Nearly everyone has to complete an internship before stepping into the professional workforce. Internships serve as a valuable opportunity to sharpen skills and deep dive into an industry. However, interns tend to make embarrassing, albeit hilarious, mistakes. These former interns and employers share the insane errors made by themselves or new employees. Hey, we’ve all been there, right? Content has been edited for clarity.
“The CEO Of The Company Was Dumbstruck”
“When I was twenty-one years old, I almost lost several hundred million bucks by threatening to physically harm one of my company’s customers.
In my senior year of college, I worked full-time as an intern at NetApp. I spent most of this time being groomed and prepared to become a project manager, and given my background was in cryptography, I got pulled into several customer meetings related to security.
One of NetApp’s customers at the time was undergoing a major change in its security architecture, and I tagged along with one of our directors to the meeting. I was one of ten product managers to talk about our roadmap and plans, and I only had thirty minutes to convince the customer’s chief information officer and the chief executive officer to integrate our new systems well with the security infrastructure they were rolling out.
It turned out that the CIO and CEO weren’t the only ones in the meeting. Joining them was the company’s chief security officer. Like me, the CSO was a young, rising star in their company with a lot to prove in a short time. He also didn’t like me much from the get-go. I didn’t understand what his issue was with me, as I had never met the CSO before.
When I walked into the room, the CSO sneered, and when I went to plug in my laptop to the projector, he openly asked, ‘Is he going to present alone?’
Most of the five-slide presentation I prepared was instantly ripped apart. I had a good command of the technology involved, so the criticism wasn’t on our findings. Instead, the CSO nitpicked the design.
The CSO exclaimed, ‘Look, the colors are off. The fonts you used aren’t like the other presenter’s, either.’
When I finished my slides and arrived at the time for questions, the CSO laughed and shooed me away. I knew he would be tough to please.
He said, ‘Good effort, but you don’t abide by our security practices.’
I stared at the CSO with tired, dagger-piercing eyes across the podium. Not only did we abide by what they needed, but I had spent all night working on the presentation. I was angry, so I decided to push back.
I replied, ‘Well, what specifications are you referring to?’
The CSO replied, ‘You don’t understand. We are subject to a vast amount of compliance requirements including-’
I cut him off and finished his sentence, ‘Including the security requirements I already did homework on. Yeah, I’m aware.’
The customer’s CEO took notice of me pushing back, and he seemed to wake up from his, ‘I don’t care what is happening, when is lunch,’ stupor.
As the CSO and I nerd battled like we were Sith and Jedi live-action role players at Gen Con, a bunch of the account representatives in the back of the room tried to get me to come off stage. However, my director let me stay.
Finally, once I proved we fit the specifications, the CSO changed his tone to something ridiculous.
‘Well, what about biometric scanners?’ the CSO asked, ‘We need biometric scanners.’
I blinked. I didn’t know what to say. Biometric scanners? We were a storage company, not the National Security Agency.
I replied, ‘Our authentication schemes supported most of the protocols used by bio-scanners.’
The CSO retorted, ‘I think the scanners need to be first-party only.’
I sighed, clearly exasperated, and bluntly responded, ‘We don’t make biometric scanners here. Plus, your company does not need biometric scanners. They’re expensive, and none of your compliance requirements need them. It would be complete overkill.’
The CSO immediately replied angrily, citing his military experience and how he was going to make an infrastructure system totally ‘unhackable.’
So, I decided to turn the tables on him.
‘Okay, biometric scanners,’ I explained, ‘What kind of biometric scanners do you need?’
The CSO gave me a list of specifications, but having recently completed a homework assignment in my information security class, I hit him back with the various faults in modern biometric scanners. I didn’t spare the gory details about how they could be frauded, either.
I told the CSO, ‘So, you want biometric scanners with feedback, right? Well, what would stop me from cutting off your thumb and swiping it like in the movies? Nothing. Unless of course, you want to integrate temperature and humidity monitors, and even then, I’ll defeat it by running tubes into your cut-off thumb with warm water. Actually, I could do the same thing with your eyes, too.’
I kept elaborating, and at this point, the CSO sat back completely horrified. The CEO of the company was dumbstruck, and the account team in the back of the room was mortified. My director was dying of laughter.
