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The journey of DNSimple's first apprentice

Mak Arnautovic's profile picture Mak Arnautovic on

Two months shy of a year ago, I made my professional debut when a small team of 9 decided they liked the cut of my jib, and believed in me enough to make me their first Ops apprentice. Or uh, SRE apprentice? What are we calling it now?

My arrival

It was my first job coming out of Dev Bootcamp, and I had no idea what to expect. First of all, what the heck is Chef? Is that a JavaScript framework? My experience with the world of code up until this point had been… minimal. Valid, important, and foundational are other words you could use. In the grand scheme of things though, minimal. Of course, that's the point of an apprenticeship. Let's learn together! Since it's operations work, that means by running straight into a building that is somehow both on fire and underwater.

The apprenticeship

As it turns out, no, Chef is not a JavaScript framework.

Side note: It also turns out that the companies which host your website are not, in fact, employing elves that specialize in dark magic. Your code actually needs instructions on how to run, where to run, and the environment has to be set up in such a way that it will run. … Or, you know, elf magic.

Over the course of the apprenticeship, my brain had been DDoSed with information. But in a good way. I'd been working hard to make sure things run smoothly and efficiently, upgrading how we package things, how we deploy things, the security of our infrastructure. All the good stuff.

By that, of course, I mean I'd been following Aaron's incredibly detailed instructions and praying to lord Hossa that I don't do something out of order and break the internet.

Over time though, it started piecing together. The leviathan of automation I was staring at suddenly started making sense. It shifted from an overwhelming beast, to a slightly irritated cat. I know, the latter will probably still rip your face off. But hey, for six months I'd say that's pretty good progress.

I said heeey, what's goin' onnnn

So, "how's it going now?", you might ask. Well, it's going great. You're looking at DNSimple's newest UX designer! Boom. Shyamalan-ed.

I had fun doing operations work. It was eye-opening and invaluable knowledge to gain—for which I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to learn. Let's all give a round of applause to the remarkably patient, and wonderfully kind @martinisoft for making it all possible.

While I had a great balance of fun, challenge, and reward with the work I was doing; I realized that I'd be lying to myself if I said it is where my passion lay. To me, Operations work felt a lot like playing the role of a healer/medic in a class-based shooter. It's vital, you will lose without it, it's fun to play, and everyone will love you for doing it.

I've just always been more the type that wants to wield something called a "Particle Cannon" and run headfirst into something else called a Reinhardt.

Which is to say, I like being closer to the customer and working on things that will have a direct impact on the feel of using our application. I'm a heavily opinionated individual, and somewhat jaded when it comes to the experience of browsing the internet. Ask me how I feel about email sometime, clear some space, and have an hour. As such, it brings me deep satisfaction to know that the experience that I had a hand in crafting is being used by people all around the world.

By having such an awesome team around me, I was able to do a pretty remarkable pivot and completely change the direction in which I started. I'm still amazed by how supportive and receptive the rest of the team was to the idea I presented just a few short months ago.

There are challenges that come along with such a change, as well. I've effectively gone from beginner, to journeyman, to beginner all over again. Though I think I'm a much more well-rounded team member in the second coming of beginner status, at times it does feel like I'm in a perpetual cycle of being the guy that asks the adults in the room millions of questions. Even still, I really could not be happier with the new role that we've carved out for me at DNSimple.

Despite my effort to limit self-praise of our team, I really do have to praise… well, us. Everyone but me, that is to say. This is a world where you need to prove yourself before you can even get in the door at a lot of places as a beginner. But as evidenced by the amazing team here at DNSimple, sometimes the proof doesn't have to be a tangible or visible trait as defined by a whiteboard or resume. Sometimes, people can see that you're dying to give 100% to something, if only given the opportunity. I don't think I'll ever stop being dumbfounded by the fact that someone, let alone a team of individuals, would extend that belief in me twice.

City Wok Takeaway

I still mentor at DBC when I have the time, I've always enjoyed talking to students about code and professional software development. By far and away, the most common questions I get asked are about the job hunt that comes post graduation. Every situation is unique, but the honest-to-goodness best advice I give was given to me by my instructor at DBC. "Forget the bells and whistles, nothing is more important than liking your co-workers". And that's really it. There are so many personal choices you can make when searching for a job—what kind of culture you want to be a part of, what kind of working hours agree with you, how much inter-office activity you want to take part in…but I see a lot of graduates not making these decisions; instead getting caught up in the technology that the company is using, the private chefs, and the uber per diem. But these are the people you're going to be spending a very large chunk of your time with. It's important that you're honest with yourself and with them when looking for your first job, because it can be highly counter-productive to wind up in an environment where it feels like you don't belong. The technology can wind up being a relatively small part of your day, but if the person next to you keeps calling you "Mark" even though that's not your name, that's going to get old a lot faster than not having catered lunch.

It's when your co-workers and yourself have a good rapport that all sorts of good stuff can happen, such as allowing a budding computer nerd to pivot after realizing that what he was hired for may not be the right path for him.

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Mak Arnautovic

Highly opinionated on trivial matters

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