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adventures in systems engineering

Engineering

As a kid, I knew I wanted to be either a fashion designer or a doctor. I’d spend hours sketching crazy outfits and flipping through high fashion magazines. I’d read books about strange human phenomena (spontaneous combustion, anyone?) and my favorite shows were about medicine.

By the time I had to decide on a college to attend after high school, fashion design had been replaced with web design. I was all about building sites from scratch, writing HTML and CSS, first with tables, later with divs. I played with Flash and messed about with ActionScript. The only school I applied to was Georgia Tech, and before I knew it, I was one of a handful of women in the Computer Science program.

I lasted a year. Calc 2 was my nemesis, and my grade was derived from showing my work and a wicked curve. Knowing I’d have to take Calc 3 as a CS major, I bowed out and decided a more creative path was my future. Hello Art Institute of Atlanta and a bachelor of arts in Graphic Design.

Art school was everything I wanted it to be, and more. I graduated with a nomination for best portfolio for the quarter, and started my career with a head full of dreams. Over the next seven years, the reality and demands of being a designer chipped away at my passion. It culminated in losing my job to a family friend of the husband-wife team that were my bosses.

Burned out and unsure of what was next, I took a job as the frontend supervisor of a vegan bakery my friends were running. I figured a break from design would help my passion return. A year later and perpetually broke, all I knew was that I didn’t want to return to the world of design. This still holds true today.

Enter searching for tech support jobs for a friend. An Atlanta company I’d known for years (and used their product for some of my freelance design clients) was hiring, and when I read the job description, I thought to myself “Huh, that sounds like something I might enjoy.” Fast-forward a few months, and I’d landed myself an overnight tech support job.

I quickly fell in love with troubleshooting customer issues, and especially enjoyed providing them with workarounds until developers could fix the underlying problem. Having a balance of logic and creativity motivated me to progress in the technical side of tech support. I became an advisor, helping agents if they didn’t know the answers to customer questions, troubleshooting trickier issues and reporting them to our developers, supporting our API users and handling technical escalations.

I spent 2.5 years in the customer side of the business, and started to get restless. Even if an agent brought me a new issue to troubleshoot or some more functionality was added to our API, it felt easy. I needed more of a challenge, wanted way more to learn, but I didn’t know what that looked like.

I took an EdX class on object-oriented programming using Python and started to write little bash scripts to make my life easier. I talked to coworkers that had left Support to work in Operations. When an apprenticeship opportunity for our systems engineering team opened up, I applied.

The interview process involved a couple of hour-long sessions with different engineers gauging my experience (little) and my desire to learn (huge). After these interviews, a few of us were assigned some videos to watch from Linux Academy. We were given two weeks to watch them (I took so many notes on and studied like crazy), and then given a 2-page quiz to answer in 20 minutes.

On the day of my quiz, I didn’t know we could use our laptops. And since I was still working overnight, I came into work just for this quiz. So, I took it without a laptop. And was able to answer almost every question, even providing some of the flags for the commands we were quizzed on. And this is where my engineering career began.

In the last 20 months, I have become intimate with Linux (specifically CentOS 6 and 7), worked extensively with both Puppet and Github, helped in building out our Kubernetes clusters, fallen in love with the art of monitoring and observability and become an SME on most of our monitoring infrastructure. I’ve handled plenty of on-call fires, glued services together with bash scripts to help eliminate toil, learned all kinds of new technologies and tools, and read my fair share of tech books. I’ve even given some presentations, started mentoring a peer with an interest in engineering, and volunteered in several workgroups.

I truly love what I do, and I’ve found a career where I get to constantly learn and use both sides of my brain daily. Sometimes I kick myself for not staying at Georgia Tech, but I have no idea how that would’ve played out. Instead, I’ve found that my non-traditional background has helped, not hindered, how I approach problems and solve them.

I am an engineer, and I’m damn proud of that fact.

Hi! I'm a systems engineer for a global marketing platform. Here I dish about (mostly technical) books I'm reading, my musings on the ever-important soft skills/glue work in this field, and my general adventures in engineering.

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