What it’s like to intern at a DC startup

Like Silicon Valley, but more humid

Nothing was more stressful for me in my last days on campus than the dreaded small talk of “what are you doing this summer?” Eventually sick of procrastinating, I applied to several internships, finding myself at a tech startup two weeks later with no expectations (or real skills, for that matter). So, what’s it like to intern at a DC startup?

Like being in a swamp

If you’re lucky enough to be in the center of the city – or anywhere in DC, really – it’s hot. Temperatures climb to the 90s most of the time, plus humidity, making for a sweltering commute even by Metro. For me, the highlight of most mornings was walking by the one office lobby that blasted its AC into the street.

Like having free food, all the time

I worked out of a startup incubator that had an all-day PB&J station, soda fridge, and coffee/hot chocolate maker. They even gave out free lunches on Mondays and Wednesdays (if you were willing to risk the salad with cheese cubes and/or grapefruit lentils). So if you’re the type of intern who can’t really focus without the reward of immediate, delicious food… you’ve made it, my friend.

Like working with geniuses and assholes

Startups and startup incubators attract people from the cutting-edge and too-egotistical-to-work-like-other-people-edge of the workforce. They spend all day advocating for their ideas in a high-stress, fast-paced, competitive field, and spearheading some seriously creative projects. They also spend their time screaming the same damn pitch to investors over the phone (which you’ll memorize by the end of your internship), and feeling personally victimized when all the brownies are gone (Mike may be the next Elon Musk, but he’s definitely not entitled to everything in the kitchen).

Like always having something to do

By definition, startups are constantly changing, so there is always something that needs to be done right now. In my first three weeks, for example, my boss decided to recreate the content and design of the entire site. We transitioned from user engagement and online tutoring to research and graphic design within hours. Interning at a startup allows you to be part of these rapid transitions, but requires a lot of flexibility and patience.

…or, more likely, to redo

Unfortunately, not all of this innovation translates to fun tasks for interns. We’re the go-tos when an entire spreadsheet needs stop punctuation or something needs to be copied and pasted into 100+ email drafts. Sometimes the most important tasks at a startup are the ones that erase or restructure what you just finished, but take it all in stride – the more minute the task, the closer you are to a final product.

Like living and working in the best city in America

Overall, interning at a DC startup is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. The city has so much to offer in terms of culture, history, and nightlife, and spending time at an incubator can expose you to a very unusual sector of the workforce. Entrepreneurs are some of the smartest, quirkiest, most passionate people out there, and are living proof that with enough hard work, you really can make dreams come true – maybe even with PB&J along the way.