How I jumped to a startup and started loving remote work

Engineering
December 8, 2021
Jian Gao
Jian is a Software Development Engineer in Test at LogDNA and is passionate about all DevTestOps-related topics. Outside of work, he spends his time watching sci-fi shows on Netflix, learning piano, and playing Taekwondo with his son.

As a recent hire, I’m in a unique position to share my perspective about my experience at LogDNA. In this post, I’ll talk about how I discovered LogDNA and what it’s been like since I joined in June.

First, let's rewind to 2019 when I was just another tech worker bee. I’d wake up at 7:00 am, grab an energy bar and a cup of coffee, and pay the tolls to bypass as many cars as possible in hopes of making my  8:30 am meeting. Work. Then I’d spend another hour heading home. The commute was part of the deal and most of my co-worker bees were doing the same. It was just part of work life.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2021. Life was good without having to commute, pandemic lockdowns began to ease, and the talk of getting worker bees back to the office was buzzing in the air. I knew that every CDC announcement could be the automatic end of my remote work experience and I wanted to find a permanent remote job.

Having worked in tech for more than a decade, I knew what I wanted on my check list while job searching. Everyone has a list of their own, here’s mine:

  • Dedicated to a remote culture. 
  • A good engineering culture.
  • A startup with good tech stacks and a shared future with its employees.
  • Macbook Pro as my primary work machine, less corporate red tape for engineering activities.
  • A product-led company that has a direct impact on users.

Company culture

Before joining

It’s interesting that one can sense aspects of a company’s culture even before talking to anyone who works there. The good, bad, and ugly are captured in sites like Glassdoor, which was my first stop to learn about LogDNA. I know it’s all happy faces and a bit of marketing by the company, but it’s a way to get a snapshot of the culture. While looking at the photos I was asking myself; Are they having fun? Do I see people like me? Where are they, what are they doing? Do I like my future report and the team I’ll be working with?

Now

  • I got very interested in LogDNA after talking with the internal recruiter, Don. He painted a nice picture of working at LogDNA by focusing on the people, the tech stack, and the emphasis on work-life balance. Everything he told me is true and checked out.
  • Two of our company values are to jump in and have fun. When there’s an opportunity or challenge either within your team or outside, anyone can jump in to contribute. In the process, we have some fun giving help or receiving it. There is a spirit I can feel in the air. We are a startup and we feel and act like a startup!
  • Management structure is flat. Effort is focused on getting work done right and not focusing on reporting, time tracking, and bureaucratic process. Instead of focusing on deadlines, we are focusing on bi-weekly demos to show off what we have in process. Yes, there are deadlines to meet, but I can see the team is focusing on delivering value periodically and planning proper expectations and executions instead of letting deadlines run the show.
  • As an SDET, I’m encouraged to shift left (collaborating with developers), and shift right (work with release and cloud infrastructure engineers). Testing is a team sport.
  • Move fast and break things with automated tests. Things move fast and I expect things to break in a non-production environment.
  • I see a good test-writing culture within all layers of engineering. I am glad to see the front-end engineers write proper element selectors, so that it’s easier for frontend test automation. 
  • When we do an upgrade tons of tests are written beforehand so that the upgrade doesn’t break in production.
  • Release and Ops teams make sure a new feature’s impact radius is controlled during alpha release and rolled out to more customers when everything is running as expected. We are releasing and backing out with proper automation and playbooks.
  • Whenever we want to make sure something behaves as expected, we’ll write a test. It doesn’t have to be all the web front-end tests. For example, we can write python tests and schedule the run on CI server, and utilize an AWS API to verify file archiving features. When we want to verify that agents on servers behave correctly, some Ansible scripts will be written. The opportunities are everywhere to experience and gain the skills I want, which is a big deal for me personally. (I didn’t write that Ansible script, but I will someday when similar solutions are needed.)

Tech stack

Before joining

I always include a few keywords from the tech stack I want to work with in a job search. It is important for me to use my favorite languages, tools, and the ecosystem. One may argue that languages, frameworks, and tools should not matter to engineers who know what they are doing. My take is, as long as the languages and tools make an engineer happy, productive, and motivated, it’s worth being picky. I saw a bucket of buzzwords: Node, JavaScript, Vue, Cypress, Docker, Kubernetes, CI/CD, Elastic, Jenkins, AWS, Python, Rust, Terraform, etc.. I don’t know all of them, but most of them got me excited.

Now

  • Engineers at LogDNA can expect to see and work with (code review included) JavaScript, Python, Rust, etc. and multiple languages.
  • Infrastructure as code practice (Ansible) is not just for cloud infrastructure teams. All engineers are encouraged to work with each other to design and implement automation solutions.
  • All stacks are open to anyone. I can work on items that are outside my defined tasks and team. I don’t use all tools in the bucket of buzzwords mentioned, but I’m encouraged to contribute when ready. I know I’m not defined by my job title and department, but by my impact, responsibilities, and passion.
  • Code review is not just an exercise of putting a rubber stamp approval. I’m encouraged to take the time and discuss all aspects of the code and approach.

Macbook Pro

Before joining

A friend of mine who went through tons of interviews lately mentioned to me that she uses Macbook Pro as a marker to guesstimate if it’s worth going through the interview process. I'm somewhat in the same boat. 

It’s not just business, it’s personal. I generally did not have a good user experience with Windows during the last couple of decades. One can argue “...but you can use Windows Subsystem for Linux 2...” to which my reply is, “Why not just get rid of windows and install Linux directly?” I have a feeling the true reason engineers stick with Windows is because of games. I know it’s controversial, but it has some valid points.

Now

  • Nice annual home office stipend allows me to get a great standing desk. Little perks here and there help me improve my home office.
  • Most of the tools are straight out of the cloud, and more and more services are moving to AWS to make things simple. I know I can have full control over my machine without having to wait for corporate approval for yet another tool to install.
  • No more complaining to corporate about why I need extra RAM and why I need to be the admin of my work machine.

Product

Before joining

I knew I wanted to join a product-led company instead of a service or consulting company. LogDNA’s logging product is especially interesting to me. I knew it would have a great impact on the software industry and the direct users of the product are engineers.

Now

  • I like that engineers are exposed  to what marketing, finance, and sales are doing. I know the product roadmap and strategies are based on deep market research and understanding of the industry. I believe we are on the right track.
  • We are transparent. Product roadmaps, features, and prioritization are communicated clearly and I am confident in what we are building.

What’s next

I enjoy working with my co-workers and my manager (I know he might read this, but it’s true). One of the things I’m looking forward to as a new engineer is to meet more people face to face during the holiday party and beyond. 

In the next few months, I will be writing front-end regression tests for new enterprise features while they are being developed. I’ll also add visual testing capabilities through Percy.io and jenkins integration. Why do we need visual testing? That’s another blog...

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