Getting to Know Terry Juan Bates
August 9, 2018
LinkedIn wouldn't be the company it is today without the engineers who built it. We have no shortage of talented individuals in technical roles across the company. They are the ones who create, build, and maintain our platform, tools, and features—as well as write posts for this blog. In this series, we feature some of the people and personalities that make LinkedIn great.
Terry at our LinkedIn Sunnyvale office
Terry Bates is a Site Reliability Engineer working on the Development Tools SRE team. This team is responsible for providing operational support, application monitoring, and customized tooling for the Development Tools software engineering team. The Development Tools organization implements services that handle direct and transitive dependencies between software components, automates release and deployment processes, and provides a platform for code reviews and source control management. Terry's focus has been on mitigating the support challenges surrounding LinkedIn's internal software packaging system to help create a delightful developer experience and stable development environments on the desktop and within LinkedIn's build infrastructure.
What was your path into tech?
My interest in tech came from my early curiosity about possibly entering into a major related to Astronomy, and fighting with my brother over whether we should watch wrestling or Dr. Who on PBS. My interest in Astronomy gradually waned, and I initially picked Electrical Engineering as a major. During school, I quickly came to realize that I hated staying up all night working on terrible group projects and writing in C when dot matrix printers were popular, and so I decided to shift gears to Information Science.
The college I attended was expensive, so I took a year and a half off to pay for loans. I had interesting experiences working jobs as a security guard and passport data entry specialist, with their irregular hours and colorful personalities. After years of seeking employment in a University environment, I was lucky enough to return to the college I originally matriculated at as a Computer Administrator in a small university department, leveraging a Novell Netware certification I had earned in my spare time. The flexibility of working in academia, coupled with the accompanying education benefits, made acquiring my Bachelor's degree affordable and accessible. After years of making PCs work for others just by standing over their shoulders, replacing toner, and keeping the emails flowing, I was offered an opportunity with Carnegie Mellon University's Webgroup, supporting their home-grown web publishing system, an off-the-shelf content management system, their web analytics server, and a search appliance.
I served in this role for for an extended amount of time, but after a particularly stressful period of personal loss and team reorganization, I began searching for new employment opportunities in Pittsburgh. As safe and clean a city as it is, jobs can be hard to find. I started using LinkedIn in the hopes of being able to find interesting work that played to my strengths and was as appealing as working in academia had always been for me. Specifically, I was seeking a position in Web Operations, when LinkedIn proactively reached out to me. I was interested in connecting with the company, and after three phone screens and a day-long onsite interview, LinkedIn hired me as a part of the Central SRE organization.
What is a typical day like for you at LinkedIn?
"Typical" sounds like "predictable," but in an operations-centric role, the unexpected happens. I wake up and scan my phone for new meetings or events, chat room discussions for any ongoing incidents, and freshly-arrived email. If nothing requires my immediate attention, I exercise for 30 minutes before the morning commute. On arrival, I start with a personal "core dump" of any new tasks or action items, put each on separate post-it notes, and work on in-progress items on my "Personal Kanban" board. I work on support tickets assigned to me or field questions in chat until mid-morning meetings start. After morning meetings, I walk 20 minutes to my favorite company cafe, eat, read tech-related books, and take a 3-mile walk for exercise and to clear my head before returning to my work.
If my critical items have been dealt with, I then focus on project-related work. I do all work-related coding in the Python programming language, though I admit to experimenting with Clojure and Rust in my snippets of spare time.
What are you working on right now?
SREs continually seek to develop software applications that solve infrastructure problems or help gain insight into how systems operate and perform. Python application development in an enterprise context is highly specialized, has a long lifespan, and has a captive audience of end-users. My current product catalog deals with hardware reclamation, process detection for system decommissioning, and the occasional custom command-line application. In amongst all of my regular days’ activities, interruption-driven tasks are common and can alter my day's trajectory significantly. Someone could come to my desk with a question about how we can change authentication mechanisms to access our version control system, another person could ask questions about log data for a failed software build, and an urgent code review request could come from a teammate.
What are the keys to your career success?
