From Summer Intern to Conference Speaker: A Q&A with DigitalOcean’s Varsha Varadarajan
When you're a student, having a meaningful summer internship lead to a full-time offer after graduation is typically a "best-case scenario."
But what if you could intern at a remote-reliant, flexible company over the summer (and get the chance to talk about your work at a major conference!) and then continue working part-time while you study?
That's exactly what Varsha Varadarajan, an MS in Computer Science candidate at USC, has been able to do with cloud services company DigitalOcean. She interned for two months over the summer in their New York Office, and now she's continuing to work remotely as a part-time engineering intern while she studies. She'll be joining DigitalOcean full-time once she graduates, and she's set to present on the tool she worked on over the summer at KubeCon!
We recently sat down with Varsha to learn more about how she balances work and school, why she was drawn to DigitalOcean, and the support and opportunities she's received at this early stage of her career.
If you're looking for engineering internships that will give you the chance to take on real responsibility in a supportive environment, read on to learn why DigitalOcean might be the perfect place for you! And be sure to check out their open roles here.
You must be busy! How are you able to balance grad school and working for DigitalOcean?
My manager's been amazing. He's always told me, "You've only got 20 hours working at DigitalOcean, and we want to do more, but make sure you graduate from school." He understands that my education takes priority.
Just last week I had midterms, so I told my manager I wasn't going to be working a lot and he was super understanding. Some weeks I focus more on my coursework, and some weeks on DigitalOcean.
Why did you decide to intern at DigitalOcean?
I was drawn to DigitalOcean because I was already a fan of the product. [In my previous role], I used DigitalOcean quite regularly. I think the simplicity of DigitalOcean's control panel is really awesome, and their APIs were always very good to work with… When I found the internship on LinkedIn, I knew it was what I wanted—not just using Kubernetes, but providing the underlying service.
What was the most difficult aspect of your internship, and how did DigitalOcean support you?
The project that I was given was separate from the core initially, but then the second half of my internship dealt with me integrating that with the core architectures. There was a lot to learn, quickly. My mentor was fantastic. He told me what was next, what to do if something didn't work, and how to debug something. I wouldn't have done anything without my mentor!
What do you like most about working at DigitalOcean?
Because they deal with so many customers, I get to make a valuable contribution. I like actually operating Kubernetes, instead of just using it. The programming language was also easy to learn, so it gave me the confidence to contribute more.
What's it like to be an intern at DigitalOcean? Is it a formal program?
They have a summer intern program every year. It's great because the previous year's interns are there to support you and help you out informally with anything that you're struggling with.
What has been the most helpful to you in terms of building your confidence at DigitalOcean?
When I joined, I really wanted to contribute something, but I knew that there was only so much I could do in two months. My mentor helped me break down the internship into steps to track my progress and feel like I'd achieved something.
In the second half of my internship, I started getting more involved with the team as a whole. They really encouraged me to express my opinions and participate. They would ask me questions about my implementation to help me get better, but they were always very encouraging. It's not like they'd say, "this is a bad idea," they would just encourage me to consider other solutions as well. Knowing I had their support made me feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and questions with the team, which in turn gave me the confidence to implement solutions.
Why is DigitalOcean a great place for younger engineers to start their careers?
At DigitalOcean, the teams are small enough that you'll be given real responsibility once you show you're ready for it. Additionally, it's a great place to see projects holistically, not just from the perspective of your small piece of the project. For example, when my project got integrated, we met with the UI team, so I got to see the end-to-end flow.
If you were to picture a career for yourself at DigitalOcean 10 years from now, what would you like to be doing?
I would still want to be on the product side. Being our Principal Architect maybe, but I don't know if 10 years is sufficient for that! It'd be really cool to work on something from scratch, usually you don't get to do that.
Last but not least, tell us more about KubeCon! What a great opportunity.
I'm going to be talking about Clusterlint, the tool I worked on as an intern for the containers team at DigitalOcean. We open sourced it, so all Kubernetes developers will be able to benefit from it!
KubeCon is the conference for technologists right now, as Kubernetes has emerged as one of the most popular technologies in the last few years. People for just about every notable software organization attend this conference, so getting accepted to talk there is a huge deal!
DigitalOcean highly encourages all of its engineers to give talks, host workshops, etc. In fact, from my team, one other talk proposal was also accepted!
I just looked at the number of attendees for my talk. It's 355! That's pretty daunting for me as this is the first time I have ever given a talk for such a huge audience. Thankfully, I am pairing with my internship mentor Adam Wolfe Gordon for the 30-35 minute talk. And, my team is incredibly supportive of me. So, hopefully, it goes well!
Interested in doing impactful work at DigitalOcean? Check out their open roles here.
It's been six years since Sarah Cooper graced us with her 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. But how on earth can we appear smart in our new virtual world, in which for many of us, going to work is just sitting in one long series of probably-not-necessary Zoom meetings?
