Technical Onboarding information category

Hey folks, been a while on the main blog. Got lots of stuff I’d like to talk about here at some point (like getting off twitter via buying another WP blog)! The one for today is borne of some work onboarding I’m doing for a new person on the other side of the world from me, which brings endless fascinating challenges, basically all of them good!! Was talking with my PyLadies besties (six of us ran the portland pyladies chapter for a few years and we have all stayed close) and we got to some interesting places as far as technical (and possibly other kinds that I can’t speak to) onboarding.

As I see it, there are four categories of information relevant to a new engineer*.

  1. What I expect you to bring to this role
  2. What I expect you to absorb and internalize *without* documentation
  3. What I expect you to read and reference from documented internal sources
  4. What is undocumented but which should be documented.

You’ll notice that three of these are pretty straightforward. Or at least, ideally they would be. Regarding item 1, what I expect you to bring to this role should be clearly laid out in the job req, and in our case in Data Center Provisioning, we wanted them to have strong networking, decent general command line ability (this can be switch-specific though – switches, like Cisco network switches and Arista network switches, and others, have their own structure that is NOT filesystem tree based, but which is somewhat cross applicable to ~Linux command line interfaces, which is my familiarity), virtualization experience, a little scripting, and if you have cloud ops experience and some programming, that’s a bonus.

Re the third (we’ll come back to the second), what I expect you to read and reference from documented internal sources is never as grand as you want it to be! It isn’t that we don’t have a ton of docs – we do, but as anyone in this field knows, it is a monumental task to keep it updated and constantly added to in relevant, searchable ways. We do our best and are always trying to come up with ways to incorporate this work into a regular cadence of attention and discussion.

Which brings me to our fourth category, what’s not documented but should be. This is a huge category, and it’s absolutely fuzzy with the second category! There is so much that I can CLEARLY state that should be documented, though, so even though there is gray area, there is such a huge quantity that is utterly black and white.

Finally, the category of what I expect you learn and internalize *without* documentation. I bristled at the idea of this earlier on in my career. Now, I am pretty sure that this is the secret sauce of any technical role, maybe any role period, and I believe that my success as a colleague-trainer depends upon clarifying this category over all others. The clearest examples of things in this category are, like, (in my field anyway) how to use code repositories, including how to submit your code for review and how to generally use a cloud remote tool like Github (that’s probably a pretty odd label for what GH is.. please forgive it). These are the kinds of things you would explicitly show a junior level person, or someone whose background is ENTIRELY networking or physical racking-and-stacking in datacenters, but at my job we generally expect that you have this.

The less clear pieces are harder to describe (no kidding lol). I think this is ultimately the category of company/job specific knowledge, that as you deepen your understanding, hopefully gives you tools and knowledge for future career as well. Some of this is historical context for your job, that you don’t really get until you’ve been there for a minute. The context that I have, having been at Fastly for 18mo now (not a long time but more than a flash in the pan), is a key part of the value that I bring, and the longer I’m in this job, the more valuable that will be (but not necessarily – there is an upper limit that is probably worth exploring in a “should you move on from your job” kind of post). Another piece might be, at least in my case, the unique design of what we build. Not going to get too specific in a public blog post of course, and while you can learn design generalities for what we do and make and provide, the specifics of our builds will not be known until you develop some working, repetitive knowledge. And then it will change subtly, over and over and over!

“But wait, Rachel, shouldn’t this stuff be documented?” This question is basically THE reason I felt the need to write this blog post. The answer to some of it is yes! The answer to a LOT of it is, “uh… kinda?” Like, yes, we have design docs, which are thoughtfully created and introduced to the relevant teams! And they apply to one version of it, or maybe one category of versions of it. But this one is different for pretty good reasons, and you can tell by looking at X and Y. And this other one is different for reasons we later discovered aren’t very good, and you can kiiiinda tell by looking at Z or W! I hope this is not too abstract. I’d like to get to a place where I can really define this category.