One key would be my catalytic learning capability; being an active learner means it is easier to acquire the skills and knowledge you need to keep track of industry trends or to rapidly adjust to shifting workplace initiatives. This ability offsets the periodic tedium that can set in while working at an enterprise company, and underlies the "drive" to excel.
Another key would be grit. The LinkedIn stack comprises thousands of physical machines, virtual machines, networking equipment, databases, multiple data centers, and so on, meaning that the services living atop all of this infrastructure may break in weird, unexpected ways. I have been called upon to troubleshoot and diagnose systems I never knew existed. You cannot just throw your hands up and expect "someone" to fix it for you. You are the "someone," and I relish that. You need a measure of relentlessness and determination to investigate problems and to leverage the resources you have available to drive an incident to resolution.
What advice do you wish you could have given yourself when you first started your job search/career?
Learn to continuously and actively promote your skills, knowledge, and achievements, far and wide. No one else will do this for you. People in your organization that are unfamiliar with you personally and do not know your work are often so overloaded with information that they will need you to provide this "signal." Promoting the value you bring to an organization is not boastful or egotistical. View this activity through the lens of helping others understand and appreciate what you contribute to the workplace. Be true to your personal brand and toot your horn!
What makes working at LinkedIn special?
I have found LinkedIn’s environment to be its most distinguishing feature. Quite remarkable, really. It embodies a sense of continuous improvement and engagement, deliberately improving upon the suboptimal aspects of my previous work environments and striving to make things better here. Facilities-wise, if I have an issue with temperature or ventilation, I get same-day response and resolution. Process-wise, we have internal applications that ease the administrivia you end up having to do periodically. Gaining access to financial, perk, and benefits data is self-service, and seamlessly accessed.
People who work at LinkedIn are easy to interact with, helpful, and approach tasks with good humor. I usually roll my eyes whenever anyone says how awesome their company’s “culture” is, almost as much as I ignore “Mission and Vision” statements. I only care about what people say and how they conduct themselves. We have avoided many of the pitfalls of “hands-off” culture via our “Act like an owner” value. Ownership of the uptime of our website means we all have alignment and a unity of purpose. A single individual cannot do it all and cannot know it all. There is something to be said for knowing that people have your back and will help out when challenges present themselves. I feel I have the psychological safety to be my authentic self in how I act personally and professionally. The air is different here.
Compared to other places you have worked, how do you like working at LinkedIn?
I love working here. It is the greatest place I have ever worked, bar none. I won't repeat the more mundane aspects of our workplace, like perks and our generous compensation, since all of that is probably out in the internet. I will say that I have never been more challenged personally and professionally than I have been here, and that the "human" infrastructure we have in place facilitates a decidedly innocuous environment.
My experience in academia had the appeal of an overarching mission at work, but the staid nature of educational institutions often meant there were less occasions to seek out new practices and technologies to apply at work. My past work experiences often were riddled with cliques and office politics to navigate. At LinkedIn, we value cross-team collaboration to a ludicrous extent, and new hires seem aghast and how willing established employees are to answer questions and guide them to the resources they need.
How would you describe the engineering culture at LinkedIn?
Pragmatic, collaborative, and humorous. You need a certain amount of flexibility in problem-solving and approaching challenges that work brings to you. As an SRE, my focus probably lies on the "stability" portion of the spectrum, whereas an SWE would prioritize delivery of features and added functionality. Wherever you may find yourself, you need to focus on the outcome, and not the method. Engineers here have a generosity of spirit and are happy to share their time and expertise.
What are you favorite things to do when you're not at the office?
I have the normal amount of blerd hobbies in my catalog. I collect comics, particularly gothic horror and psychological thriller types of work. During the week, I usually unwind with console and PC games that are sports-oriented. My recent purchase of a VR system had me afraid I had torn a rotator cuff with some spirited racquetball gaming. I "eat" books, usually reading one nonfiction book plus a long, difficult, philosophical fiction book at the same time. On weekends, I usually drive out to The City (San Francisco) or to Oakland to slake my other appetites. I have memberships at several local museums, and frequently daytrip to check out the latest exhibits, watch films, then explore any interesting eateries after my gallery visits.