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3 Reasons Why a Grad Should Rotate to a Team Outside Their Comfort Zone

Six months ago, I was nearing the end of my first work rotation and had to decide on a team for the next six months. Since I had been doing mostly front-end work, my initial thought was to join a back-end team. Six months later, I’m glad I did not.

Background

For context, I’m a software development graduate at SEEK. The one year program involves a month-long bootcamp at the beginning to introduce the tech stack used at SEEK. After finishing the bootcamp, grads choose their rotations from a list of teams who have signed up to pitch for a grad at Pitchfest. Pitchfest is an event where teams pitch to grads to convince them to join the team. There is a Pitchfest for each of the two six-month rotations.

Up until the end of my first rotation, I had mostly done front-end work with React. I did some work on GraphQL and APIs, so going into the second Pitchfest, I thought I should join a more back-end-y team to continue my learning on that. I talked through this thought process with my mentor and he said that I should think about the areas that I had even less experience with. And instead of using the second rotation to continue my learning, I should use it to learn the basics and practices of an area I had no commercial experience with.

I come from a software engineering background and had little experience in networking, infrastructure and cloud providers like AWS. A university course in Networking Fundamentals is the most I had done in terms of networking at the time. I knew that DNS translated domain names to IPs but I didn’t know how it did that. I only had a rough idea about what happens in between the moment someone types seek.com.au in their browser to the moment the React page loads.

That’s how I came to join Edge Networking for my second rotation. The main responsibility of the team is to manage all the traffic that the SEEK sites receive. This involves configuring a central ingress router, designing how CDN resources are provisioned with Terraform, deploying said resources, monitoring the performance of routes and much more. From a technical perspective, I was able to learn a range of topics, some of them include: Linux, bash scripting, DNS records, how DNS queries are resolved, CIDR ranges, Terraform, Cloudflare, and NGINX. Rotating to a team outside my comfort zone has been a great experience, on top of the technical reasons above, here’s why I think grads should do the same for one of their rotations.

It’s only one rotation

I realised that there were not going to be a lot more opportunities in my career where I can choose to join a team for a set amount of time with the goal to learn. In the future, joining a team will most likely mean filling a role that aligns with my experience which then comes with expectations that I will contribute to the team’s objectives and key results. A rotation, if set up correctly, would be perfect for learning. Grads can contribute to the team’s OKRs but it is not the main goal of the rotation. When I joined, my supervisor setup a list of topics for me to choose to learn from. The team also joined in assessment criteria sessions where they would ask me questions to test my understanding of the topic I had chosen that week or so. I could also choose to pick up a card and work on it either alone or with someone. Doing this in a rotation is perfect because it allowed me to discover and try out new areas that I lacked experience in before committing to it permanently.

It helped me understand the bigger picture

This was perhaps the most important takeaway for my time at Edge Networking. Before joining, I only understood the apps I were building as an isolated piece of code. I did not know how traffic was routed to it, what the traffic has to pass through before it even reached my app, and many more things I did not realise I did not know. I was ignorant about the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to allow developers to get things done quickly and the website to be secure and reliable. Now, I know a little bit more and have so much more appreciation for it.

Joining Edge Networking allowed me to see and understand beyond the application layer. I got to see and work with the systems that support and allow SEEK’s sites to be served to the screens of customers in a secure and performant way. For instance, this is the sequence that all traffic goes through even before it hits SEEK.

Cloudflare traffic sequence diagram
Cloudflare traffic sequence

This is just a small sample of something Edge Networking manages that, had I not joined, I would have never understood the work and thinking that goes into managing and maintaining it. Working with new tools, and systems along with seeing a platform engineer’s design thinking process has given me new perspectives and a better overall understanding of the system. Having these different perspectives as well as having a clearer understanding of the whole system will definitely help me make better design decisions for systems that would go to production down the line.

It promotes knowledge sharing and improves existing knowledge

When I first joined Edge Networking, I was mindful of how my background was vastly different from everyone else in the team. It was like someone made a mistake and hired a carpenter to be a blacksmith.

??? Source

What I didn’t realise was that the blacksmiths were also interested in picking up some woodworking skills to complement their own metalworking skills. If my analogy failed you there, I’m trying to say that although my skills were not immediately relevant to the team’s day to day work, it was still helpful for the team to have someone with a different skillset.

As I was new, the team happily explained and tested my understanding of concepts which in turn reinforced their own understanding. I shared my experience with the team on topics like TypeScript, nodeJS, and Webpack which also helped reinforced my own understanding. Ultimately, it was mutually beneficial for both the carpenter and the blacksmiths because as it turns out, a good tool requires both wood and metal working skills.

see what I did there?

After I rotate out of the team, I can bring the knowledge I’ve picked up in Edge Networking to share it with my next team which further promotes the spread of knowledge and is a huge reason why graduate programs exist.

Conclusions

Rotating to Edge Networking, a team outside my comfort zone, was the best place I could have chosen for my second rotation and I would absolutely do it again. I’ve learned a ton of things in the past six months and I would recommend other grads to consider taking a leap of faith and rotate to a team that operates outside their comfort zone. Grads can not only just learn from the team but also get to share their own experience and gain a bigger picture of the whole system. It’s truly a win-win scenario.

high five yay 😃 (Source: krakenimages on Unsplash)

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Vong Beng

Vong Beng

Software Development Graduate at SEEK

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