Then, I proceeded to go into detail about the faults of various retina scanners, until finally, the CSO sat back in his chair. He was defeated in his designs and now horrified at the geeky kid in front of him who now looked less like an engineer and more like a psychopath.
At this point, the team decided to call the meeting. I was quickly hurried out of the room, only after thanking the customers for their time. I met with the other project managers in attendance from my company who was doubled over in laughter.
The account representative on the team later blasted me with a series of insults and stated, ‘You aren’t mature enough for your job.’
I spent the next few days calling myself an idiot and getting ready to change my social media job status. However, when the email feedback report on my presentation came back, I received the highest rating from the customer’s executive team.
The customer’s executive team noted the CSO could, ‘be difficult sometimes,’ and they appreciated my ‘strong command and understanding of the security requirements of our space.’
I spent the next few years at NetApp running product security. This event came up during my year-end review though, and since then I’ve become much better at presentation etiquette.”
“We Instantly Knew Someone Messed Up”
“I worked as an aeronautics technician, and my workplace had just received new interns fresh from college as a part of their coursework. This incident occurred during the second or third week of their internships.
The group of interns had just finished doing a maintenance check on a Boeing 737 set to fly a United Nations delegation to a neighboring country in the region for a peace mission. My colleagues and I signed off on their work, headed to lunch, and left the cleanup process for the interns to complete.
One of the interns who I didn’t particularly enjoy was cleaning out the main cabin area. He had one job to do. Only one job. And then, he had the bright idea to not do his one job correctly. When working with aircraft, instructions were particular and extensive for a reason. Instructions were detailed so stupid mistakes didn’t happen. However, every so often, the company would get a rogue intern who didn’t listen.
The airplane had an evacuation slide which deployed when the main cabin doors were opened in the armed position. The Boeing 737 has a stand-alone fail-safe voice alarm to notify anyone trying to arm the slide in case it was unintentional. If the slide failed to deploy or it wasn’t armed, there was a manual lever, or in our case, a red nylon handle with the word ‘pull,’ written in large letters on the front.
So, that’s exactly what the intern did.
The door was not armed, and it wasn’t closed either. But the intern went ahead to, of all things, pull the handle.
My colleagues and I were already out of our work overalls and getting ready for lunch when we heard the terrifying and familiar sound of the slide inflating.
We instantly knew someone messed up.
Although some people may have thought the slide deploying wasn’t an issue, it was a major problem. Once the evacuation slide was deployed, it had to be taken down from the plane, transported to a certified shop, re-inflated and checked for defects, deflated, and professionally packed, and the air container had to be repressurized. Then, the slide had to return to the hangar, get lifted, and finally, fixed into the aircraft again.
Needless to say, the intern cost the company about eighteen thousand bucks in delay expenses for the United Nations flight, peace for the country they were headed to, and our lunch break.”
“The FBI Swarmed The Company”
“I worked at a company, that, at the time, helped propel the internet in its early days by inventing the error-conducting model. This product revolutionized the computer transmission of data because, for the first time, medical financial, business, and other data could be transmitted reliably. The implications were major. People took this type of thing for granted, like breathing, but back in the day, it was a world-shifting phenomenon.
To stay ahead of the competition who were licensing our technology, we were always enhancing our techniques. If a company was sending perfectly reliable data, the next thing my company did was increase transmission speed. We implemented a patented version of Huffman data compression, and it was breathtaking in its simplicity and power.
The device would ‘guess’ what the next character was going to be before it was received, and it was based n a frequency analysis of previous data. Then, it used a shorted bit pattern for the data. Through this method, we were able to double transmission speeds. The technology was impressive, and the industry was amazed.
My company often hired interns, and we treated the interns as equals. When interns first came to be, many companies didn’t treat them like equals in the industry. However, my company didn’t send the interns out for coffee. Instead, we immersed them in the work and rewarded them when they contributed.
There was one intern in particular who my colleagues and I liked. He was quick and bright, and he provided real contributions to the technology. Then one day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation swarmed down on the company. They came in fast, and all hard work came to a stop while everyone wondered what was going on.
It turned out the prized intern had stolen the source code for our most precious techniques, and he tried to sell them to an outside source for a ridiculous sum of fifty thousand bucks.