I think this second category is also partially the reflection of the fact that we simply cannot document everything. It’s not possible, and further, we got work to do folks! One of the common personal aphorisms I return to is that they’ve hired us here for our brains. This, and my last job, are not widget jobs, like my support engineer job from 2014-2016, which was extremely technical and demanding, but which 90% depended on a) ticket inflow and b) having TOO MUCH ticket inflow in order to never “overstaff” in this “loss-leader” department (a characterization I find short-sighted and even cruel – can you tell my feelings on this with what I’m putting in scare-quotes??). They need us to be finding and solving the continual edge-cases we encounter before they become major incidents or otherwise impede the function of our organization… and we are very lucky to be able to do that. Sometimes we’ll all gripe about some bizarre complexity or a decision handed down to us from a few levels up, but really, we’re all just trying to solve technical AND business problems, and it’s genuinely a rare and special thing to be given the freedom and the salary to do so with as much of your brain as you care to engage.

Quick side bar, I do think that a very technical job (to a point!! no ocean-boiling, that’s burnout territory) where you really are trying to solve problems and get shit done a little better each time, is rather a fountain of youth. Keep your brain sharp and you keep dementia at bay a bit better! No guarantees in this world of ours but cognitive function is a real thing that declines and like any muscle, the way to keep it going is to USE it!

So. Getting back to the categories of onboarding information… What do we do with this? Well, I’m working with it as we speak, and it’s HARD! It’s a bit know-it-when-I-see-it, and part of trying to write all this out was to personally try to be able to recognize the “second category” of information a little faster, so I can impart it better, so our newest engineer can internalize it more easily, so we don’t fall into the trap of trying to document something like “and then, type cd foldername…..”. And of course, the point of it all is to prepare our newest engineers on our team in the best possible way we can for themselves and for our organization!

Truly I’d LOVE to hear what you think about these categories, and if this reminds you of Some Book (or blog post!) I Should Read, please let me know!

* this isn't the place to discuss coder/programmer/sysadmin/noc/etc all having the title of engineer, it's fine, your opinion probably isn't wrong even if we don't agree, just not going to talk about it here.

2021 Job Search Retrospective

The last time I was job-seeking, I described what I was looking for on this very blog. The post was descriptive and even a bit demanding, and then the role I found was so utterly ridiculously perfect for me, I can only call it a success. I think there’s a bit of psychology to a “here’s what I want in a job & here’s what I DON’T want” blog post, no matter what your level or newness to a given industry. Describing characteristics of a job you want lights up a “hey that’s me/my company!” affirmation in a brain, and describing characteristics you do NOT want lights up a whole other defensive part of a brain, I think, that says “well we don’t do exactly that, and here’s how we’re actually really good about this even though it might seem to share this characteristic,” that serves to engage and make folks want what you are. Also, I think displaying some “taste” and preference paints a more whole picture of you as a human being, which helps you stand out. These are all my opinions and just what worked for me, and I may even be laying my cards out too much since it does kinda feel like a “trick.” At any rate it’s all a bit moot since I haven’t done this since 2016, and the job landscape for newcomers to tech is so different than it was five years ago.

I was looking for a new job privately this time. The reasons for this are not complicated or dramatic; I wanted something very different to broaden my perspective, I wanted to be paid better, and I wanted to get onto a track where I could get a senior title by the time I’m 40 (about five years from now). I’m a late-comer to tech & I worry about the perception people might have of me, being in my 40s and being given junior level responsibilities, alongside the double whammy of sexism and ageism, which is not here yet but is certainly on its way – anyway, a lot of anxiety as you can see. However, I only had my applications, network, and cover letters to express these things, rather than a more inbound request with the above mentioned blog post, because despite truly loving my job and trusting my team at work, I did not want to tip my hand. The power imbalance is just too great to feel comfortable doing that – I have a mortgage to pay and an uninsulated house to heat!

The Process

So first off, I put a few feelers out, and made a Trello board. I made a Trello board for myself the last time I was job-seeking, and it served to organize my efforts extremely well. Everything in job seeking is phases, so each job, represented by a card, would travel along each phase, sometimes skipping a lot of them straight to the Rejected column, and sometimes seemingly languishing in a pre-interview state for months (for good reasons).

