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A Full Guide to Tech Startup Internships: Where to Look, How to Apply, and What to Expect from Your Experience

Author Ella Napata |

September 20, 2023

A Full Guide to Tech Startup Internships Where to Look, How to Apply, and What to Expect from Your Experience

Discover the hottest tech startups actively hiring interns today, such as Airbnb, Dropbox, Snap, Spotify, Pinterest, and more. Learn how to turn your tech internship into a full-time job with practical advice on networking, taking on more responsibilities, and positioning yourself for career growth in the ever-evolving world of tech startups. Whether you’re a budding coder, a marketing enthusiast, or simply looking for an adventure in the tech realm, this guide equips you with the knowledge and strategies to kickstart your career in the exciting world of tech startups.

A Full Guide to Tech Startup Internships Where to Look, How to Apply, and What to Expect from Your Experience

How Silicon Valley Changed Internship Culture

Tech internships were rare until companies like Microsoft, Intel, and Apple helped pioneer the concept in the 1980s and 1990s. These Silicon Valley tech companies were among the first to bring on undergraduate and graduate students for summer programs, often to recruit top talent. They saw the opportunity to evaluate students for a few months and then extend full-time job offers to the highest performers.

Tech Internship Programs

This innovative approach to hiring and recruitment soon spread to other tech companies and startups. Tech internship programs became more common and competitive, especially as demand for engineering and computer science talent exploded. Top students from around the country vied for the opportunity to learn the tech industry by interning at pioneering companies.

Prestigious Programs

Tech internships became among the most prestigious programs for students to gain work experience. They paid exceptionally well, often housing students in corporate apartments for the summer. Interns got the opportunity to do meaningful work, learn from leaders in their field, and gain valuable skills that translated to various tech roles.

Pipeline for Entry-level Talent 

For tech companies, internship programs became the primary pipeline for entry-level talent acquisition. Instead of just being a temporary summer job, tech internships became an extended interview for potential full-time roles. Companies made job offers to 70-90% of their interns and accepted nearly all.

This model has since spread to startups and tech companies worldwide. Tech internships are now some of the most competitive and lucrative student programs each year. They continue to be a win-win, allowing students to launch their tech careers through practical experience and companies to recruit top young talent. The rise of tech internships revolutionized how companies hire, recruit, and evaluate new graduates. They paved the way for internship programs across other industries, but tech startups remain at the forefront of this movement.

Why Every Student Should Do A Tech Startup Internship

Tech startup internships provide unparalleled experience that is attractive to both tech and non-tech companies. Every student should consider interning at a tech startup regardless of major or career interests. Here are a few reasons why:

Gain Valuable Experience

Tech startups often give interns significant responsibility and the opportunity to work on impactful projects. You’ll gain first-hand experience building a product or service, conducting market research, analyzing data, and more. This level of hands-on experience is invaluable for your career development.

Learn In-demand Skills

Startups are on the cutting edge of technology and innovation. As an intern, you’ll learn skills like coding, data analysis, social media marketing, and UX design that are in high demand. Even non-technical roles at startups often require learning new tools and systems. These skills will make you a strong candidate for jobs after you graduate.

Network and Open Up New Opportunities

Interning at a startup provides access to networking opportunities that can lead to jobs or mentorship. The startup community is tightly knit, and people frequently transition between companies. Impress your managers and colleagues, and you’ll walk away with a network of valuable contacts. Some startups may even hire interns for full-time roles.

Gain a Competitive Advantage

Experience at a tech startup signals to future employers that you have a growth mindset and keep up with trends in tech. It demonstrates you can thrive in fast-paced, dynamic environments. This experience gives you a leg up, especially when applying to innovative companies.

Startups Value Learning and Personal Growth

Tech startups often have a culture encouraging interns to learn and grow on the job. You’ll have opportunities to attend industry events, learn from guest speakers, and rotate between different teams to gain exposure. The startup environment fosters constant learning and mentorship.

Tech startup internships provide benefits that extend well beyond the internship period. The experience, skills, network, and competitive advantage you gain can shape your career trajectory for years to come. For ambitious students looking to break into tech, startups are an ideal place to start.

