School is out for the summer, and college students who duked it out for prized internships at the world’s largest tech companies will soon walk through the lobbies of their temporary corporate homes.
The summer internship is one of Silicon Valley’s most celebrated traditions, a 3-month whirlwind of long workdays, quirky team-building activities and first-hand immersion into the customs, culture and perks of tech life. But with the tech industry in retrenchment mode, and tech workers getting laid off by the thousands, this year’s intern season is kicking off with a pall hanging over it.
After years of scaling up internship programs to ever larger class sizes, and attracting high-performing students with competitive pay sometimes exceeding $6,400 a month, some of the largest tech companies are slashing their intern class sizes this summer.
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is bringing on fewer interns this summer than in previous years, according to a company spokesperson. While the internship program was once such a treasured PR showpiece that Google even collaborated in the production of a 2013 Hollywood comedy about its summer interns, the company is now focused on cutting costs, having laid off roughly 12,000 employees in January. The Alphabet spokesperson would not provide details on the size of this year’s intern class, though the company had more than 3,500 interns in 2021.
Meta, which in January withdrew year-long internship offers in the UK, declined to share the size of its intern classes, but said it is bringing on fewer interns this summer than last year, in line with its previously announced plans to decrease the global workforce. Ditto for Nvidia—the graphics chipmaker, which hired more than 1,500 interns in 2022, will hire approximately 600 interns this summer, a spokesperson told Fortune.
The shrinking intern classes is one more reminder of the changing conditions within tech companies, long renown for their generous perks and amenities such as on-site restaurants and free laundry. And the restraint is reverberating on college campuses, where internships at Big Tech have traditionally been the most popular and competitive summer gigs.
“This year has been difficult for both the employers and our students. We are in a period of flux,” said Ruth A. Franks, the director of career services at the University of Texas at Austin.
“It is safe to say that if a student is dead set on getting an internship at a ‘Big Tech’ company like Meta or Amazon, the process will be more stressful and likely disappointing than in the past,” Franks said, but added that many students are discovering internship opportunities outside of Big Tech that are equally rewarding.
Those who did manage to get offers in tech are still holding their breath. Amira Sounny-Slitine, a career coach at the University of Texas, has noticed an increase in students being worried that their offers will be rescinded as more tech layoffs continue. She’s noticed that even when students are excited about landing an internship, they’ve asked if they should keep an eye out for backups and don’t want to let their guard down before their internship officially starts.
Of the ten large cap tech companies that Fortune reached out to, none said they were increasing the size of their summer internship classes this year. Microsoft, which had more than 4,000 interns in 2020, would not comment on the size or this year’s intern program, nor would Netflix or Intel. Apple did not return repeated requests for comment.
Amazon will reportedly see a lower class size after hiring about 18,000 interns last year, some of whom were paid nearly $30,000 for the summer. For this year, the company is considering reducing the number of interns for 2023 by more than half, the New York Times reported in December, citing an anonymous person with knowledge of the program. Asked about the accuracy of the report, Amazon said, “We remain committed to our internship program and to fostering the next generation of talent through the real-world experience our program provides.”
Uber said it expects this year’s internship program to be the same size as last year, which was one of the largest cohorts—but declined to provide specific numbers. Salesforce said its number of summer interns typically ranges between 700 and 1,300 and that it expected this year’s class to fall within that range.
“Despite the challenges the tech industry has faced this year, we remain committed to our Futureforce internship program and nurturing the next generation of tech talent,” Alex Murray, head of Global Futureforce Programs at Salesforce, told Fortune in an emailed statement.
The intern classes are smaller, but interns are back in the office
Internships have served an important role at tech companies, providing a pipeline to develop new talent—Jen Fitzpatrick, a Senior VP at Google was part of its first, four-person intern class in 1999—and to bring much-needed diversity to the ranks. In 2019, for example, Google-parent company Alphabet said that 24% of the interns in the U.S. that summer identified as Black+ or Latinx+, up from 20% the prior year.
“Our internship program is one way we’re working to build a workforce that’s more representative of the people we serve, in addition to developing programs to retain and grow diverse talent and improve representation at the leadership level,” Google said in a blog post at the time. This year’s smaller intern class sizes risks impeding that progress, some observers worry.
For students who land a coveted internship, the experience can feel like winning the lottery. Videos of soon-to-be interns unboxing packages of company swag, like propeller hats from Google, regularly circulate on social media every spring as college semesters wind down. As the summer progresses, videos like this one by a Spotify intern in New York, provide first-person office tours marveling at the company arcade featuring Pac-Man, Mario Kart, and a Dance Dance Revolution-like game. At Microsoft, interns once created a musical.
Some of that energy and excitement was lost during the pandemic’s shift to remote work, and so, while companies may not be increasing the sizes of their programs this summer, they’re looking at the bright side and touting the return to in-person internships. “Students are excited to be back in person,” says Uber’s Director of Global University Recruiting & Programs, Dawn Carter, noting that interns will still have the flexibility of a hybrid work schedule and that satisfaction scores during remote internships in recent years remained strong.
At Salesforce, interns will report to the office and be assigned to “intern-specific floors and spaces, where they’ll get hands-on experience, and they’ll connect with their global cohort through virtual events,” the company says. One of those events will be the company’s first-ever product summit that will feature Salesforce customers, Futureforce alumni speakers, and interactive workshops.
Interns at Nvidia meanwhile, will have an opportunity to spend time with CEO Jensen Huang, according to the company.
Unlike the hijinks and horseplay that Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson got up to at Google in the 2013 comedy The Internship, the tasks that real life interns perform are serious and can involve working on critical parts or the business, the tech companies stress.
“Our internships are designed to provide students with a sense of what it’s really like to work at Amazon, and they get to do meaningful work, diving into products, programs, and services that affect millions of customers,” Amazon director of recruiting and student programs Keyon Young says. Interns are given a manager, a mentor, and an onboarding buddy who can answer questions about company policies and who’s who within Amazon.
Lindsey Duran, VP of Recruiting for Nvidia, says that the internship program is geared at providing formal events like games on site or volunteering, but that the group eventually bonds and connects on their own.
“What you find is that the interns themselves, as they start to build their networks and their relationships, they start to build their own community and some of those social events,” Duran said. Compensation for this year’s Nvidia interns “increased slightly to remain consistent with the market.”
For many interns, the prize at the finish line is the prospect of receiving a full time job offer. At Intel, 60% of summer interns have historically gone on to accept full time jobs at the chip company after graduation, according to the company.
But the odds of the promised payoff may be getting worse as tech companies cut back on hiring, delay start dates, and in some cases, even rescind job offers, as Google did with thousands of temporary and contract workers in 2020.
Andrea Comsa, the director of undergraduate co-op and internship programs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says she hasn’t noticed a “concerning decrease” in tech internships. What worries her, however, are the graduating students, many of whom are seeing the start dates pushed back for their full time job offers.