Surprisingly, most of the cold jobs I applied for were via LinkedIn. Their interface has gotten better for this in recent years, though I don’t think that the “instant apply” feature is very useful – if no one makes any effort to personalize or customize your first touch, then without STANDOUT credentials, I don’t think it will usually result in anyone reaching out. The best ones I found were those that said “apply on website,” and while that’s definitely harder and there were many that asked what felt like short-form essay questions, I had good luck with those – I like writing, haha.

But is writing the job, when looking for Operations/SRE/Devops/Infra (all of these are search terms that more or less apply to what I was looking for)? I do think good communication is an undersung part of working with others, however I’m no better an engineer than someone who didn’t have the education and focus on writing that I had in my early life, and yet I’m preferenced because I can express myself clearly and enthusiastically. So, while it advantages me, I think it’s ultimately an odd additional hoop that will make it harder for people with various learning disabilities, ADHD, anxiety, and others, to apply. I don’t know a solution to this – more phone screens? That is hard to do. Probably the answer is “spend more time/money” than a technical solution.

So, the breakdown. I applied for fourteen jobs over the course of about a month, received one offer, was rejected by eight, and I told a further five that I was no longer interested. Fourteen in a month might not seem like a lot, and indeed if I had not been employed that number would be at least double that, but it was really very nearly too much for me while continuing to work at my current job, which again, I like very much and respect my coworkers hugely.

My strategy for each “job card” in Trello was to add it first to the first column, To Apply. In that, I would put a URL to the job posting. When I came back to apply to the job, I moved the card to the Applied column, copy-pasted the entirety of the job posting into the Description of the card, and attached the resume and CL (if applicable) to the card itself. This makes each card pretty heavy honestly, and I’m happy I was able to do this all on a free Trello plan, because they’re hosting a lot of very similar resumes/cover letters for me now!! And I referred back to the job postings, often removed before they’ve even hired for it, constantly, in trying to find the right things to say during screens and interviews. And with each new job, I tweaked the resume a bit, and wrote entirely new cover letters each time.

quick cover letter sidebar:

Quick sidebar, let me tell you my strategy for cover letters! “Hi, thanks for receiving my application, I’m excited to work with you because a, b, and c from the job posting, and I know I’ll be a great fit because x, y, and z alignment. My experience suits this role particularly well because REASON. Thank you for your time!” The attitude needs to be “I’m a professional, so are you, let’s work together as mutually respectable humans!” No supplication here, and no more than a paragraph, SOMETIMES two! At the end I could post all of my cover letters, I think that could be useful. No names though obviously.

Anyway, back to the process. So after I sent things off, preferably to their own career page portal, it was usually a few days before people got back to me. Sometimes it was the next day, sometimes it was a couple weeks. This felt pretty fast to me, because I’m fortunate enough to be in a specialty that is in high demand. That will change someday, so uh, I’m gonna try to put some money away for that inevitability.

I also talked with a couple recruiters. Local recruiters often have access to jobs you wouldn’t otherwise know about, and are always worth chatting with – everybody makes money if it works out, and it’s in their best interest to help it really work out! If you end up leaving a job which you have been recruited into, their fee is often reduced, and the trust relationship between the recruiter and the company is harmed. In my experience, they did not have access to many larger organizations, but to lots of good local companies, which may be what you are looking for.

The Nos (From Me)

So let’s talk about some of the ones I turned down. A lot of the smaller local companies ended up being supporting Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications – a few cloud servers and the networking behind it, and all the other bits and bobs to make that run smoothly. No small task, but that’s what I’m doing at my current role, and I want to see what else is out there. Another really common trait I found in many of these jobs was that they were ready to hire their FIRST ops person. They’d gotten by with some setups in the cloud, and now wanted to hire someone dedicated to the task, to save money & grow. I don’t want to be anyone’s first ops hire, I was at my current role, and while I know more than I did then, the pressure is too much – possibly BECAUSE I know more now, I know more of how it can go wrong!

