looked at Juni Learning (where I got hired), iDTech summer camps, CS T.A. opportunities (hired as well), undergraduate CS research opportunities at my college, tutoring at the college tutor center, and more. There are also tons of tutoring platforms out there looking for CS help.

Even if you’re just tutoring your friends in intro CS, you can say you are a Freelance Tutor and slap it on your resume. It’s important to have something concretely related to Computer Science.

Add some projects

Fill out the rest of your resume with as much CS stuff as possible. You should definitely have a Projects section even if your projects are pretty novice. Personal projects are king and make sure to host them on Github so recruiters can see.

If you need a few more ideas for what you can add, here you go:

  • Go to a few meetings of your schools CS club and see if there’s anything to do. If your club supports a tech product, like a school website, you can certainly help out and slap “Software Engineer Intern, College CS Club” on your resume, which is really sweet.
  • Build your own personal website. If you don’t know how, try starting with React and Bootstrap. If you want to follow along mine, you can find it on Github. I used React and ElasticUI. It’s nothing fancy, but any serious SWE needs to know how to build a simple website.
  • Build a project in Python utilizing some of the many libraries available. I suggest Python because its a simple language to pick up with powerful libraries that you can depend on to jazz up your project no matter your skill. If you’re stuck and need guidance, try scikit-learn, matplotlib, or Beautiful Soup and do something with analyzing data.
  • For your projects, start somewhere simple, like following a tutorial for an online chat application. That’s where I started for my online word game, CryptoNight, and I slowly built it out into what it is today (following even more tutorials). You can read about my journey here.

At the end of the day, my advice is to make your own experience when internship offers aren’t rolling in. Beefing up your resume will make you seem like a better candidate than your peers that are doing nothing. I started revamping my resume and experience sophomore fall — I didn’t hear back from any software engineering opportunities so I pivoted to getting hired by Juni Learning. It put me in great shape come Junior year, and I know a similar trajectory will work wonders for the rest of you too.

Best of luck in your internship search!

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Software Engineer @ AWS and Amateur Disc Golfer. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Kaizen Conroy

Kaizen Conroy

Software Engineer @ AWS and Amateur Disc Golfer. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

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