Columns

Kevin Roose ‘09.5: As the world interns

By
Opinions Editor
Thursday, April 23, 2009

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that Brown students love unpaid internships. We love unpaid internships the way Romeo loves Juliet, the way Joanie loves Chachi, the way Angelina Jolie loves adopting third-world babies. Every June, thousands of us leave College Hill and spread across the nation like over-eager kudzu, checking into the workplaces where we’ll spend the summer fiddling with Excel spreadsheets and changing #2 coffee filters in exchange for “class credit” and a subway pass.

I’ll admit that although I’ve had summer jobs, I’ve never had a full-time unpaid internship. And frankly, I’m a little depressed about it. According to a 2006 survey by Vault, a career counseling firm of some sort, about 80 percent of college students have done an internship by the time they graduate. What if I’m missing something by spending my summers making actual money? What if sitting in an air-conditioned office and doing an imaginary job for free is an integral part of the Brown experience, like eating at Loui’s or using the word “dichotomy?”

This week, I decided to fall in line behind the rest of collegiate America. I decided to find the perfect unpaid internship. I began my search on the Internet. An e-book titled “The Last Guide to Finding a Great Internship You’ll Ever Need” offered to help me “define what will make an internship great for you and then how to land it.” But there was a catch: at $17, the cost of the advice would eat into, oh, 90 percent of my potential earnings. A Craigslist search for freelance entertainment jobs turned up a casting call from a national TV show offering to give on-camera makeovers to people whose eyebrows are “so furry and full that plucking doesn’t even make a dent” (I’ll pass, thanks), but no appealing internship leads. I thought about asking Brown’s Career Development Center for help, but I refuse on principle to engage with anyone who sends me 27 e-mails a day.

So I struck out on my own. Remembering that one of my friends had spent last summer interning for Joan Rivers after approaching her on the street and asking for a job, I began thinking of celebrities who might need a summer grunt. I sent a Twitter message to Shaq, offering to work for him for free. He didn’t respond, which, in retrospect, is probably a good thing. I’m not sure I want to spend my summer watching basketball practices and describing things as Shaqalicious.

Next, I found a list of the 50 Best Internships, as ranked by Business Week magazine.

They’re serious gigs at investment banks and government offices — jobs requiring diligent work and boatloads of ambition — and I didn’t think I was up to the task. I thought back to my first-ever job interview, at a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan whose owner took one look at my resume and concluded that I had “no real-world skills.” Which is true. I don’t know what it takes to get hired at PricewaterhouseCoopers, but I’m pretty sure being able to quote from all 87 episodes of “Saved By The Bell” won’t help.

Maybe, I thought, I should set my sights a little lower, find something I could really excel at. A friend forwarded me a New York Times article about Pizza Hut’s much-publicized listing for a “Twintern” — an intern whose job would consist of Twittering breaking pizza news from a cubicle in Dallas. That could work. Even more promising was a listing for a position at Electronic Arts, the video game manufacturer behind the Madden series. I called up EA spokesman Brian Schneider to ask if the listing meant what I thought it meant: that there are interns whose duties involve playing Wii all summer.

“We hire about 100 interns every summer,” Schneider said. “But most of them are involved in game development.”

Schneider — whose e-mail signature reads “I play games at work. For research and development, of course.” — then told me that EA has a year-round squad of full and part-time game testers, some of them college students from local universities. When I told him this sounded like the Platonic ideal of a job, he responded: “People say that. But our testers sometimes have to play the same level over and over again, to find all the bugs and glitches. Then it’s maybe not so fun.”

I wasn’t convinced. I told Schneider I could beat Madden’s career mode on All-Pro difficulty when I was 16, and asked him if this alone would qualify me for an internship. He laughed.

“We have some hardcore players over here. I’m not sure where you’d rank. Being a tester isn’t just about gaming, though. Our testers get intimately familiar with the intricacies of the games. They see them as they’re developed, they poke and prod and find out what’s fun and what’s not fun.” To be a tester, you apparently have to talk about video games in the terms most people reserve for lovemaking.  He continued: “It’s not an easy job. Definitely not for slackers.”

I thought about challenging Schneider’s implied accusation, if only because nothing is more shameful than being dissed by a guy who uses “game” as a verb. But then I had a jarring realization: It’s the last week in April, and I still don’t have summer plans. So I thanked him and got off the phone, newly aware of my place in the world.  When it comes to internships, I guess slacker is as slacker does.


Kevin Roose ‘09.5 is an English concentrator from Oberlin, Ohio. He can be reached at
kevin_roose (at) brown.edu.

  • Brown Alum

    It sounds like the smug, complacent Mr. Roose has never agonized over finding work in a recession.

    Good thing he has his book deal and another cushy Brown semester to tide him over.