Seven Lessons about Tech and Life
As an artsy, outdoorsy type and a middle school humanities teacher in my mid-thirties, I am the last person you would expect to see in the role of intern at a cloud management platform like Sunshower.io.
Perhaps we can blame Marie Kondo for my transition into web development: I started off cleaning my house and by the time it was decluttered I had a new career plan. More likely we can point our finger at a bottle of wine and a dead-end career in education. Together, they conspired to make me complain to my sister and brother-in-law over dinner about my professional woes. (My sister and brother-in-law are the CEO and CTO, respectively, of Sunshower.io.) By the end of our meal, he had suggested I go into tech and she had given me an internship.
That was four months ago. The past few months have taught me a few lessons about tech and life:
Lesson #1: You have to start somewhere, and you’re not going to learn it all in a day.
I started with Sunshower.io knowing the bare minimum of the tech it takes to keep a 21st century classroom running. I certainly did not know about IAM, AWS, EC2 management, or cloud cost optimization or why one would care about any of it.
Lisa and Josiah showed me crazy computer things that I had never seen before: pug, github, git, command terminals, Docker, and dev environments. We like to call this steep learning curve “Depends for the deep end” because, sometimes, you end up over your head in code and it’s so scary you want to pee yourself.
Honestly, needing Depends for the deep end is not only okay but expected. Lisa started off her software engineering career with a wee bit of CSS and HTML and a master’s degree in public communication and technology. Josiah was a math major. They both taught themselves everything they needed to know (using life lessons 2 and 3; see below), and they still have days where they have to ask each other questions or take brain breaks to figure out solutions.
Where does this leave me? Having a lot more patience for the learning process. Whether you learn a little bit every day–or, per the Sunshower.io experience, a lot in one day–you will start stockpiling an impressive amount of know-how.
Lesson #2: When in doubt, look it up online.
While Sunshower.io’s people look out for each other, it is also a culture of rugged individualism. When you are working for people who built up their skill set from scratch without help, there is minimal patience or time for hand-holding.
You have to learn to find answers on your own. And you will.
Lisa broke me of the habit of asking too many questions early on. When I would ask her something easily answerable, she would ask what I thought or whether I had looked it up. Pretty soon, I would answer my own questions before she could reply, and finally I stopped needing to ask. Except for unanswerable structural questions, that is, which leads us to lesson 3.
Lesson #3: If you can’t find it online, ask.
For a newb, solutions are easy to find online. However, when you are collaborating on projects like Sunshower.io’s visual modeler, distributed virtual machine or cloud optimization machine learning algorithms, in the end you often HAVE to ask about the factors that might be standing in your way.
Lesson #4: Be patient. Tech is a rollercoaster of successes and failures.
Some days, your code will work perfectly. You will build something awesome and post your progress on social media. Your dev environment will load perfectly, and you can check off your to-do list in an hour.
Other times, you will run commands in your terminal, and it will take hours and still won’t work. You will run tests through your IDE, and it won’t work…and won’t work…and won’t work.
Lisa taught me that a big part of tech is being comfortable with the failures and dead-ends. Your code won’t always work. And that is okay. Maybe tomorrow you will ask the question that leads you to the solution you need, or perhaps the quick-fix to your broken code will dawn on you at a gloriously random moment.
So pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit in front of that computer screen, and buckle your seatbelt. See where today leads you.
Lesson #5: Have a dog close by.
Between the three founding members and me, we have three dogs, and they are always close at hand. When Sunshower did its QA night, during which we ran the web application with three people clicking buttons simultaneously, we ran tests while dogs roughhoused in our laps and under our feet.
Lisa and Josiah’s mini aussiedoodle Fran forces them to take breaks. Lisa’s brain breaks involve playing with Fran on the floor, and Josiah takes Fran for long runs before he starts working for the day.
In addition to forced breaks and relieved tension, dogs simply remind you not to take tech or life in general too seriously. Having a dog roll over on your laptop keyboard or drool on your computer screen reminds you that, no matter how important your tech projects are–and they are–they are just tech projects.
When the going gets tough, rub that belly or scratch those ears. You’ll figure it out. We promise!
Lesson #6: I will never, ever work as the chief of anything for a company. Ever.
Despite what I knew about Lisa and Josiah’s work days, I tended to romanticize what they did. Work all night? Sleep until noon? Take breaks when you want? Code your way to your dream life? Yes please! Sign me up!
I did not truly comprehend their daily grind, and I seriously questioned their love of cartoons as entertainment (really guys?), until I started working with them. Their work days start at ten in the morning and go until midnight if they are lucky. Josiah has been known to pull multiple all-nighters a week while tackling infrastructure projects. Lisa had chronic shoulder and forearm pain from typing for 14 hours a day that was only cured by throwing down over $80 for a split keyboard.
However, these epic workday ultramarathons have paid dividends. This week, they came in second place in the pitch competition at Fort Collins Startup Week. They have six clients and more in the wings. It is commendable. Truly.
And I would not wish it on anybody.
Lesson #7: Tech is about people, experiences, and services.
Tech is not just about the code you write or the tests you run. It is about connecting with Lisa and Josiah about their QA needs and with Tif about blog posts like this one. It is the Sunshower.io home office: a north-facing former bedroom in their Fort Collins home, the window opening to farmland. It is the late-night walks that help you work out your code, the new people Lisa adds to LinkedIn, the friends I have made through tech meetups. It is the hundreds of hours spent on a service that can save companies thousands of dollars on their monthly AWS bill. It is the scrappy tech stars working long hours to bring their services to life for future clients. Code is only the beginning.