  • A friend of a friend reached out, we’ve talked about jobs before, wanting their first ops person as described, and I did turn him down (no interviews yet, so who knows if I’d have even made it to the point of an offer) and suggested that instead of one ops person, they hire two. A hard sell, I know, but which would create a collaborative working environment, scale for much longer than just one person, and ease the inevitable crispiness of the lone ops engineer.
  • Another place made a device and app that monitored and controlled kids’ internet and computer usage. Fuck your surveillance software, I will never take a paycheck for that. That kind of shit KILLS QUEER KIDS.
  • Another place did dynamic ad insertion on all-“free” tv. No thanks, that’s another shade of data gathering/selling (who’s paying for all this bandwidth??) and who knows, maybe/probably more insidious shit.
  • Another company’s hiring had seemed good, if corporate, until I talked with my technical interviewer, who wasn’t on the team but who had been serving in the role I was interviewing for on an interim basis. This person was very stretched thin, I am guessing, but hadn’t prepared for my interview, which really is not acceptable. He had no prepared questions, and instead seemed to pick out pieces of my resume to quiz me on edge cases as he thought of them. I did ok generally, he asked me detailed questions about nginx configuration and I didn’t do well and he said so, and yo, those docs are rough and imo, benefits from collaborative pairing because it’s tricky AND critical to get right. I was actually counting down the minutes til the interview was over. Toward the end I’m like, “so would we be working closely together” and he said “oh yes, oh yes, very closely,” and I made my decision to withdraw at that moment. Pretty sure I would have been condescended to there! So I had a bit of (perfectly professional) back and forth with the recruiter who asked me to reconsider, but man, I can’t work with that dude.
  • Finally, the last place I withdrew from, I’m actually a bit torn on. Had a recruiter screen where I made it super clear that my coding is no better than Fine and has never really been production (though I do have a hair of python in production at my current job), and from there the experience was quite good – initial chat, engineering manager chat, and then a technical challenge which was my favorite of any I did (some places had take-homes, some didn’t), where I submitted a chonky bash script and a Dockerfile to modernize & automate a manual process that a hypothetical team needed. It was all via Github. Because it was over the holidays, it took a bit to get back to me (this is a good thing), and by the time they got back to me, there were a number of comments on my PR. This was also the week of the actual fucking attempted coup in the United States. I was feeling frayed. I didn’t know if I was proceeding with any of the jobs because of a bit of silence (again – this was a good thing, because it means people were taking actual time off!) and a lot of fear on my part. I didn’t really enjoy what seemed like deliberately obtuse questions, but I responded, and then he asked MORE questions, and it just, I was really tired. I’d been applying & interviewing for jobs non stop for nearly 3mo by that point, while going to my day job. So I withdrew, after learning that this person was on the team – it just seemed like he was communicating very indirectly, where it could have been a collaboration. I know that evaluating PRs for candidates is difficult. I also wish there had been expectations set around the number of back-and-forths on the PR – I do that all day at work and it’s critical to be able to do that well and with kindness – but I didn’t know that we’d be doing that with this PR, and I was honestly out of juice by that point. At the end of the day, I think I’d have been able to handle this if it had not been such a civically stressful week.
  • Neck in neck with the job I took was one at a… platform as a service company I can’t really describe without giving them away. I was pretty intimidated by this entire process, they said they really wanted Ruby and/or Rust, and I just don’t have either of those (“some python?”), so I made that really clear and they still wanted to go forward with me. I thought I would be out after an initial set of technical questions, I wasn’t, I thought I’d be out after the technical interview, I wasn’t, and then I made it to the final round of interviews, but by that point I had an offer in hand from where I ended up accepting, so withdrew. I would totally apply here again, despite a high technical bar everyone was very kind.