1. Dial in.<p>Dialing in rather than joining via the link instantly boosts your credibility. Who calls into Zoom meetings? People who are still busy and important enough to be leaving their houses! But you needn't actually be one of those people, or even more than a foot away from your computer to pull off this maneuver. (Remember, this article is called *seeming* smart, not being smart.)</p><p><strong></strong><em>Bonus: </em>If it's a large meeting at which attendance will be taken, the person running the meeting will inevitably ask, "Who's calling in from 443-322-2121?" That's when you raise your metaphorical hand, jump off mute, and say "[Your name] here. Really looking forward to hearing your perspective on [meeting topic]." And voila! You've stolen the meeting spotlight.</p>
2. Don't come on camera—ever.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODU5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjMwNjI3OX0.4fLyq2CvkZAJ7n_03esZepY37mOdyGdDdTEUYt5XEU0/img.png?width=980" id="bc7e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbbf21cc5d8c863b30654ae6993b04f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>Much like the "dial in," this technique works because it makes you appear aloof. If <em>The Crown has </em>taught me anything, it's that the key to maintaining a sense of mystique and prestige is to keep people at arm's length—and if you absolutely <em>must</em> touch them, wear a glove.</p>
3. Only communicate via chat.<p>Once you've mastered the art of staying off camera, you can level up by communicating exclusively via the chat box. Don't come off mute at all, even if the speaker asks your opinion. You are the elusive chatter and you will not be forced into actually participating in said meeting.</p>
4. Ask to share your screen.<p>Being aloof is great, but it's all about balance. Sprinkling in some active participation will really shock and impress your colleagues if you catch them off guard, so save this technique for when you've strategically <em>not </em>participated in a string of meetings.</p><p>Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting prepping a few inspirational slides with words like "synergy," "optimization," and "redefining 'culture'", or spend a few minutes poking around in Google Analytics. </p><p>Then wait for the opportune moment to say, "Can I just share my screen for a moment? I have some really interesting data I'd like to share...." and BAM — brilliance established.</p>
5. Show off your Zoom-saviness.<p>Try saying, "You know you can mute people, right?" to the host when they beg whoever's got the lawn mower and crying baby in the background to put themselves on mute for the nth time.<br></p>
6. Create an alter ego.<p>This tactic requires commitment, but the pay off is certainly worth it. Join the Zoom meeting from your normal account + name, and then join it again on a second device from an alias. Have your alter-ego ask some probing or stat-based questions in the chat and have the answers ready ahead of time. It should work something like this:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Your alter ego Charlene</strong><strong>:</strong> "Does anyone know what percentage conversion rates increased by in Q2?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Real you</strong>: *doesn't miss a beat* "It looks like Charlene has a question in the chat. That would be 36%."</p><div>Never mind that no one on your team knows who Charlene is or why she's at this meeting, they'll be too blown away by your brilliance to notice. (Bonus points if you use this strategy in conjunction with techniques 1, 2, 3 or 4!)</div>
7. Place an obscure object in your background that exudes intelligence.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODYxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzk5Njg2Mn0.V9_-3Ij3v_QndseqlrXRt5Nn39EJ97-itjls5zzYPf8/img.png?width=980" id="a369d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="604a2f04b53c2e3bc801bfa5256f367b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>We're talking a telescope, or perhaps a hardcover copy of <em>War & Peace </em>(no one need know that its only purpose in your life is as a makeshift yoga block).</p><p>If you don't have any suitable props at your disposal, do not despair: download some screenshots of Sheldon's apartment from <em>Big Bang Theory </em>or the chalkboard in <em>Good Will Hunting </em>and use those as a virtual background.</p>
8. Ask "Is this really the best course of action given the current climate?"<p>Economic collapse, COVID, racism… No need to specify whether you're referring to one or all of the above; just sit back and watch your boss squirm amidst the ambiguity.</p><p>This strategy pairs very well with techniques 2 and 3. You can prep additional vague-but-probing questions ahead of time and pepper them into the chat box throughout the meeting:</p><ul><li>How will this scale?</li><li>Do we really have the bandwidth for this right now?</li><li>What's the value-add here?</li></ul>
9. Remind everyone that you have a paid Zoom account.<p>"Oh, it looks like we're getting the 40-minute warning. I have a paid account, do you want to switch to my room?" It's helpful, with just a touch of condescension. Everyone knows condescending people are smart. And everyone knows that people with paid Zoom accounts are super important.</p>
10. Tell everyone you have a hard stop.<p>When pressed for details, share your philosophy on "work-from-home" balance and how committed you are to getting up once an hour to walk to your refrigerator.</p>
11. Ask the screensharer/host to "pull something up" for everyone.<p>Ask the presenter to navigate to a screen that only you know how to navigate well. Laugh maniacally while they suffer from crippling performance anxiety. Let them struggle for as long as is tolerable before saying, "Oh you know what? I can just share my screen if you want. That would probably be easier." BAM you're the hero. Don't worry, no one will even pause to consider that you could have proposed this course of action from the start.</p>
12. Say Zoom fatigue as many times as possible.<p>If you're too tired to employ any of the other strategies, just say "I know everyone is experiencing a lot of Zoom fatigue, so we can keep this meeting short." Then hang up as quickly as possible. Meeting averted! </p><p>After all, there's no better way to demonstrate your intelligence in a virtual meeting than to demonstrate why it wasn't really necessary in the first place. </p>
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