What Is Intern Reading Club?

Learning skills that aren’t always taught in the classroom.


As the summer winds down, interns are busy completing their assigned projects and preparing their end of summer presentations. These presentations have been a rite of passage for interns on the Pointwise team for many years and gives each intern a chance to show off what they learned and accomplished. And the rest of the team gets to hear all the details of what they’ve been working on. Another benefit is the interns get to put to use some of the soft skills (a horrible phrase) that we (me and them) have been discussing all summer during Intern Reading Club.

So what exactly is Intern Reading Club?

The easy answer is that Intern Reading Club is one hour a week we schedule for me and the interns to get together (usually in my office but this summer on Teams) to discuss reading I’ve assigned. This summer was slightly more challenging in that I had to remember to put the books in a box of goodies (t-shirts, pens, paper, mouse pads—all the promo items a student would want) that we mailed at the start of the summer.

The more complex answer is that it’s an opportunity to get the interns to think about something other than what’s on the computer screen in front of them. They get to think about their work experience more holistically in terms of how our software business operates and interacts. This is important to me because after serving on the advisory board at my alma mater (the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at Syracuse University) for almost 20 years, I’ve been in countless discussions over what students should learn versus what they are taught. (IMO, the difference is less than many think.) The part where employers can contribute is in the area of soft skills (again, a horrible phrase) like writing, presenting, meeting, negotiating, stressing, creating, and more.

Stuff Engineers Don’t Learn in School

The book that’s been the mainstay of Intern Reading Club for many years is “Stuff You Don’t Learn in Engineering School” by Selinger. It has pretty good coverage of non-technical skills that forms the basis for our discussions. But we tend to use the book as a jumping-off point for wide ranging discussions on the topics.

This summer I didn’t blog about our discussions but to give you an idea, here are blog posts from 2019.

  1. Stuff Engineers Don’t Learn in School – Part 1
  2. Stuff Engineers Don’t Learn in School – Part 2
  3. Stuff Engineers Don’t Learn in School – Part 3
  4. Stuff Engineers Don’t Learn in School – Part 4

New reading for 2021

This summer we kicked of Intern Reading Club with a book I had read earlier in the year and enjoyed: Creativity by John Cleese. As a long-time Monty Python fan it was easy for me to pick the book up. And his thoughts on creativity made it hard to put down. And because it’s a “short and cheerful guide” it was perfect for reading club. (There’s a video on YouTube of Cleese talking about work life and he says something like “too many people confuse seriousness with solemnity” which immediately resonated with me. A lot of engineering bosses must feel threatened by people enjoying their work because they believe everyone should be walking around like ushers at a funeral. But I digress.)

We also read the paper “Identifying Non-Technical Skill Gaps in Software Engineering Education: What Experts Expect But Teachers Don’t Teach” by Groeneveld et al., which highlights continuous learning, creativity (there is it again), and creative problem-solving techniques (which seems like a cop-out but the data don’t lie). We had lots of discussion centered around the paradox of how students don’t become continuous learners when they spend four years of their undergraduate career continuously learning. We leapfrogged from there to “learning how to learn” being the most important take-away from your undergraduate years.

And we also read and discussed the deceptively simple but very helpful 2-page paper, “How to Read a Paper” by Keshav. I wish I had that advice when I was reading papers before launching into my master’s thesis.

I’m assuming your googling skills are sufficiently strong to find those papers on your own.

In summary

I believe I learn as much from these discussions as the interns do. I get fresh insight into how early career professionals view the world which helps me in my advisory board role. And I’m hoping that at least one thing we discuss sticks and makes an impact on the remainder of the interns’ academic careers. Anytime I read non-fiction I try to come up with one tip or technique that I can at least try if not adopt permanently and the interns and I ask ourselves that question at the end of each hour.

During our last Reading Club session, I asked the interns to lead the discussion and then did an Ask Me Anything with them which was interesting. You can learn a lot more about people from the questions they ask than then answers they provide.

On the issue of “soft skills,” Tom Peters is very correct; soft skills are hard.

And there was this time we had an intern who was a musical theater major who sang his entire end-of-summer presentation. You don’t hear that very often.

Engineers: Jobs & Education Knowledge Center
Job hunting resources & engineer education articles and videos
SemiEngineering’s YouTube Channel
Chip Industry Jobs board
Great resource if you’re looking for a job in the semiconductor industry

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