In March of 2019, my wife and I ventured into one of our local restaurants for dinner. HQ Gastropub is the type of restaurant that has multiple wrap-around bars and TVs in every space. When you’re a sports fan and a foodie, it’s the perfect place to catch the latter part of a baseball or basketball game. After being served a local brew and our buffalo cauliflower, we commenced watching the rest of a Dodgers game.
We are social; we make conversation with almost everyone and find common ground with our fellow patrons. On this night, a young man came in solo and sat down next to us. We exchanged pleasantries and immediately found common ground on the game. He ordered a peanut butter beer (if I remember correctly), and I asked how it was. A person I had only met 5 minutes ago asked the bartender for a taster on my behalf. I thought, what a nice gesture and thoughtful action.
As the night progressed, we made small talk, and I came to know that my new barmate’s name was David. He had played College Football at Willamette University, stopped playing after 2012, graduated with an Economics degree, then transferred to a small university, California State University of Bakersfield, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. He proceeded to tell me that despite having a degree, one often coveted by companies, he was having a hard time finding a job. His days, filled building tools and sites for his personal use or small companies, were not what he had envisioned for his career. He’d like to be a software engineer. He wanted to build.
My Hulu Production Operations team includes the Reliability Operations team (internally referred to as the NOC but with focus outside the stereotypical Network Operations team), and one of the things we are most proud of is identifying untapped engineering talent to help build our operational maturity. As my colleague, Steve Stevens, has pointed out to me every day since coming to Hulu, opportunities are plentiful. This beer with a recent graduate was an opportunity.
Our NOC team just happened to have an opening because we had transitioned one of our specialists to an internal engineering team. Of our 12 staff members, two of them had successfully transitioned to an engineering role and were experiencing quick wins with their new teams. Moses Nhem and John Martin had proven that finding recent graduates or candidates from schools not likely to have a recruiting presence could be an opportunity for our team to find untapped talent.
Our industry believes these candidates are overqualified for the position of a NOC Engineer, but I argue that it should be the industry standard for Ops teams. Find talent with a skillset you feel fits the organizational team structure and complement it with like operational staff. Don’t focus on software development but also network, systems, and cloud engineering, even if junior in years served. These types of candidates bring a wealth of engineering knowledge but leave (hopefully to join internal organizations) with operational experience to complement it. My NOC manager, Aaron Johnson, thankfully believes this too.
I explained to David how coming to work in our organization would be focused primarily on incident response, mitigation, remediation, and communications. I told him he would have opportunities to build, improve, and take ownership of projects and drive them to completion on behalf of our team. He would be empowered with the full backing of our Site Reliability team to learn. He would always be an Incident Commander/Manager first, but during peacetime, he would be expected, not allowed, to provide value with his specific skill set. Lastly, I explained that I fully trusted my managers, and while I was impressed with his willingness to give the NOC a shot, it would be up to Aaron and our leads to determine his future with us. If he shared his resume with me, I would share it with them. The interview, his performance, and subsequent opportunity were entirely up to him.
On April 1st, 2019, I received an email thanking me for the conversation and an attached resume.
Within two weeks, David was onboarded to our NOC team.
On May 27th, 2020, David was onboarded with his new team, the Site Reliability team. He’s an engineer. He’s building.
I wrote this article because as organizations look to the future of engineering, maybe someone who is deemed too junior for those roles would be a great candidate to assist operations teams. Think about how they could be helpful in positions outside of, but related to, engineering. Also, Ops teams should look for hidden talent, the talent that wasn’t recruited but adds value to the team’s knowledge, work, and velocity. Those people will rise to the occasion, and when they leave, they will take an operational mindset with them. The future of Ops is automation. Who better to build it than the folks who have had to support it?
The team members not mentioned in this article are top-notch, have a remarkable set of skills, and lots of opportunities ahead of them. They were not excluded as much as they haven’t realized their next step yet. They are crucial to our team’s core and are the best group of operators ever assembled on a single team. I couldn’t be prouder of their individual accomplishments, as well as, those of our team. We are all Hulugans!