How to Land Your Dream Tech Startup Internship

Landing a tech startup internship requires dedication and persistence. Start your search at least 6-12 months before your target internship dates. This will give you enough time to research companies, network, build your skills, and go through the application and interview process.

Research Startups that Interest You

Begin by researching tech startups that interest you and see if they offer internship programs. Check their careers page, AngelList, LinkedIn, and general web searches. Reach out to anyone you know who currently interns or works at those companies to learn more about their culture and internship opportunities.

Build a Strong Portfolio

Build a strong portfolio that showcases your relevant skills and experience. Tech startups will want to see that you can hit the ground running, so focus on learning technical and soft skills that will be useful for the roles you’re interested in. Learn to code, study growth hacking and analytics, and strengthen your design abilities. Also, be active on sites like GitHub, Dribbble, and LinkedIn to increase your visibility.

Practice Your Interview Skills

Tech startup interviews often involve a phone screen and onsite interviews with technical and culture-fit components. Be ready to speak about your experience, interests, and career goals. Study common tech interview questions and practice coding on platforms like HackerRank and Codecademy.

Leverage Online Resources

Leverage online resources to find unadvertised internship opportunities. Websites like AngelList, LinkedIn, and Handshake are where many tech startups post internship openings. But don’t just rely on job boards. Connect directly with startups you’re interested in, even if they don’t have any openings posted. Send a compelling note expressing your passion for the company and desire to intern with them. Your enthusiasm and hustle may lead to an opportunity, even without a formal program.

You can land an internship at a hot tech startup with determination and hard work. But get started now—the top companies receive hundreds of applications for only a handful of internship spots each season. Build your skills and network, and don’t hesitate to contact companies directly. While the competition is stiff, you’ll have a much better chance of securing your dream internship by taking the initiative to research, prepare, and connect with startups.

What It’s Really Like Interning at a Tech Startup

Interning at an innovative tech startup is a thrilling experience for any student. However, it does come with some challenges and downsides to be aware of before accepting a role. Tech startups move fast, priorities change quickly, and resources are often limited. As an intern, you’ll get a lot of responsibility and opportunities to learn, but you’ll also need to be flexible and willing to adapt to a dynamic work environment.

Long Hours but Highly Engaging

Former tech startup interns report long hours, sometimes working late into the evening to finish a project or meet a tight deadline. However, the work is usually highly engaging, and interns appreciate the chance to do meaningful work that contributes real value to the company. Interns often work directly with founders and executives and get exposure to many parts of the business.

Work-life Balance and Perks

The perks at tech startups are also usually good, including catered lunches, snacks, team events, and a casual dress code. However, the job may be demanding, and interns say the lines between “work” and “life” can blur. For the right person, though, the excitement of being part of a startup and helping to build something new makes the long hours worthwhile.

Strong Mentorship Support

The internship experience at any startup will vary greatly depending on the company culture and team dynamics. Some interns report feeling like a valued team member and receiving strong mentorship and support. Others say they felt lost at times and received little guidance. The key is to ask good questions, proactively seek feedback, and ensure the startup is the right fit and values its interns.

While the work environment may be chaotic, the skills and experience you gain at a tech startup are invaluable. Interns learn technical skills, how to communicate with different teams, and how to be flexible problem solvers. Startups also provide networking opportunities that can lead to jobs after graduation. With a successful internship, you’ll finish the program not just with a new line on your resume but with real-world experience, industry connections, and a glimpse into the fast-paced world of tech startups.

Hot Tech Startups Actively Hiring Interns

Today’s most exciting tech startups are hiring interns to help build the future. Interning at an innovative, fast-growing startup can be an unparalleled experience that exposes you to the energy and opportunity of the tech world. The internships at these startups provide opportunities to work on cutting-edge projects, learn in-demand skills, and network with industry leaders—all while building your resume.


Airbnb, the popular home-sharing platform, hires over 200 interns annually in engineering, design, data science, and marketing. Airbnb interns work on real projects used by millions of people and are a significant part of the company’s culture of innovation. Dropbox, the file-sharing and storage company, has an internship program focused on engineering, design, and marketing roles. Interns at Dropbox work on products used by over 500 million people and have a chance to shape the future of how people collaborate and work together.