  • The first place I was rejected was for an SRE role at a monitoring company. This would have been awesome but I was probably underqualified, they really wanted someone with more coding. I wish that it didn’t feel like, at so many places, that they wanted someone who was good at EVERYTHING – back end production development AND advanced, modern operations and monitoring. That is how many of these roles felt, and as my job search and discussions proceeded, I started to make it very clear in the beginning stages that I really don’t have much of a coding background.
  • The next place I really wanted has a market that is very specific so I don’t think I can generalize it here. Ha, I can’t even really say one of the biggest reasons I wanted to work there! Anyway, the pre-conversations went really well, lovely chats with the recruiter and the EM, where they asked about ops stuff, how ya do. Then they sent me a challenge which was a pared down version of their known product, and gave me a test suite and skeleton vars, and said make the tests pass. And I BASICALLY did, for, I think, 7 out of 11. I made yet another pass, ish, I wrote a lot about another, didn’t super know how to tackle another, & had really NO idea how to make the last one pass. Honestly I felt good about it, which might sound wacky, but I think I demonstrated enough Python to show that I can be competent with reviewing and analyzing code while doing a terrific job with ops, but they felt differently. This was the one big bummer.
  • Another, a cloud services/tooling place, it seemed like they were looking for jesus christ zirself and after a few interviews they turned me down. No surprise there.
  • Another, a budgeting app (sorta), was a GREAT process up until the challenge. They asked me to write a lot for the initial application, which I’m always happy to, and then I had thoughtful, great conversations with folks. Then they gave me an ops challenge which I did really like the flavor of, as that’s the kind of thing I’m good at and can do, but it was basically (at least) twice as much as I think it should have been for a reasonable challenge. I spent about fifteen hours on it over a few days, doing nothing else and depending on my husband to do ALL the cooking and cleaning and errands and stuff, which we usually share pretty equitably. It would have made a good “let’s see how far we get” pairing interview over a couple hours. It also would have been good if they’d set a time limit or suggestion on the challenge, or told me when they’d want it back. I asked for some of those a couple times, and was just told “hey, however long it takes you, that’s fine,” but folks, it’s not fine! I have a job and endless other obligations. So, I did ok on that, I wrote a ton of server provisioning templating from scratch, got stuff installed, struggled a fair bit with nagios from-scratch setup, ended up entirely losing access to one of the four servers (lol), and sent them 5500 words on the process, describing backup plans, safeties, & what I’d do in the workplace if these kinds of things went wrong. I did not get that job, and I feel like that’s fine, and that it was a poorly scoped challenge, though the content was good. But I was sad about it, because I think I would have done well with a better-scoped challenge, and I really like the product.
  • Another, I was iffy on culture wise because it seemed like a bunch of dudes in a small, not-growing company, and they were looking also for a jesus christ-ian replacement for someone who’d departed for happier trails and no doubt, much better pay for his skillset. Also they had misrepresented some things to the recruiter – there were no real docs and there wasn’t any intention of moving entirely from metal to the cloud. So I wasn’t sure, and then found out they made an offer to someone else about an hour after I had the initial chat with the EM. So that was probably for the best.

And finally…

Finally, the place that hired me! I have long been intimidated by this company, and I literally would not have even looked, if not for a friend who pointed me to the listings. It said “Senior” so I almost turned away without reading it! But I read it and thought hmm, not only am I capable of doing these tasks as stated, I would LOVE to. So I sent off my things the week before Thanksgiving, and then there was another delay over Christmas and NYE. There was a recruiter conversation, then a conversation with the Engineering Manager I’d be reporting to, and then a technical conversation that was kind and even informal feeling, and THEN I had my final interview the first business day of 2021. I took that day off work (felt weird, I really want to be there for planning and for that lovely first day, potential energy feeling) and the interviews went great. Talked with a data center sourcing manager, a VP about the values of the organization, a communication & collaboration interview with someone who reminded me SO MUCH of a sweet friend of mine that I felt immediately at ease and did really well with that, and finally a technical background & project work interview with a person from a team who works in the data centers themselves.

I cannot tell you how honestly easy and lovely this entire process was. I had GREAT conversations with everyone, and was comfortable enough to come up with the right stories and data of my past experience that was needed, HOWEVER they were not casual conversations, and each person had a proscribed series of questions they needed to ask. I cannot TELL you how much I appreciate this kind of process and planning and effort. A week later, they asked for my references, and after each one I spoke with my reference, and they said that the EM was very excited about me! A few days after that, I received an offer, and I spent a day in a VERY CHALLENGING haze while I needed to wait for the offer to finalize before giving notice at work and having all of those hard conversations.

