Break out of your Comfort Zone as an Engineer

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As an Engineer, being in the same environment for a long time makes it hard to adapt to something new. Break out of your comfort zone and explore new concepts. This will help your personal growth tremendously and elevate your career. Let me explain to you why by sharing my story.

How it all started…

Back in 2013, my fascination with Cloud and Automation started when I was developing my research thesis for the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. During that time Cloud providers were just starting to come up as a decent alternative to on-premise hosting providers. On-premise data centers consisted of long-lived servers that needed to be patched and upgraded (both software & hardware).

Maintaining and monitoring these servers used to be a full-time task for an engineer before automation took place. Instead of maintaining these servers, I got inspired to automate and make these environments scalable, self-healing, and immutable by creating and testing Proof of Concepts in Amazon Web Services (AWS) for my research thesis.

This meant I had to learn more about the DevOps way of thinking and use toolings such as CloudFormation, Git, Python (at that time it was very unusual).

The discovery…

While doing the research on my thesis I learned that the concepts and innovation the Cloud offered to me were such an eye-opener! The Cloud gave me the freedom to architect my own infrastructure in such a way to make your infrastructure resilient and highly available. This was something I’ve never seen before with on-premise vendors. Our workloads were bound by the limits (hardware) and restrictions they offered from their datacenters. Having seen and experienced the possibilities, I became hungry for more information to expand my knowledge and broaden my horizon.

After graduation, the company (a full-service digital agency) where I researched and completed my thesis hired me as a Junior Unix Engineer. My job was to maintain on-premise servers of clients e.g. patching, monitoring, backup/restore, and deploy updates to applications. After some time I began wondering why we weren’t trying to automate repetitive tasks to improve fault tolerance and speed up clients’ application deployments.

My teammates (Unix Engineers) were against the idea to automate, reasoning that it took too much effort to implement and test it. These were senior engineers that I looked up to, but surprisingly they were very resistant to change! The same goes for the strategy of the organization, which catered towards maintaining current workloads on-premise. Management didn’t feel the necessity to move and adapt to change since their direct competition didn’t innovate.

At that point, I began to doubt myself. Everybody had their reasons not to change. The business was doing well at the time and there was no real innovation necessary. Summing up I had every reason to stay in my comfort zone, this would’ve been the easy road. Naturally, we humans avoid anything uncomfortable. Having experienced the Cloud and its possibilities and innovations made it very hard to persuade myself into continuing my daily comfortable tasks at work. I felt I needed to embrace discomfort to make progress as an engineer and become a better version of myself.

Reflecting on the conversations I had with my former colleagues and managers. I started noticing similarities in their arguments and the underlying reason was uncertainty! They didn’t believe in the Cloud because through conversations I found out most of the colleagues had no experience with it and couldn’t relate to the possibilities it had to offer. One specific feature of AWS that scared our management for example was the “pay-as-you-go” model. Our business was catered to fixed fees and was in a panic to find a way to monetize the model that AWS offered.

I knew as a Junior Engineer, I wasn’t able to persuade Senior Engineers and management to change their minds. Then it became clear to me that I had to follow my own intuition with the knowledge I acquired and take a risk to look for new opportunities and pursue my new passion. I learned that at the beginning of your career, it’s a good thing to change environments in order to broaden your own perspective. This could mean trying out different companies so you can orient on new things and learn what you’d like to do.

So I decided to look for change and found a startup company that shared the same interests. We both felt the same way on how AWS was growing at that time and we both felt that eventually, on-premise was going to move to the Cloud because this would enable innovation and growth for businesses.

The startup I worked for enabled me to experience multiple migrations, from small businesses to large enterprises. Using the tools provided by AWS, we were able to innovate and improve resiliency and availability with automation.

Looking back…

If I look back on it… I’m very glad I picked this path when I was at that enormous crossroad in my career. I could’ve listened to my former colleagues and grow to become a better Unix Engineer and stay in my comfort zone. But in the end, I didn’t. I saw the Cloud’s potential by actually trying it out and making my hands dirty.

Through this journey, I’ve met lots of great new people whom I learned a lot from. The cool thing about it is that when I got surrounded by likeminded people my motivation and ability to learn improved tremendously!

What have I learned through this journey?

So what I’ve learned from my journey is – In order to grow, you should get out of your comfort zone, take risks, and be open to change. In the beginning, it was really uncomfortable to start coding as a Unix engineer (I knew basic script skills). Naturally, we humans avoid anything uncomfortable. But the key is to embrace discomfort so you can explore your limits and finally push for more! The results that come out of it will motivate you to challenge yourself even more!

Next, find a technology that you think will still be there in the upcoming years. Make sure to update yourself on new technologies and decide what you’ll be focusing on. For example, I used to focus a lot on automating operations in the Cloud and establishing high availability for monolithic applications. Over the years I’ve adapted myself to containerize these applications into microservices. With the experience I’ve acquired I see that the trend is moving towards serverless architectures. So now I’m spending my time focusing on serverless and my programming skills.

Another learning I want to share is to ignore negative comments from colleagues if they don’t have valid arguments. People might tell you you’ll never reach your goal or that you’ll make a bad decision. Try to find the underlying reason why people react like that. It could be because they have doubts and uncertainties themselves and reflect that back on you. However, if people share constructive feedback, write it down. Use this information wisely because that can really help your personal development.

At last, changing your environment every once in a while to get a fresh perspective on things can enforce you to become creative and open to new ideas. This can be done by changing companies or surrounding yourself with different people by swapping teams. Challenging yourself in a fresh environment with different mindsets will help you to open up and experience how powerful it can be to think differently.

Future?

Last year (2019), I started my new job as an AWS Cloud Consultant. This gave me the opportunity to be more at the forefront and engage more with customers on a different level. In the beginning, it was a little uncomfortable, but the more you get out there the easier it becomes.

Next to that, I’ve been pushing myself to explore new opportunities. One of them is public speaking. I found out with previous experiences in my former company that I wasn’t visible enough (through feedback). I did my job very well, but I was introverted in a way and didn’t showcase a lot of what I’ve accomplished and built.

I noticed that AWS developed the AWS Authorized Instructor (AAI) course. This course allows AWS partners (which our company is part of) or it’s own employees to provide the highest quality training experience to its clients. Since public speaking was something I admired but felt very uncomfortable doing. However, this felt like the perfect opportunity to learn public speaking in the form of giving a training course. So I set my goal for this year (2020) to become an instructor. For this, I had to demonstrate a strong technical background and adherence to the standards defined by the AWS Training & Certification Team for teaching and delivering AWS-approved training courses. After completing the assessment of AWS, I became an AWS Authorized Instructor Champion last April (2020)!

AWS Champion Authorized Instructor

I would’ve never imagined myself public speaking let alone giving training to a classroom full of people. But if I can do that, everyone can! You just have to embrace discomfort.


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Comments (1)

Skay's photo

Thanks for sharing your journey Danny! Very inspiring to read 😊 My best wishes for many more wonderful things on your way!!