Unfortunately, the outside source he attempted to sell the source codes to were undercover FBI agents. I never discovered how he set the sale up or how the FBI became involved, but here was a young man, not even a college graduate, who was now headed off to prison for espionage, theft, and a dozen other charges. He would never be able to get a job in the industry, which was a shame because he was fully trained and capable.
The amount of money the intern was seeking was ridiculously small considering the technology made the company millions of bucks. I couldn’t believe my colleagues and I trusted him.”
“It Was A Crazy Night In Memphis History”
“One Saturday night in August of 1978, just after eleven in the evening, the city of Memphis went totally dark.
I was about to go to bed when I saw the lights dim, then go out altogether. I picked up my phone to report the incident, but there was no dial tone. Of course, it was the seventies, so we only had landline phones in our homes. I thought about getting a glass of water while waiting for power to be restored, but no water came out of my faucet, either.
I walked outside and looked around. I lived within sight of a highrise hotel, and even the highrise was completely dark. All of the other buildings I could see were dark too. There were no lights on the nearby interstate.
Suddenly, I realized with the night being overcast, there were no lights reflected on the cloud cover over the city.
This was all rather alarming because there were police and firemen’s strikes this summer in Memphis, and they had made national news. Many people were concerned about strikers resorting to vandalism.
The entire city was dark. Word of the citywide blackout reached the governor in Nashville, who then mobilized the Tennessee National Guard in helicopters. It was later learned the helicopters narrowly missed flying into high-tension powerlines because there was barely any light.
What had caused all this? Rogue strikers, or something else?
No, it wasn’t anything so logical. Memphis Light, Gas, and Water had an installation in a county outside of the city limits, and it worked as a nerve center. In a single room of the building, there was a single switch to ‘control everything.’
This night, a new security guard reporting for his first shift had driven over two hundred miles to Memphis from a party in Nashville. He was fatigued and perhaps influenced by drinks he had earlier in the night. The door to the control room had been left open, and the security guard wandered in out of curiosity.
His curiosity extended to the master switch which he decided to flip, just to see what would happen. The rest was history.
Power was restored in the city about three hours later. I figured out some of the internal details because years later, I met a man who was an engineer for the power company at the time. He was called in this night to deal with the emergency.
It was a crazy night in Memphis history.”
“My Officemate Never Came Back From Lunch”
“This incident happened a long time ago when I initially entered the workforce.
My first job was an internship at Microsoft, and this issue happened with my officemate. Yes, Microsoft had offices back in the day, even for interns. At the time, my officemate and I were both working on Microsoft Exchange.
One day during the third week of our internship, our manager came into the office and asked, ‘Where’s your officemate?’
I had no idea where he was.
I replied, ‘I’m not sure. He might be at lunch.’
My manager hurriedly explained, ‘There is something wrong with his laptop. Security alerted me about an issue.’
My manager walked over to my officemate’s desk and hit a key, fully expecting the laptop would be locked and that he would have to wait for him to return. The computer was not locked. Right there on the desktop were the old-school Windows ‘flying folders’ of user interface files being copied from one drive to another.
The ‘from’ drive had an unreleased version of Outlook on Microsoft’s internal beta file share. The ‘to’ drive was some random external file transfer protocol server.
Needless to say, my officemate never came back from lunch.”
“He Cost The Company 500k”
“At my old job, we got a new intern. The intern was told to reboot ‘the computer’ by the help desk. The instructions seemed simple, right?
Well, they weren’t explained thoroughly enough.
Unfortunately, the intern was studying computer science and knew it was a networked system, so he rebooted the master server and took everyone’s computers offline. This meant all of our nationwide financial transactions being processed at the time were lost, and they needed to be recreated from a failsafe, redundant mechanism. It ruined everyone’s workday.
The one tiny mistake the intern made in the middle of the day was estimated to have cost the company over five hundred thousand dollars in direct costs, and the per diem interest on the large sums being documented and transferred in the mortgage system. It was a major issue, but nobody at the company wanted to upset the intern. After all, they didn’t know any better.
As expected, the next day’s rates were slightly different, and any increase over the life of a particular loan was the company’s responsibility if the borrower did not sign a correction notification statement. Some borrowers simply abandoned their loans and used the excuse to walk away from the settlement. The settlement costs were reimbursed by the company.
