A Summer Of Coding At SFO

This summer, we brought several interns aboard at our San Francisco Office (SFO). In this blog series, these interns share tales of their times as Rackspace summer interns.

I’m relatively new to the world of programing, so my experience as a Rackspace San Francisco (SFO) summer intern was a real mind-opener.

I’m a fourth-year student of computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, and the experience, the feedback and the meaningful relationships this internship provided have been invaluable.

What makes Rackspace unique is its focus on strengths – each employee takes a Strengths Finder test to discover what we’re good at as part of the onboarding process. My top five strengths were Analytical, Harmony, Discipline, Learner and Achiever. I worked in the data analytics team at SFO, which was a great opportunity for me to leverage my No. 1 strength.

I’m really happy about the amount of constructive feedback I got each day, as it is one of the most important ways I learn. It gave me good direction and helped me add value to the project. Even seemingly small things like someone suggesting to “maybe do this a little differently,” or a quick “awesome, good job!” really kept me on track. But the most valuable input I got came after my show-and-tell at the end of our two-week programming sprints.

Our team was small and agile, in part because we were still in the early stages of our project. Working with my team almost felt like working for a startup because we all concentrated on one specific product and its release. Because another one of my top five strengths is Achiever, I felt productive and got a sense of accomplishment by reaching and completing specific small goals that support the greater project.

I’m really grateful for the enormous amount of help I got from my mentor, the team and my coworkers. We’re the first team within Rackspace to use Scala as our main development language and Twitter’s Scalding to simplify our Map Reduce jobs using Hadoop. As a pioneer in these fields, there are a lot of unknowns out there and it can be very frustrating to get stuck because there are just so few resources available.

We’re solving complex real-world problems using tools that barely anyone on the team is familiar with. It was especially difficult for me because I had little command line interface experience. Yet my team took the time to explain things and guide me through the technology. For example, early in my internship, my mentor helped me set up a virtual machine with Hadoop running locally so that I could use it for testing. He also guided me through the (then painful) process of port forwarding and ssh tunneling so I could run my jobs on the Hadoop virtual machine. Or for example, the countless times that my team lead took me to the whiteboard to explain to me data science concepts and how these fit into the direction of the project. Of course, this was on top of the virtually billions of questions that I asked on a daily basis. I feel like I’ve learned an enormous amount in such a small period of time: everything from CLI, to platforming, to HTTP programming, to databases, to data science, to managing a product from start to finish. Phew!

As much as I’ve learned at school, the real world experience working at Rackspace helped me see how to solve complex data analytics problems that I would not have had exposure to otherwise. I feel well equipped to work in the industry in the near future.

Of course, there are things that could have been a little different. For example, near the end of my internship, my team merged with another team – merging workflows was a challenge and the new structure took some getting used to. But in the real world, company combinations are common, so I see this as yet another learning experience.

Lastly, what makes me happy are the bonds that I’ve created and the relationships I’ve built with fellow Rackers. My coworkers have been not only helpful in answering my technical questions, but also just plain fun to hang around with. Each of them was a mentor to me, giving me both technical and career advice.

I also now have a strong bond with the other interns at SFO. We realized that as computer science students, we actually have a lot of things in common and we ask a lot of the same questions. In the intern events, we did things like bike around San Francisco, enjoy nightlife in downtown SF and have LAN party gaming nights. Even from just chatting during the commute to work we learned so much from each other. All of this helped strengthen the bonds we have with each other.

The Rackspace San Francisco Internship Program develops technical skills in interns while also supporting integration into the office culture. Want to join the team? Rackspace San Francisco is now accepting résumés for Summer 2014 Internships. Email your résumé to SFjobs@rackspace.com or join us at one of these career events: Oregon State University School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science Senior Dinner October 23rd; Oregon State University Engineering Career Fair October 24th; UC Berkeley Engineering and Science Career Fair September 18th. 


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