Facebook Inc. rolled out the red carpet for Michael Sayman when the social network hired him for a job that started last month, including flying him out to meet Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg.
Sayman, 17, brought his mom along on the trip. The position Facebook recruited him for: summer intern.
“When I got the e-mail saying — oh my god — Mark Zuckerberg wants to meet you, I had to make sure nobody was playing a prank on me,” Sayman, who wears braces and recently graduated from high school in Miami, said in an interview. “It was just incredible to be able to meet him.”
Landing top talent is getting so tough in Silicon Valley that technology companies are trying anything for an edge — including hiring interns out of high school and boosting new recruits’ perks. Facebook said it just started wooing interns before their freshman year of college, while LinkedIn Corp. opened its summer program to high schoolers two years ago. Startups including Airbnb Inc. have also nabbed interns as young as 16 years old.
For the companies, it’s all about keeping up with Silicon Valley’s youth-oriented culture, especially as the young and technically inclined are sometimes encouraged to create their own startups instead of joining large organizations. Early Facebook investor Peter Thiel pays people under 20 years old $100,000 to quit school to pursue their passions. Others aspire to follow the path of Summly Ltd. founder Nick D’Aloisio, who became a millionaire at 17 last year when Yahoo! Inc. acquired his mobile application.
The importance of young hires is recognized at the very top. On an earnings call in May, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner gave a shout-out to his 2014 intern class, saying “talent is our number one operating priority and our most important asset, and this incoming group will continue to add to our team.”
The drive for youth is being spurred by more people getting into technology at a younger age. With online coding tutorials and Web communities for collaborating on software, high schoolers don’t have to get a computer science degree before producing their own mobile apps. Many find their way to events such as hackathons and contests to find bugs in software, which attract whoever has the skills to compete.
James Anderson got his internship at Portland, Oregon-based Web startup Planet Argon LLC last year through just this route. At age 13, he went to a conference focused on the Ruby on Rails programming language and met Planet Argon’s founders on a company hike. He later asked for — and got — a summer internship before starting high school.
“I felt like age shouldn’t hold me back as long as I can code,” said Anderson, now 15 and a soon-to-be sophomore at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Cañada, California, who taught himself several programming languages and built apps based on online tutorials.
In the push for candidates, summer interns are getting treated better, too. It’s become standard for engineering interns to snag free housing, transportation and salaries of more than $6,000 a month, according to job-search site Glassdoor Inc. That compares with the $4,280 average monthly income for U.S. households in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of the top 10 companies paying the most for interns, all are technology companies except for Exxon Mobil Corp., Glassdoor said in February.
“It’s kind of insane that as a 19- or 20-year-old, you can make more than the U.S. average income in a summer,” said Daniel Tahara, 21, who interned at big data startup Hadapt Inc. last summer and mobile-security startup Lookout Inc. the year before. Tahara, who declined to say how much he was paid, started a job with online storage startup Dropbox Inc. this month.
Other perks abound. Microsoft Corp. puts on a free concert for summer interns, last year booking Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Dedmau5. Dropbox pays for interns’ parents to fly to San Francisco and learn about the company. Google Inc. provides standard workplace benefits to interns, including on-site massages and laundry service.