Community, Education and Excellence

katie chair

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this summer it’s this, “start before you’re ready”. Which makes it ironic then, that I’m writing this after my internship has technically ended. The problem was, I wasn’t sure what to write about and I was also really busy shipping to production. I could have quickly written at length about the endless office snacks, the Razor scooters or the incredibly comfortable egg chairs here at the office. But from what I’ve heard, these are pretty standard fair for elite Seattle tech companies, and they’re the type of thing that doesn’t really matter in the long run. What matters to me is community, education and excellence, three values I found everywhere at WhitePages.katie chair

This summer was my first computer science internship, having only discovered the field late in my college career, as is not uncommon for women. Like Nick wrote in his intern blog, WhitePages gave me an interview when many other companies said only, “see you next year”. Even before accepting my offer, I was connected with my team and a mentor, Owyn Richen. After accepting I was in weekly correspondence with Owyn. That winter I had decided to tackle Rails for a personal project, and he helped me work out model-data organization and possible offline storage solutions. I was taking a Databases class, and he explained how the SQL v. NoSQL v. NewSql question is answered at WhitePages, which was incredibly cool to see how my coursework applied in the real world. During my internship, Owyn checked in with me almost every day, “How’s it going, what can I help you with, when are you shipping?” Even though he used Emacs, he created a fast-paced and safe learning environment.

Owyn wasn’t the only one at the company eager to help me learn and ship. When I submitted my pull request at least five people reviewed every single line of my code, which, although incredibly nerve wracking, helped me learn more about Ruby in day then I might have otherwise in a year. It also proved that WhitePages was serious about excellent code.

The commenters were all people I had met before or would soon meet at one of our twice-monthly company happy hours. The happy hours were a great place to learn more about the tech industry in Seattle, make friends with my coworkers, ramble with Devin Ben-Hur about databases and pester the design people to do a caricature of me. Katie character

In addition to the happy hours, I had another opportunity for growth at the Intern Coffee Chats. At these meetings, the interns were given an hour to talk with the leaders at WhitePages. We met with the CEO, CFO, CTO, CRO and team leaders to talk about everything from career paths to SnapChat’s business model. WhitePages takes advantage of its small size to educate all engineers about the business. At least twice this summer the Mobile team business leader gave a presentation about the plans for our products and impact on company business as a whole. All engineers were in attendance and asking tough questions that made me realize they really cared. As a new programmer, it set a great precedent for me: I was given a very challenging back-end project, but I was also responsible for understanding why the project was important and what impact it would have. Furthermore, I was expected to give an hour-long presentation about it!

A year ago, the longest time I’d talked about a computer science project was five minutes, and the longest I’d worked on a project, was five hours. Now, thanks to the encouragement and opportunity at WhitePages, I’ve spent three months writing and shipping a high quality service in a new language. I learned how to use Chef for dev-driven deployment and how Lucene indexes work. Most importantly I’ve connected with mentors who will influence me my whole career. Next month, WhitePages is sponsoring me, a former intern, to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. When I’m there I’m excited to share what I’ve learned, “Start before you’re ready. And consider starting at WhitePages.”