Is it feasible to manage 3 to 5 developer interns at a new startup without being in the office?


There's a brand new startup which has a lead developer. The other co-founders who are not technically savvy are thinking of bringing in 3 to 5 developer interns during the summer because the government pays for their salary. The lead developer also doesn't work full-time for the startup but part-time.

How feasible is it for the part-time lead developer to manage 3 to 5 interns without being in the office during day time?


asked Feb 12 '13 at 23:32
Thierry Lam
136 points
  • How many developers are there right now? – Cdk Moose 7 years ago
  • Just 1 lead dev – Thierry Lam 7 years ago

4 Answers


It's not feasible.

Check out the Mythical Man Month. It talks about almost this exact situation in great detail. When you have someone who knows the system, project, etc and you add someone new:

  • the total knowledge of the team hasn't changed but the average has dropped by 50%.
  • the amount of time spent on communicating that knowledge increases immensely therefore slowing the progress of that first person.

It leads to the adage of "adding new people to a late task only makes it later."

And that all assumes that they're perfectly competent team members who just don't know about the system.. you're getting people who have probably never even been involved in a real site/project in the real world.

answered Feb 13 '13 at 02:08
Casey Software
1,638 points
  • Even more true when the folks being added to the team are inexperienced interns. – James Adam 7 years ago
  • Yes, that's also assuming that once they have the knowledge of the system, they'll be able to contribute.. interns, not so much. – Casey Software 7 years ago
  • The OP did not specify that the project was late or properly staffed. If this project is understaffed, then I would say that the Mythical Man Month analysis does not apply. If this project legitimately specs out as a 5 person job and they only have 2, then adding 3 doesn't hurt. OP did not specify enough about the current staffing to make this judgment. The question was about managing the interns, not whether he should be adding staff in the first place. – Cdk Moose 7 years ago
  • Based on recent answer by OP, I'm not sure MMM applies. He only has one developer and if there is more work than the one person can do, you are going to need to add. I do agree with MMM with regard to a reasonably sized stable team, but not sure that's where he is at. – Cdk Moose 7 years ago
  • If the lead developer has to spend *any* time bringing new team members up to date, the project has been delayed. As they have to communicate going further, it slows down any one individual's progress. In the *long term* the added people could help get a lot more done.. but we're talking about interns here. The odds of their work being solid without significant effort from the lead developer is pretty low. (I like interns, but this sort of ratio this early strikes me as incredibly unproductive.) – Casey Software 7 years ago
  • We can agree to disagree, but if the project is significantly understaffed, as it appears in this case, the lost time to bringing new team members up to date should be offset be actually getting the project done. – Cdk Moose 7 years ago
  • these are interns. its not just "bringing them up the date", it's constantly teaching how to be professional developers. no way this would end well. – Robert Levy 7 years ago


To me, this sounds like a recipe for disaster:

  • A single intern requires a reasonable amount of active mentoring, 3-5 interns could easily take all of the time of your lead developer.
  • This is a startup, so I would wager that the technical vision for the company is not fully fleshed out. I don't think you want a team of interns with limited technical leadership making those decisions.
  • In my experience, I would not put mission critical development tasks in a team of interns. I would consider adding interns to an existing stable team.
answered Feb 12 '13 at 23:54
Cdk Moose
429 points


If you do not have someone to manage and overlook the code generated (even when you are co-located) you will find yourself in a lot of trouble with whatever app produced.

I would advice against it. Just be saying the word "interns" you are basically have to teach more than produce, so get less interns if you can.

If you do expect the following:

  • Code rewrite of segments made by interns at a later stage.
  • Slowing of the work beyond what you have today.
  • Lead developer not be able to bring everyone up to speed (5 to 1 ratio)

You can however bring them if you want to write documentation, have already Unit Tests that will catch issues in code, conduct code reviews every 1-2 weeks (assuming you are doing some kind of agile development)

Hope this helps..

answered Feb 13 '13 at 09:41
56 points


It won't work..

. For the very good reasons in the other answers, which do all assume that they will be working on an existing system.

If these interns are going to be brought in why not, remove the management burden on you lead dev forgetting about the manage them bit, give them a real problem(s) that is important to the business, and let them solve it any way they can, independently from current systems / code base etc...

Seems a better way to utilise them, see if they can innovate around your current approach to the problems, even if what they produce isn't production quality, you may learn from their solutions.

disadvantage is a possible time sink for non technical people in the startup in describing the problem domain.

answered Feb 16 '13 at 09:03
1 point

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