Nothing happened to the intern, but the help desk advisor was terminated for not fully explaining what needed to be done.”
The Mealtime Mistake
“This incident happened about eighteen years ago when I was a student. At the time, I was doing research at London’s Heathrow Airport, and I worked in a room just below the control tower. My colleague and I were tasked with the job of listening to control tower instructions and timing how long the pilots took to respond. The work was enjoyable, I liked my colleagues, and the job seemed easy enough.
One day, my colleague left for lunch having turned his radio onto ‘broadcast’ by accident. As the radio was one-way, it meant nobody was able to send or receive messages on the frequency being used to give flight take-off permission.
When I returned back to my desk and began to eat my lunch, I discovered all departures from the airport had been brought to a standstill by someone who sounded like they were eating their lunch.
‘How strange,’ I thought to myself, ‘Did someone forget to turn their radio off?’
I continued to enjoy my lunch before the realization hit me. It was the sound of my lunch being eaten on the radio. I didn’t notice until almost ten minutes later. Ten minutes passed by while multiple pilots listened to me eat food, and they couldn’t say a word. I was humiliated!
I rushed over to the radio and flipped the switch to off, and one of the busiest international airports in the world began to operate as normal again.
Surprisingly, my colleague and I got away with it. I still laugh about it to this day.”
Lousy Laptop Security
“This incident happened to a friend of mine who worked with an intern at Goldman Sachs, a world-famous bank.
The bank had records and details of many privileged personalities and celebrities as they shared priority accounts with them in some other countries. Their wealth-related information was very crucial to markets and some institutions.
The intern was roaming around the office after hours. Just for fun, he went into the country head’s office and spotted his laptop. With nobody in the office, the intern opened the laptop, and it prompted him for a password. The intern thought he knew a trick unlock the laptop, so he tried it.
The laptop activated self-destructive mode and rang the alarms. The data on the laptop was lost, as it was designed to delete for security purposes. The country head returned to the office along with security in the middle of the night and found what happened.
The intern was fired immediately, and the company also sued him for a couple of things.”
“They Just Stared At Each Other In Shock”
“A bone-head intern pulled this move and it is still being brought up even after years later.
The certified public accountant firm I worked for always hired four or five summer interns, and they just got picked up to help on miscellaneous engagements as needed. When the interns didn’t have anything to work on, they were required to email the entire department with an ‘available for work’ email so people would know they were free. It was a seemingly simple process, but we should have known an intern would make a mistake at some point.
When one of the interns sent their email, another intern friend of his accidentally hit ‘reply all’ and sent the company an email riddled with obscenities.
The intern sent an entire department of sixty-something people including partners, managers, and department heads the rudest email imaginable.
It was magical, and it was one of the most hilarious things I had ever experienced at work. Everyone got the email at the same time and you could see heads start to come up over cube walls one by one like prairie dogs. Managers slowly stepped out of their offices and everyone just stared at each other in shock.
They now offer ‘reply all’ training as part of intern orientation.”
The Secret Service Scare
“I previously worked at a job downtown in a high-rise, and I was middle management for a technical support outsourcing company.
On this night, I was the lead manager on duty. Some of my employees had gotten ahold of a couple of keychain laser pointers back when they first came out. The employees kept shining the laser pointers out of the windows of the twenty-fourth floor of the building where our offices were located.
Unfortunately, it just so happened the employees were shining the lasers into the windows of a hotel across the street. On this particular night, the leader of the United States was staying on the same floor of the hotel my employees were shining the lasers into.
This was the only time I ever had the opportunity to meet the Secret Service, and I could assure you they didn’t have a sense of humor. Even though the situation was hilarious, I couldn’t allow laser pointers in the office going forward.”
Company Partnership Problems
“At the last company I worked for, we had been trying to secure a corporate partnership with the United Parcel Service for about one year.
Everyone on the team had done extensive research, and the lead sales role had spent several hundred hours conceptualizing what the partnership would mean for both companies. The proposal the sales lead crafted was both beautiful to read and look at.
And then, I accidentally FedExed the proposal to them instead of using UPS.
We lost the partnership with UPS about three days later. I felt so bad for the sales lead, all of their hard work was ruined by my goofy mistake.”