Target recognizes that many of tomorrow’s best and brightest technology professionals are headed for nontraditional engineering education paths, including community and commuter colleges — many of which are right in our hometown of Minneapolis. So we set out to design a flexible spring internship program — but this was no typical program.
In order to cast a wider net into tech talent sources we hadn’t previously considered, this internship had to offer part-time schedules and tailored training and onboarding to fit busy lives with competing priorities like jobs and family commitments.
The goal of the internship is to close the experience gap with exposure to a real-world corporate environment while building technical skills and providing the professional development and mentorship that prepares students for positions in Target’s Technology Leadership Program.
In the quest for a pilot partner, Target considered local colleges based on curriculum content, courses of study, student demographics, success rates and faculty interactions. As a result, Metropolitan State University (Metro State) emerged as an ideal choice as our initial partner, with a goal of expanding to additional talent sources in the future.
Half of Metro State’s students are people of color, 62% are from lower-income households and 61% are the first generation in their families to attend college. Further, the average Metro State student is 31 years old with a household, a job and other obligations. The school achieves comparable success rates while maintaining academic rigor, and has the lowest-cost bachelor degrees of any university in Minnesota.
For more on the program, we sat down with Metro State alum and Campus Champion Dan and program sponsor Kraig to understand what makes this internship so uniquely promising in a time of unprecedented demand for top tech talent.
How is Target’s internship program with Metro State different from others?
Dan: First, this internship takes place in the spring. Second, we prioritize accommodating students’ time. Since most students are still attending class, we are flexible with hour requirements so students can maintain their studies. We create a set of core days for interns to be on site, and then leave the remaining schedule to them and their manager.
Competition for talent in technology is fierce. Why is Target taking the opportunity to foster homegrown talent?
Dan: This program provided us an opportunity to explore new avenues for untapped talent. Before this partnership, local students may not have immediately thought of Target as a place they could start their career in technology, and Target didn't realize the caliber of students we already had access to in our local market. Through the program, we’ve unlocked a mutual benefit to both these amazing students and Target. We value the diverse perspectives they bring to Target and the great contributions they make to their teams.
What do you find most exciting or rewarding about seeing the first class of Metro State interns grow at Target?
Dan: I am excited that we’re recognizing the talent coming out of this school. The student body is very motivated and ready to jump in and contribute. I look forward to growing this partnership.
Kraig: I have loved seeing the passion this group of interns brought to Target. They all jumped into their experience on day one just like they were full-time team members and never looked back. I believe we are at the start of a very good relationship here.
For the intern point of view, we chatted with Polly and Jack, two engineers who participated in the Metro State internship and are now members of our Technology Leadership Program.
What has surprised you most about this unique internship program?
Polly: The amount of support I received during my internship was phenomenal. I was surprised by how easily I was able to network with members of my team, as well as upper management and senior leaders. And I felt encouraged to take on challenging problems and improve my confidence as a young professional.
Jack: The focus and emphasis on learning and professional growth over productivity was most surprising. There were no expectations of me other than to learn and demonstrate growth in the topics I chose. I also had a say in the technologies I wanted to focus on.
Why was the structure of this program particularly beneficial or rewarding to you?
Jack: Taking time to focus on a specific area of the business, gaining hands-on development and operations experience, and deepening my understanding of Target’s infrastructure was incredibly rewarding. In my first few weeks in the Technology Leadership Program, I was already making connections and using tools that I had learned about during my internship. This program has done a lot to prepare me to be an even more successful engineer than I otherwise would have been.
Polly: Working by day and attending classes by night, I found that what I was learning during my internship was directly applicable to my school projects. This parallel correlation of events allowed for an easier transition from student life to being a full-time engineer.
What opportunities did Target provide for learning, growth and development?
Polly: Participating in groups like Target Women in Science and Technology (TWIST) and attending events such as Demo Day and begINNER Con have been great learning opportunities. It is inspiring to meet other engineers or product owners who are passionate about their work, and they offer a great way to network with others in technology at Target.
Jack: Even as an intern, I had access to the same learning resources as regular team members (Safari Books and Pluralsight) and as many internal talks and conferences as possible. From begINNER Con to the Lunch ‘n Learn events, there are a ton of avenues for developing your skills.
How have you developed your skills as a result of your internship experience?
Polly: I’ve become better at organizing my time and managing my projects. I have also improved my communication skills to ensure team expectations and objectives are met.
Jack: In the 15 years leading up to my new career at Target, I worked as a hairstylist with no background in tech aside from my undergrad and summer internship. I was indeed a novice. Right away, I challenged myself to ask a lot of questions. Even when I struggled to find the right one to ask, I still put my lack of knowledge out there and allowed myself to be vulnerable. I branched out and learned new languages like C#, Python and PowerShell. I became more familiar with Git and CI/CD, and conquered my fear of unit testing thanks to the amazing efforts of my team.
What was the highlight of the internship program experience for you?
Jack: The team I worked with and learned from. I was placed in a role that balanced learning both the development and operations-side of the business. Creating automation to support our operations and minimize downtime on POS systems in stores was quite fun, largely thanks to my team. My manager was also incredibly supportive throughout the process; giving me space and freedom to work on what interested me while also checking in often to make sure things were going well. And in the end I even walked away with some new friends that I’ve been able to hang out with outside of work.
How would you describe the culture at Target?
Jack: Laid back. It’s one thing to tell your employees to bring their authentic selves to work. It’s another thing to actually mean it. I feel like I can be myself at work and ultimately, I’m judged on my performance and ability to grow in my role. Additionally, I feel like the growth mindset and “better every day” mentality is thoroughly embraced. You’re not expected to know everything, but you are expected to see those gaps as opportunities and show some willingness to learn.
Polly: Driven. Whether it be an individual or a team, it is clear that every employee is driven to define their own meaning of success and how to achieve their personal goals. I also love the work-life balance!
What would you tell someone considering a career in technology at Target?
Polly: Technology at Target is innovative, creative and progressive with a strong learning culture. As an employee within Target tech, you will be able to develop your hard and soft skills while contributing to projects that support the company’s business ventures.
Jack: What are you waiting for? Target is such a large company, there is something here for everyone. You could spend an entire career here and never run out of things to learn.