I applied for the MLH fellowship for the first time in January like a plain noob and was blatantly rejected. Next I applied in July, they said I didn’t apply early enough and the seats were already full. By then MLH had converted the Explorer’s track of their full fellowship to this new concept called the Prep Fellowship. Intrigued, I applied for the October batch, but somehow my interviews were delayed and even though I was selected this time, I was auto-admitted to the November batch: MLH-Prep-Pod-4.1.3
Difference Between Full and Prep Fellowship with MLH
- Duration: The full fellowship is roughly a 3 month commitment, whereas prep is a 3 week thing.
- Purpose: Here is the major difference between the both. Prep is an introductory program, making students get a taste of what the full fellowship feels like by giving themselves a chance here with MLH. So you do not have to set apart a lot of time just to get that “experience”. The full fellowship is an internship alternative that is meant to give you real life skills, projects, and full on team-work etiquettes. They make you work on actual projects of companies you could aspire to work for. And no, while you aren’t directly associated with the companies, you do get mentorship and networking opportunities for sure.
- Stipend: Prep is unpaid, the full fellowship pays you stipend — what exactly — that fellows themselves from each batch could answer best because the stipend over the years has been variable for the programs.
- Tracks: Prep is meant to be simple, and hence there is just one uniform track all pods follow. The full fellowship however has 3 tracks according to your interest — Open Source, Software Engineering and Production Engineering (not available for Indians dated today as I write this).
Similarities Between them
- Selection Process: It is exactly the same. There isn’t leniency in the selection process. You have to fill in the same application form, appear for the same number of interviews, get assessed on the same parameters and possess the same skills to make it to any of these programs. You can find the details of this process in the section below.
- Environment: Just because it is a 3 weeks thing, does not at all mean that things get non-professional at any moment. You get the best pod-leaders still, you get proper attention and help from them and everything is just a simulation of the full fellowship. You are given the exact responsibilities and experience you would get in the full fellowship.
- You’re still an MLH fellow!!
Now I cannot guarantee how MLH does the screening but almost every fellow will tell you that applying early definitely has benefits. That doesn’t mean you cannot apply if you’re late, you just gotta stand out among the tens of thousands of candidates that have already sent their application before you or be really lucky that the batch doesn’t get filled by then.
This is where I was rejected twice and then learnt that essays are the most crucial part of the application because that is what is the differentiating factor between you and someone else who can write decent-ish English to call themselves “responsible, hard-working, team-player” etc. This is the best-ever advice you will receive for your essays, that I received from a friend. He said, to make your essays stand-out, bind it with a story-like description of why what you’re claiming yourself to be is actually true. If you call yourself responsible,exemplify with what instances can you help us count on that will make us believe that you’re actually responsible. That is the trick. The rest depends upon originality and your intentions to actually write a good enough essay. I took around 10 days to write mine (including the days I procrastinated). And lastly you have to select that one code sample that represents you as a programmer/code the best. All dos and don’ts about this code sample are very well explained in the application form itself.
Interview — I
This is a behavioural interview and most candidates passing the application screening should be able to clear this round. Candidates are evaluated based on their eligibility, passion, communication skills, proper internet connection (audio/video) and professionalism. Mine was really nice, my interviewer was friendly as well and made sure I was comfortable. I actually wasn’t, and I did tell her that I was extremely nervous because I really wanted the fellowship after being rejected twice. She told me how it was super okay and that it happened to her as well.
Interview — II
This is the technical interview, where you are expected to explain the project/code-sample you submitted in your initial application. This includes discussing how you wrote the code and what you would do differently in the future. They also ask you some questions about your familiarity with the specific technologies & programming languages you indicated you were proficient with on your application. Your learning potential, ability to take feedback positively and ability to collaborate with other fellows on your team is judged in this round. Yet again, a really nice interviewer, she listened to what I had to say, made me walk through the code, asked specific questions about various parts of the code, why I wrote a certain thing the way it was, etc.
Overall Experience During the Fellowship
Week — I
The first week made us familiar with the program, our pod members, pod leader, various tasks we needed to get done and an initial pod portfolio project to get hands on collaboration working with other fellows in a team, creating issues and pull requests. Also we were asked to schedule one-on-one calls with each other and our pod leader to get to know each other better.