So! I am halfway through my two weeks’ notice at my current job, and looking forward to three weeks off between, and then starting the new job at the end of February. I will be working on provisioning software for bare metal servers as managed entirely by the company, and I am so excited and so just… relieved, and lucky, that it feels like I have really found a niche which fits me and my interests. Also, omg, no on-call rotation!! Whaaaaaat!!

I hope this was useful for anyone trying to get a scope on the tech job market! Hmu if you have any questions or thoughts. Thanks for reading!

Local Politics: Iannarone and Raiford for Portland, OR Mayor 2020

And now for something completely different. I have gone “off topic” a few times before on the blog, but obviously it’s mostly technical in nature, around here. Today I’d like to talk about something incredibly important, the upcoming Portland Mayoral election, in a couple months here.

Vote for Sarah Iannarone. Not because I think she’s a better candidate than Teressa Raiford, but because she is on the ballot. Think of the voters we can pull off of Ted Wheeler – they will either vote for Iannarone or Raiford. There are no swing voters between Wheeler and Raiford, there are just Wheeler voters and Iannarone/Raiford voters. I believe in being able to vote your actual truth for people that represent you, and I also know that Wheeler has gotten far too many of my community maimed and killed, and he has GOT. TO. GO.

Raiford is amazing. She founded and runs Don’t Shoot PDX, which provides legal support for families affected by gun violence. Her entire pedigree is fantastic. I want to see Raiford in local politics for as long as she’ll have us.

However, the election needs to go to Iannarone. She has utterly endless DETAILED policy which Raiford’s handful of campaign sites lack. And in the generalities of Raiford’s sites, being an advocate for public education, transportation, transparency, labor rights, Iannarone has practically the same POV except a) she has details about every level of these policies and how to institute them, and b) she is on the ballot.

That’s really the critical piece here. Teressa is great! But Sarah is ALSO GREAT, and she is on the ballot. Sarah is on the ballot. Sarah has a genuine shot at being able to capitalize on how much a tremendous, continuous, and DELIBERATE failure Wheeler has been in his role as police commissioner and mayor.

The thing is, Sarah is on the ballot. She’s the one who can win. We must must MUST vote to change our voting structure to Ranked Choice voting rather than first-past-the-post. Until we do however, if it’s Wheeler vs Iannarone, then Sarah might get over 50%. She’s an outside candidate not entrenched in local government already & not incredibly, densely backed by enormously moneyed interests. If it’s Wheeler vs Iannarone vs Raiford, Wheeler will get the same number of votes, and Sarah and Teressa will be sharing the remaining pool of votes.

Here’s the very critical article: , posted about Iannarone’s involvement with Don’t Shoot PDX, which appears to be based on a now-deleted tweet of Sarah’s that questioned the wisdom of running a write-in campaign, saying that telling a black woman that running against her is a vote for Wheeler, is itself a silencing and racist action. I don’t think I agree that saying that a write-in campaign is less likely to win than someone on the ballot, is itself racist, but please, come to your own conclusions. The article also says “… it doesn’t take much digging at all to learn some critical history of Iannarone’s campaign’s relationship with Don’tShootPDX,” and hey, maybe it’s out there, but I couldn’t find anything in the first two page results of the term “iannarone “don’t shoot pdx””. What I found was coverage about mayoral debates which mentioned Iannarone, Raiford, and Don’t Shoot PDX.

Finally, please read what each candidate says, and decide for yourself. PLEASE read. I’ve provided handy links to ALL of the official campaign policy for either candidate. I’ve also got word counts because I find it pretty remarkable, the level of detail and difference.

Raiford’s platform is here, 2599 words:

Sarah’s platform on entirely reimagining public safety, 5933 words (be sure to click through all the “Show Full Policy” expansions):

Sarah’s platform on transportation and the “green new deal”, 1215 words:

All of Sarah’s writings and platform proposals for Coronavirus response, 1726 words:

Sarah’s massive reformation ideas for monetary and economic support for marginalized and out of work members of our community, 7519 words (!!):

Sarah’s platform on Housing for All, 3644 words:

Sarah’s platform on vastly VASTLY transparented (not a word, but it’s fine) government, including municipal internet, FOIA request improvement, cracking open wide the voter rolls, and so so so much more, 3327 words:

I have looked and looked, and asked staunch advocates for Raiford, for similar policy plans from her, and I just haven’t been able to find them.

