While various high school and college courses may attempt to prepare you for working within your field of interest, the only way to truly gain an understanding of what someone in your chosen profession actually does is to actually begin working in that industry. Before my time at RightScale I had no idea what working in the software engineering field was like. Although my college coursework has given me the basic knowledge needed to pursue a career in software engineering (programming languages, technologies, etc.), I had no experience in the working environment of software engineers.
RightScale is a company that builds cloud management tools to enable other companies to deploy and manage applications in the cloud. Through a series of connections I was put in contact with the head of engineering at RightScale. I mentioned my interest in getting a summer internship so that I could gain more experience in the field I planned on pursuing. After a few back-and-forth emails I was given an interview. My interview would be my first time seeing the RightScale office.
When I first arrived I was immediately struck by the culture of the office. All of the people seemed nice, most people were dressed relatively casually, and it just seemed to be a place where people were genuinely happy. I went through a series of interviews at the RightScale office that lasted throughout the afternoon. My biggest concern during the interview process was my lack of experience working in the engineering field. Even though I had taken plenty of courses in school about coding I had never actually applied that knowledge to anything real.
As the summer approached I received word that the internship position was available if I was still interested. I eagerly accepted.
Going into my first day of work at RightScale I had no clue what I was going to be doing. On my first day I was given a tour and met a lot of the people. The office is relatively small with about 100 people working in the actual office. The office itself is actually quite nice with a full kitchen filled with free food and a large theater area where people can relax and get work done. After all of the introductory business had been completed I met with some members of the Documentation team, which is the team that I would be working with.
Docs team - Tools and Technologies
At the time that I arrived at RightScale they were in the process of moving their product documentation from a hosted Content Management System to an in-house solution in order to save cost and have greater control over the features and functionality of the customer documentation site. The new system was based on the Middleman framework, which is an open source static site generator. The main task that I contributed to was migrating the content from the old documentation site onto the new site which would have similar content but be a much more manageable site. In order to contribute to this task there were various tools and technologies I had to familiarize myself with.
One of the more difficult aspects of getting accustomed to the tools needed to work in the docs team was switching from Windows to Mac. I was given a work laptop to use during my time at RightScale. The laptop I received was a mac but I had only ever owned a Windows computer. Despite a slightly rough transition, I didn’t end up having too many issues with making the switch. There were also a few programming languages that I had to become familiar with. Most of the coding at RightScale is written in Ruby, which I had very little experience with. In addition to learning Ruby I had to look at some HTML and Markdown code as well. After getting an introduction to the various tools and languages that I would be dealing with I began doing some actual work. What surprised me the most about what I was doing was that it wasn’t what I would have considered to be “intern” work. What I was doing actually made a positive impact on the productivity of the team. It felt good to know that at least in some way I was actually contributing to the success of the team and the company.
Anyone that visits the RightScale office for more than 10 minutes will get a sense for the amazing culture that has been built. Through silly jokes and fun games the employees at RightScale create an environment in which people can have a lot of fun while still getting work done. There is seemingly never a dull moment at the RightScale office. The main theater area of the office consists of some tables and couches as well as a ping pong table. At times you may see some people getting extremely competitive over a ping pong game or maybe just a group of people playing a board game during lunch to relax.
Every week the company orders in lunch for everyone in the office. On these days even more than others you will see big groups of people talking and having fun in the kitchen during lunch. I feel like this is just one of many examples of things that happen at RightScale that make you feel proud to work there. Rather than a boring office where everyone comes to work and sits in their cubicle all day until they are allowed to leave, RightScale is a place where you can be excited to get to work and have some fun with your employees.
With all of these fun activities going on you would think that productivity might suffer. This actually is not the case at all. RightScale is a very successful company and continues to be successful because of the hard work put in by every employee. I think that a large part of their success stems from the fact that there is such a good environment created at the office that people just genuinely want to do a good job to improve the company.
Once every month there is a meeting in the theater that everyone in the company attends. Those that work remotely, “cloudies,” can watch a livestream of the meeting. During these “all hands” meetings they discuss things like how the company has been doing, what projects are currently being worked, etc. Attending one of these meetings is reminiscent of a high school prep rally such that everyone there is extremely passionate about RightScale and strives for continous improvement. This is just another example of the amazing culture that has been built at RightScale. People would not be this passionate about a company if they did not actually enjoy working there.
During my time at RightScale I worked on a few different projects. The first project I worked on involved writing a ruby script that would convert all of the HTML files from the old documentation site, served statically from an Amazon Web Services S3 bucket, into the Markdown language for importation into the new site. Even though I had experience coding before coming to RightScale, this script was a new type of project that I have never done before. By the time I had finished the script the code may not have looked particularly elegant but it accomplished what I wanted it to do, which I was quite proud of. Finishing up my very own project and being able to see it run and actually be put to use to improve the company was an extremely gratifying feeling.
As a result of moving content from the old site to the new site a requirement arose to create 301 redirects to be set up in AWS S3 so that when a user tried to visit a page on the old site they would automatically be sent to the corresponding page on the new site. Setting up all of those redirects would require the writing of another ruby script that leveraged the AWS S3 API. It is definitely safe to say that the experience gained from writing the first script helped tremendously in writing the redirect script.
While these projects were enjoyable, the majority of my time was spent working on each page that was being migrated individually to ensure that the pages looked how we wanted. This included modifying links, adding or removing images, and other things of this nature. The best part about spending so much time working on each page is that I can now go back and look at the new website and be able to say “I helped put that there.” By looking at the new site I can easily see my contributions to RightScale.
Not only did RightScale help me to have an amazing experience for my first ever internship, it helped me with my career. I can now go from having an almost empty resume with no job experience on it to having a resume with real experience in my field. I now have experience working with multiple programming languages and tools that are important to be familiar with when working towards an engineering career.
In the end, RightScale did a lot more for me than just showing me some new programming languages. Through my time at RightScale I was able to gain a much better understanding of how companies operate. Furthermore, I gained an appreciation for how engineers are integrated into an organization. When I came to RightScale I had absolutely no idea what to expect. As I leave RightScale I can say that I have a much better understanding of how a software engineering company functions, how engineers fit into a company, and how I can be an integral part of an engineering team.