Intern Spotlight: Becoming an Engineer

Posted September 9, 2019 by Deb Chatigny, Manager, Information Development

Interns hiking at Blue Hills Reservation, Milton, Mass.

My name is Richard Xu and I am a sophomore at Harvard University, studying Computer Science. This summer, Vertica has taught me how to be an engineer.

Starting a career as a freshman is challenging. I may have the technical know-how and coding abilities, but the freshman stigma loomed over me. At the career fair where I met Vertica, so many companies shooed me away because we freshmen are “inexperienced” or “bad investments”. Yet, Vertica took a chance on me. Through the coding interviews and on-site interviews with my future colleagues, I not only proved my abilities, but also learned that I belong here. Vertica is looking for bright developers and it treated me like one.

Making an Impact

Being a developer means a lot more than what I anticipated. In school, my programs only need to run on one platform – my laptop – and solve a defined problem fed to me by the professor. My project for the summer: implement Kerberos authentication for the Vertica Python client. Let me break down this sentence. Kerberos is a protocol used by some of Vertica’s biggest customers, and my project will help these customers access their secure databases using Python. This is a high-impact project, which means many moving parts and cross-platform support, and I did not know what Kerberos was. How do I tackle this project? Vertica set me up to succeed with an extensive help network.

People talking at the Vertica intern fair

From left to right: Colin Mahoney talks with intern Richard Xu

Helping Each Other

I love to ask questions, and my colleagues at Vertica welcomed all of them. My mentor answered my numerous questions and introduced me to Vertica’s robust development cycle. Help also came from people I did not know. On my second day, my local Vertica setup could not start because of an unknown error. I posted this issue on our Teams chat, and within minutes a colleague came over to help. Together we worked through this roadblock, and in the process he even slowed down to explain the tools he used to debug the situation. I did not expect such help, coming on the second day of my internship, but these pleasant surprises continued throughout my internship.

Interns hiking at Blue Hills Reservation, Milton, Mass.

Interns hiking at Blue Hills Reservation, Milton, Mass.

I believe the “let’s help each other” culture at Vertica comes from a tradition of presentations and special events. The most memorable events for me were the weekly chalk talks, where a senior developer or a customer discusses an aspect of the product to other developers. These talks encourage developers to share their expertise with others. Furthermore, it paints the “big picture” for every developer in the company and empowers us interns to join conversations with the experienced engineers. The result: a great learning experience and a more stable product.

Vertica is everything I expected plus so much more. It is also a great place for me to start my career.