Screaming in the Cloud

Episode 33: The Worst Manager I Ever Had Spoke Only In Metaphor

If you’ve been doing DevOps for the past 10-20 years, things have really changed in the industry. There’s no longer large pools of help desk support. People aren’t climbing around the data center and learning how to punch down cables and rack servers to gradually work their way up. Now, entry level DevOps jobs require about five years of experience. So, that’s where internships play a major role. But how can an internship program be set up for success? Where is the next generation of SREs or DevOps professionals coming from? Where do we find them?

Today, we’re talking to Fatema Boxwala, who has been an intern at Rackspace, Yelp, and Facebook. She’s a computer science student at the University of Waterloo in Canada, where she’s involved with the Women in Computer Science Committee and Computer Science Club. Occasionally, she teaches people about Python, Git, and systems administration.  

Some of the highlights of the show include:

  • Mentors made Fatema’s intern experience positive for her; made site reliability and operations something she wanted to do
  • Academic paths don’t tend to focus on such fields as SRE, and interns tend to come exclusively from specific schools
  • Fatema’s school requires five internships to graduate and receive a degree; upper-year students are already very qualified professional software engineers
  • Companies don’t have time to train and want to find someone with an exact skill set; instead of hiring someone, they spend months with an unfilled position
  • Continuity Problem: You can’t train someone to be a systems administrator, if you aren’t willing to give them certain privileges due to inexperience
  • Use a low-stakes environment to train, where mistakes can be made; most systems aren’t on a critical path - don’t keep people away from contributing
  • If you have never broke production, that means either you’re lying or you’ve been in an environment that didn’t trust you to touch things that mattered
  • Internship should mimic the kind of work that everyone else is doing; give them responsibilities where their work has an impact
  • Bad mentors lead to bad internships; person in charge of your success doesn’t have the necessary skills; needs to be a good communicator, set expectations
  • As the intern, ask about possible outcomes of internship early on; mentors should be clear about expectations, feedback, and offers


Brought to you by Corey Quinn of Screaming in the Cloud