Week — II
I fell sick. Was down with high fever and a fully choked throat. Spent 3 days to be exact on the bed. Missed one pod standup. But we were shuffled in teams yet again. Next we had to work on a React based project, just a simple weather app template — that we had to modify to make it look like something professionally done. I had to learn React to start working on the thing. Meanwhile my teammate handled the issues really well. We were introduced to a concept called Show-and-Tell where we pick our favourite tool/technology/concept and explain it to our pod-mates. That was something, a bunch of people, all pros in their domain, coming up to teach their favourite parts to you.
Week — III
We continued with the React project, trying to find features to add, issues to create. Me struggling with React, holding conversations with other fellows, making the best out of the last week. And before we even realised it was over. Then we had the graduation ceremony, eventually graduating as fellows.
Final Takes on the Prep Fellowship
- Great for beginners: Honestly, as far as the technical aspect was considered, people who have just started with coding are perfect for this because I did not get to use a lot of technical capabilities here as much as I was tested for.
- Tech stacks are a real thing: After clearly indicating my proficiency and interest in working with Python and/or backend projects, all pods in the prep fellowship only consisted of web dev. I felt out of place, since the projects we worked on involved mostly frontend. I have never enjoyed working on frontend a lot.
- Should you go for it? To be fair, if you are beginner-medium experienced with web development and are wanting to get a taste of what the full fellowship feels like without directly giving in the full commitment of 3 months there, the prep fellowship should be a great alternative for you. If in the upcoming prep-fellowship batches, they introduce more varied tech stacks, that would be awesome, until then if you aren’t a sucker for web dev, you might wanna stay away.
- Doesn’t take a lot of time: I was doing a full-time remote internship and during my prep fellowship and it honestly didn’t affect much, except for the times when our standup and the internship meets were scheduled at the exact same time. But it was fairly manageable even along with college and other extracurricular activities. So yeah, time isn’t a huge factor. Oh and this comes from the fact that our pod activities were scheduled between 2–5 p.m. IST usually. Not sure if I would make these same statements if the timezone differed.
- Inconsequential if you can’t make the most out of it: Clearly the full fellowships with MLH are recognized as proper internships but the prep fellowships aren’t. That too, if you aren’t able to build connections or use them in a meaningful way, then the value that MLH prep adds to your career is negligible. For me, I worked with 2 of my pod fellows post the fellowship, got into another mentorship program because of prep and also received a mock interview opportunity with Gusto.
Below are two questions I received when I asked my friends to shoot questions about the fellowship because I was going to be writing an article. Should help someone.
- Few people are interested in how such fellowships open opportunities, create networks. How are they different from someone who is, all day, watching YouTube tutorials and practising the same skills?
Youtube is a great place to learn, but the trouble is you can’t just stop there. You have to get ideas and concepts(the basics) and then it’s on you. Take what you pick up and put it into actual practice. Build something of your own off those concepts and practices. These ideas and the help along the way is where we turn towards the community aspect of such programs. You not only meet people who are better than you in one way or another, but also from diverse backgrounds and nationalities. You learn by understanding and interacting. For example, like I said, I never liked frontend development, hence never learnt React. But during my cohort, I did it. Not at an expert level but at a level where I can make sense of the code and navigate my way around. All in all, when you learn along with the community, you learn how to be humble, how to ask for help and offer help at the same time opposed to the rigid, stern mindset while coding alone in a dark room thinking unnecessarily highly of yourself.
- Do you really think fellowships are worth a student’s time, when companies prefer corporate experience over community experience?
That is certainly not true. MLH fellowships are widely known and very popular. You are exposed to so many new people and connections, all very well acquainted in their particular domains, that it does open you to many new opportunities. Tech giants like GitHub, Meta, Apache, etc partner with MLH to help students work on their projects. The full fellowship is seen as a proper internship by many companies and definitely helps in job hunting. That said, even if a certain company doesn’t recognize it, you cannot deny the soft skills you gain from being a part of the fellowship are unmatched — being able to explain a technical concept to a group of people, learning to work with absolute strangers and maintain cordial relations while getting tasks done, being able to voice up during standups, these are all very crucial. The full fellowships are specifically catered to technical upskilling, but even with prep, the projects are closely related to the real world environment. We put our code in staging, then after multiple reviews and suggestions, numerous other commits added to your initial code, it moves to production.
There are numerous ways to learn technical/software skills but very few ways to learn people skills. The MLH fellowships are one of those, hence certainly worth the time.