Thanks for reading.

An update on the De-Google

So a few months ago, I got a bug to get off Google, so I want to talk a little about how that’s gone! Lots of progress, not done yet.

Table of Contents:

First of all, the very positive. FastMail has been an absolute and complete delight. I was very skeptical that I would love an email client more than Gmail, because its search and its apps are great, and I’ve been using them since…. 2002 or 2003 or 2004? Since it was in beta, which was a long time and I don’t really care to log in to find out! THAT SAID. FastMail is great. It is absolutely instant in its snappiness and customizability, its support is fantastic, their docs are great, and the product is just a pleasure.

One of the most wonderful parts about it, aside from how gosh darn FAST it is, are the auto expire settings you can create for a folder. For example, and I know everybody has emails like these, I have a Twitch folder, into which all messages announcing that so-and-so has gone live on their channel, get filtered (better than on gmail but I can’t quite discern in what way, it may be my imagination), so I see them, and then I never look at them again. If I’m available, I’ll go check on the stream. But regardless, after I’ve seen practically even just the SUBJECT of the email, I never, ever need to look at this email again. So I’ve set a 30 day deletion rule on that folder! I have one for Twitch, one for Github emails, and I’m going to set one up for Meetup too. This basically means that the email that doesn’t get deleted is stuff I generally want to keep, and that the spammier (but still desired) stuff will never contribute demonstrably to the space I’m paying for.

The aliases are great. I know folks who have either never gone to google or run their own email is familiar with this, but aside from adding +whatever to the end of my regular email, I’d never gotten to experience this before, since I am using my actual domain to receive email through. So I have name@fastmail dot com, but I also have:
* “rachel@”, which I can put for personal things and give to people individually
* “subs@,” for comic subscriptions, newsletters, and other things that are not going to be personal to me,
* “business@”, replacing my former dedicated gmail address which was for all business things, amazon orders, transactional emails of all kinds, and finally
* “junk@”, for true junk mail. Hilton gets this, anyone that claims to HAVE TO have an email in order to proceed gets junk, etc.

What the aliases have meant, then, is that I don’t need to maintain multiple accounts. Things get filtered really beautifully and immediately. Everything I need is right there.

Which brings me to the next item. Calendar! FastMail also has a calendar included, because I think Outlook and Google have made it so that just has to be standard in an email offering. The calendar.. is fine. It is just ok. It, like.. mostly integrates with Google Calendar. I think it resends a given invite to everybody if you add anyone to the list. Its defaults seem weird, sometimes it’s 12am and sometimes it’s the time you click on. However, it is usable and a perfectly fine replacement for Google Calendar, so it’s enough and I have moved completely off of GCal. However, GCal is just so… invested-in, and it shows, and I miss its UI.

And so is Google Maps. I have tried to switch over to OSMAnd, a mobile app based on Open Street Maps, which, let’s be very honest about how hard these problems are, does an admirable job. But GMaps is also incredibly heavily invested-in, and this is one where I really do feel like it is not quite usable enough for me. This is fine around town, I do know where I’m going and am happy to find info in other ways, but if I need complete directions, I still pull out Google Maps, because it’s incredibly reliable. I know this is an important one to stop using, too, so if anyone has any tips on other open street map apps I could use, even happy to pay for things, please hmu in the comments.

