How I try to ball with the big boys as a Junior Cloud Engineer

Christoph Thale|

This is a review of personal experience and potentially helpful for all the hard-working juniors out there, with executives also being able to indirectly benefit.

So it begins

Four months ago, I started my journey as a Junior Cloud Native Engineer and was not aware of what I was getting into. I didn’t know exactly what makes the cloud so attractive, or how software and infrastructure are developed, deployed, and operated there, nor did I know what Cloud Native actually means. But hey, I could program in Python, knew Git, Docker, and had heard of this thing called Kubernetes, which sounded totally cool and fancy. So I quickly realized that there was a lot more to it. That there is a whole universe of technologies, best practices, and approaches that are being used. More importantly, there were countless hows, wheres, and whys?

Do not try surviving, try thriving

To put it mildly, it’s not difficult to feel completely overwhelmed at the beginning. It becomes most apparent when the “big boys” (those guys who know how to roll) are talking, discussing and you are standing there not understanding much, if anything at all. For example, when discussing some Azure services that all seem to have the same name, and you seriously consider using a vocabulary aid so you can remember everything. Whether or not to use Argo CD in the project, why the Terraform deployment including Helm charts didn’t work in the CICD pipeline, whether we should rebuild the API in Python + REST with Go + GraphQL, or whether Prometheus, Loki, and Grafana need to be set up for observability in the project, and you’re thinking, “hey cool, I like mythology and gods.” Seriously, in such situations as described above, it is super beneficial to establish your own independent learning strategy. For example, I have gotten into the habit of writing down the technologies, jargon, or phrases I didn’t understand so that I could simply google them later in the day. This prevented me from just enduring this state and instead did something active. Youtube is also a great source, and sometimes it is enough to only superficially know things for the first approach so that you can build further knowledge on it. Another way that has helped me progress is by trying things out in projects and grabbing tickets or tasks that I don’t actually have the knowledge to complete at my current level, but thanks to our independent learning strategy, we can see how far we can get. If I do get stuck, I can always ask the “big boys” but I stick to the rule: If you can’t ask specific questions, then you haven’t spent enough time thinking about it.

The triple C is key: Colleagues, culture and communication

Colleagues, culture, and communication are closely related and are a key element for joy and progress during the junior phase in a company. In my junior phase, it has helped me tremendously that there is a framework in place. Specifically, you have contacts in the form of “big boys” who not only emotionally support you in the company, but also want to help you develop professionally. These colleagues are pure gold and have already gone through a similar path that you have ahead of you. When they speak, they speak from experience. Therefore, listen to them occasionally. ;-) If this is difficult in your company culture, then please demand it. There is nothing harder than being left alone, because after all, you work in a team.

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It also helped me to communicate what exactly I still need, such as more support or more time to learn for a specific certificate. Similarly, it helped me to ask for honest feedback about my performance and development, and to discuss whether the current path in the company context is also in line with my interests and expectations. In the big jungle of technology, it is easy to get lost, and motivation is a great drive that should be maintained.

Sit down, be humble

As they say, “Good things take time”. Of course, there is a lot to learn, a lot to shape, and ideally, it should happen right away. The starting shot has just been fired, and the race is long, very long, and may never end. That’s why you should save your endurance, because you and I will surely be in this industry for many more years. Be patient and take one step at a time, stay consistent, and take a break on this marathon course if necessary. I am curious to see where you will be in six months or a year, possibly somewhere completely different, with a whole set of new skills and opportunities. I wish you an equally wonderful junior phase as I have had and obviously, if you want to have a great time for sure, you can join our team. We are looking always for “functional” people.

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