Unexpected Outcomes: My Summer Internship at PagerDuty

by Aliyah Owens October 16, 2018 | 6 min read

It was two months and over two thousand miles away from home. All that time passed and I (barely) took any pictures to prove it—but that’s okay because I have words. I had an amazing summer interning as a Software Engineer at PagerDuty, and I wanted to share some of my experiences.

I did a lot this summer, but in a nutshell, I…

  • Improved PagerDuty by implementing some cool customer-facing features
  • Completed research on machine learning and experimented with the application of neural networks on company data during a stint with the Data Experience team
  • Built playhouses for children
  • Designed T-shirts for my team (they’re awesome—see below)
  • Expanded my network to what feels like 1,000,000+

And these are only a few of the highlights. I don’t want to walk through a timeline of specifics on what I was physically doing this summer, however. As I reflect and share this experience, I want to highlight the outcomes of the things I did this summer. I also want to share how I learned that while I may have had preconceived notions of what I stood to gain before diving into any experience, I also found that it was the outcomes I didn’t expect that made the biggest impact on my growth.

Effective Stakeholder Status Updates

Customers have been requesting improvements on the updates and alerts they receive from PagerDuty, and implementing some of those changes was my main task for the summer. (Some of the improvements I made are not yet available to all customers, but they are coming soon!) So what did I expect from this task? I expected to become more proficient in the languages involved and learn how to improve my development process—and this did happen. I’m a lot more comfortable testing, debugging, problem solving, and writing Ruby.

On the other hand, I learned two things that I didn’t expect to learn: 1) It’s okay to break things and 2) sometimes you have to go slower to go faster. Every ticket I grabbed presented me with its own challenges, but by working through them (and making some mistakes along the way), I learned that there’s always a way to fix it and, more importantly, no one will be upset if you mess up. I also found myself hammering away at tickets by simply trying a bunch of things, which is how I learned that working faster and trying 10 things isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes you have to slow down, think, and the one answer will be a lot simpler than the 10 things you tried to do really fast.

IMP Team T-shirts

I also got to design the T-shirts for my team, Incident Management: People (IMP). My fellow intern Christopher Kwai-Pun and I brainstormed and agreed on a design. Using Adobe Illustrator, I brought that vision to life. My only expectation was that the shirts would come out okay and everyone would like them.

The IMP-ineers proudly wearing their new shirts.

Turned out everyone loved them, and that was extremely rewarding. So what was unexpected? I learned the importance of balance. I found that I really enjoyed contributing to the team in more ways than just coding. Balancing out my creative and technical aspirations actually helped my momentum in getting acclimated as an engineer.

PagerCon 2018

PagerCon is PagerDuty’s annual internal conference, which is run by and for the product and engineering organizations. Going into it, I didn’t really expect much to happen. I knew that there’d be some great talks, and I’d probably learn a lot more about the company.

But I was pleasantly surprised to leave PagerCon with so many unexpected outcomes. The conference really opened the door for me to talk to other people within in the organization about a variety of topics. I was able to connect with people and have conversations that I probably wouldn’t have had during a regular work day. It was from those conversations that I got the opportunity to explore data science and find out if it was something that I liked.

Personal Brand

Throughout the summer, the Career Accelerator Program (CAP) held various workshops and events for interns. One of these workshops was about building your personal brand.

CAP Event: Lunch with PagerDuty CEO, Jennifer Tejada.

I’ve been to a fair number of workshops, so I didn’t anticipate anything truly new to be presented to me. I expected to learn about how you should represent yourself online as it relates to being a professional.

I left that workshop with a lot more than that (surprise, surprise)—it really focused in on narrowing down the qualities that I see in myself, what others see in me, and what I want others to see in me. Having to narrow down these qualities was really hard and forced me to think more about the “whys.” This self-reflection was important as it was a great launching point for me looking forward to my career after being an intern.

Hack Day

Hack Day is a Friday reserved once a month for employees to work on a hack. This can be anything from implementing some cool changes that got lost in the backlogs to making a colorful PagerDuty logo for Pride month, and everyone is encouraged to participate. On the following Monday, hackers present their work and awards are given. I had high aspirations for Hack Day—I wanted to hack something super untouchable and impress the entire company by being the only intern brave enough to complete it. Even if my hack impressed no one, I still expected to produce something.

There was great lesson in the actual outcome. First, no, I didn’t complete anything to present for Hack Day this summer. What’s important though is that I learned new things. I learned a lot about mobile development, which is something I had never done before. I also learned that it’s really hard to try and make big changes in a day when it’s just you. For this reason, if I could do it all over again, I would definitely make more of an effort to pair with someone. Who knows, I may have been able to produce that super impressive hack if I had been a little more selfless about it.

This truly was a summer of growth. I never thought I would learn as much as I did. Being a part of a company like PagerDuty where cultural values like people first and trust are truly on display was very motivating.

I walked away with these key learnings: be confident, be enthusiastic, always have a good work-life balance, be unafraid to make mistakes, and communicate. Thank you to PagerDuty for not only giving me the opportunity to become a better engineer this summer, but for also providing the space for my development as a person through the parallels of the tech industry.