Snap, the company behind Snapchat, hires interns for software engineering, product design, and marketing positions. Snap interns work on the technologies and products powering one of the world’s most popular messaging apps. Spotify, the leading music streaming service, is looking for engineering, marketing, and data analytics interns. Spotify interns can impact how millions worldwide listen to and discover music.


Pinterest, the visual discovery platform, has internship opportunities in engineering, design, marketing, and more. Pinterest interns work on products that inspire over 300 million people to discover and do what they love. Interning at Pinterest provides valuable experience with trending technologies like machine learning, recommendation systems, and big data analytics.

Other notable tech startups that hire interns include Stripe, Lyft, Square, Twilio, Coinbase, Robinhood, and Wish. While highly competitive, internships at these companies provide networking opportunities that can lead to full-time work after graduation and a chance to learn skills that will benefit your career for years. With hard work and persistence, you can land an internship at your dream tech startup.

Turning Your Tech Internship into a Full-Time Job

One of the significant benefits of interning at a tech startup is the possibility of turning the internship into a full-time job. Startups are fast-growing, dynamic places, and many are actively hiring. With hard work and proper steps, you can set yourself up for a job offer from your internship company or leverage the experience to land a role at another startup.

Build Strong Relationships with Coworkers and Managers

The first step is to network and build strong relationships. Get to know your coworkers and managers and look for opportunities to collaborate with them. Impress them with your work ethic, skills, and enthusiasm for the company mission. Let them know you’re interested in a full-time role to keep you on their radar for any available openings.

Look to Take On More Responsibilities

Next, look for opportunities to take on more responsibility. Volunteer for special projects and ask your manager if you can own or lead key tasks. Exceed expectations and show how you can add value as a full-time team member. The more you can demonstrate your abilities, the more likely you’ll be considered for job openings.

Discuss Career Interest With Your Manager

Discuss your career interests openly with your manager. Ask them about their career path and whether they see opportunities for career growth at the company. Express your passion for their work and your desire for a long-term role. They may not have an immediate opening but will likely keep you in mind if one becomes available, especially if they know you’re motivated to stay at the company.

Advocate for Yourself

With the fast pace of tech startups, priorities and roles can change quickly. There may be an opportunity for a full-time job that arises suddenly. By building solid relationships and advocating for yourself, you’ll be on the shortlist of candidates. Be flexible and willing to take on whatever role becomes available, even if it’s not what you imagined. Getting a foot in the door at a startup you believe in is a great way to launch your career, with the potential for the role to evolve.

From Startup Intern to Full-time Employee

While not guaranteed, many tech startups hire at least a few top interns. With hard work, networking, and persistence, you can turn your tech startup internship into a full-time job and begin your career at an exciting, fast-growing company. Leverage the experience and connections from your internship to open up more opportunities, if needed, at another startup. The skills and knowledge you gain will be valuable regardless of your career path.


How has the shift towards tech internships impacted the overall hiring processes in other industry sectors?

Tech internships have greatly influenced hiring processes across all industry sectors. Their success has prompted companies to evaluate potential hires through a trial period, akin to a prolonged interview. This allows firms to evaluate an intern’s work ethic, team compatibility, and skills before offering a full-time position. Other sectors have also adopted this technique to attract high-potential young talent, providing similar benefits such as hands-on experience, networking opportunities, and the potential for full-time positions.

Can tech internships provide valuable experience to students from non-tech backgrounds, and if so, how?

Tech internships are absolutely beneficial to students from non-tech backgrounds. These internships offer immense learning about the dynamics of a fast-paced, innovative work environment, which can be applied to industries beyond tech. Additionally, the diversity of roles within tech companies means students can gain valuable experience in fields like marketing, business strategy, or project management while also gaining basic coding or data analysis skills. This diverse skill set can bolster their profile for future job opportunities across various sectors.

What are some misconceptions about tech internships that you think need to be addressed?

One common misconception is that you must major in computer science or a related field to land a tech internship. While a tech background might be beneficial for certain roles, tech companies are multi-faceted and require various skills, from business development to design and marketing. Another misconception is that tech internships only lead to jobs within the same company. In reality, they provide a platform to gain transferable skills, develop a robust professional network, and gain visibility, which can lead to opportunities in different companies or even industries.

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