Why We Use On-Call Shadowing On-call shadowing is an essential practice at PagerDuty. For a new engineer, a shadowing period serves as a kinder, smoother...by Max Timchenko
March 26, 2019
I’m Ellen and I’m a Computer Science and Psychology student at Swarthmore College. I feel lucky to have had the chance to intern at PagerDuty and I’m excited to share this reflection on my experience.
In May, I walked into the PagerDuty office on the first day of my summer internship as a DataDuty intern, with no idea what to expect. Now, three months later, it’s hard to believe that I’ll soon be leaving this company and returning to school.
My team, DataDuty, builds and maintains the company’s data infrastructure, making sure that our employees have the data they need to do their jobs effectively. I was excited to be a part of this because it allowed me to dive into a field of data engineering that I wouldn’t be able to see in more typical software engineering roles.
PagerDuty has given me an incredibly formative learning experience, the chance to do valuable work that I can be proud of, and an amazing community of mentors and peers. I learned a lot this summer — more than I ever expected to — but there were a couple of takeaways that resonated with me the most.
One of my goals this summer was to participate in Hack Day, a day put aside monthly for employees to build and present projects or ideas that fulfill some kind of need at the company. I pushed it off the first two months because I felt that I wasn’t “qualified” enough to join in. In July, my last chance to participate rolled around, and I decided to go for it. I spent the day creating a Slack bot — an application that would randomly connect employees across all our offices and encourage them to meet. It came as a surprise when I actually ended up winning the Company Vibe Category. Through Hack Day, I was able to learn how to create a Slack bot using an API I had never explored before, and I got some public speaking practice in as well. The great thing about our company’s Hack Day is that it encourages non-engineers to participate — anyone can go up to present an idea that they have, no coding required.
I also had the opportunity to attend the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference with some other interns. There, I got to meet and speak with some of the most inspiring women in the industry. PagerDuty had a great presence at the conference — our own CEO spoke on the first day and there was tremendous representation from women at our company. It just goes to show how much value we place on learning through events like conferences, especially those focused on diversity and inclusivity.
Later in July, I experienced a unique internal event that PagerDuty holds for its product and engineering teams, called PagerCon. It’s a space for employees to submit talks and have the chance to speak in front of their peers, to teach and to learn from one another. For an intern, it was an insightful day of learning and a truly unforgettable experience. The event was similar to a regular tech conference in that there were presentations, food, and good company, but a little more special because everyone was there with the intention of learning as much as they could from their peers that they work with daily.
I remember when I made my first code commit — I was terrified, even though it was less than twenty lines of code. It was my third day, and after I pushed my changes to production, I anxiously waited to see if I had messed up the entire company’s workflow and caused an outage (in hindsight, that wouldn’t even be possible with what I wrote). Fortunately, nothing bad happened and my code was officially shipped.
I spent the majority of my time on two projects: one that would support our customers, and one that would support our engineers. When my mentor first told me about them, I felt intimidated by how important they seemed. Did they really want an intern to do this? At a lot of other companies, the answer would be no, and I might be given some random menial tasks that don’t really make an impact in the long run. But here, there’s an expectation that interns will do close to the same work that any full-time employee does. I’m generally never assigned to do anything that wouldn’t be a part of the normal workflow and I’ve deployed most of my code to production this summer. I’ve learned to embrace the challenge that comes with this and have been able to maintain a balance between working autonomously while remembering to ask questions when I’m truly stuck.
I’m not a shy person, but when it came to experiencing my first professional environment, I didn’t know whether it was “acceptable” to be talking to people that were higher up, especially since I was “just an intern”. I got over this anxiety pretty quickly when I realized that basically everyone was willing to talk to me if I just reached out, There’s an overwhelming sense of transparency and communication across the company that shows through everyone’s openness to continuously build new relationships with other employees.
Attending another team’s meetings, demos, and plannings is as easy as messaging someone on Slack. I got to experience what the Agile development cycle was like on the other engineering teams, but I still wanted to see more. So I set my sights on experiencing what PagerDuty life was like from the business perspective and I asked a sales lead if I could shadow their team members.
I woke up to multiple calendar invites and an email telling me that I was welcome to sit in on these meetings and I could walk over to the department at any time to shadow someone. After the first customer call, I had a lot of questions, and the sales lead was happy to answer all of them. I went to each subsequent meeting after that and in each one, I learned about a different aspect of the sales process.
I had a similar experience when I shadowed Customer Success for a day: I watched training videos with a customer success manager and helped another with one of her main projects. Because everyone is so open to having a shadow and teaching them, in detail, about their day-to-day routine, I gained insight into a world that many engineers, especially at bigger companies, may not ever know about.
So how was my summer? I’ll be honest: it was incredible. My team pushed me to approach challenges with excitement and to dive deep into the things that were new to me. The other interns taught me that the best time for a quick snack break is the middle of the afternoon and that people can go from being strangers to becoming lifelong friends in less than three months. I’ve met so many inspiring people at this company, and I’m certain that they will continue to be my mentors, friends, and colleagues long after my internship ends.I’ve received pieces of both career and life advice, and the stories of others have encouraged me to reflect on what I want my own story to be.
Internships are supposed to prepare you for the real world, show you what life is like outside of the classroom you’ve been so used to, and force you out of your comfort zone. My internship here did all of this, and also gave me the chance to interact with individuals who I’ll always be able to go to for advice or casual conversation. Having to leave is bittersweet: I’m returning to my life at school, but thanks to PagerDuty, I’m leaving with more relationships, useful insights into the real world, and new goals for my future.
Interested in joining the PagerDuty team? Check out the careers page for open positions and apply today!