Ah, and Google Drive. It’s funny, I never even felt terribly reliant on GDrive, and yet it is the one thing I’ve almost entirely put off doing. It’s just going to be such a slog, to pull it all down and set up all the Stuff to put it all elsewhere. But I need to do this, so I’m literally going to set a reminder right now to take the following steps:
* Set my Linux machine up on a job to pull it all down. I imagine this will be a zip file, god help me if I have to do it one by one. (if this is the case I will look for a third party tool)
* ADDITIONALLY get all my wedding photos onto… oh shoot. My Windows desktop. Ah well, this will be a good opportunity to interact with the AWS CLI from Powershell, something it would be great to get to know a bit better (for fun).
* Create an S3 bucket on my Amazon account, and then probably just make a job to push it all up and lock it tf down.
I can see all of this becoming an Automation Project, which sounds fun but which also makes me nervous, because there’s nothing that makes me put a project off like “gotta do it the RIGHT way,” so I’ll probably just roll through the gui and, other than creating the for loop to upload all the stuff, it will all be pretty manual and nonrepeatable. I think that’s, basically fine.

Google Photos is GREAT. GRRRRREEAT. I really wish it weren’t quite so good. Here’s a note to go check out auto sync to Flickr, as I’ve been pretty pleased with their open source support and ethic, these last few years, and it just seems high quality and workable. I think transferring those photos over will be a challenge, and not one I’m super likely to prioritize at the moment. But if you’ve done this specifically, please let me know how that has gone!

Now we get to the truly difficult stuff. I’m probably never getting off Android, and I rely too much on so many apps (read: the google play store) that are unlikely to ever be supported in smaller open source mobile OSs. Ultimately I don’t want to be an iconoclast in this stuff! I’m willing to make many changes, but just kissing goodbye to everything I know in my phone… is just going to be too far, for me. I spend all day in Twitter, my email, some games, Authy, and Podcast Addict (a fabulous podcast app maintained by ONE PERSON who takes bug reports and has a Patreon which is highly deserving of your bucks, if you like to listen to podcasts on Android!

This is getting rather long, but I think that’s more or less what I wanted to say! Just like last time I’d love to hear from you if you’ve done this too. Cheers!

The De-Google

Hi folks, so, it has been a bit, but I’ve changed my personal email setup and this would be a good place to talk about why, and how I’m doing so.

First, I’ve got a new email, through FastMail. I’ve set up my DNS through them and through for FastMail to accept and send email on my behalf. Paying $5/mo, you’ve got access to as many aliases as you could want, so I have a few of them going to my email, all included.

So I figure step one is move all my business/subscription emails over to the respective aliases to my email I set. Well, step 1 (step 0?) was actually setting up the DNS, but I’m not going to go into that because it was all extremely discoverable to be able to access mail from my domain to Fastmail. But if we’re calling step 1 post-setup the first step, then I’ve started in on moving all my emails to the new addresses. Amazon, Steam, Kickstarter, and myriad others are now all pointing to the new spot.

Next will be actually following their migration guide. This will involve pulling all my contacts and calendar items over to Fastmail. I’ll also need to figure out how I want to handle my storage in Google Drive, which I think is going to be Amazon S3 – I’m not wild about Bezos but I’m most familiar (slash, sorry all, totally in love) with AWS of all the cloud providers, and Gb/mo are extremely cheap on S3.

I’m doing this because I think it’s important to pay for the technology that is meaningful and useful to you, if you can, and the consequences of not doing so mean that Google/Facebook/Amazon(I know) have yet another lump of data to sell to someone, about you and people like you. I want to opt out, and I’m technically savvy enough to do so*. I just think it’s, like, beyond ironic to take “don’t be evil” out of the organizational credo. Project Dragonfly and D&I lipservice and condoned internal sexual assault… I just don’t need to be in their web any longer.

What’s going to be hard, though, are many things.
One, I’ll be paying $5/mo for.. ever. Unless I start hosting my own. Which I will never do. It feels like a second marriage, signing up to HAVE TO pay this, forever. I KNOW it is worth it. and five bucks a month is NOT going to make a dent in my spending. But it’s a long-term commitment, and it’s wild to me, for some reason.
Two, turning off location for gmaps and not using Maps at all is.. probably going to take me some time. They’ve poured a lot of money into making it a beautiful, usable map interface. It’s so good. Gah. I’m pre-missing it.
Three, actually getting all the right stuff to go to my new email (and aliases) is really going to be a thing. I will be tidying up pieces of this for a year, I estimate.
Fourth and finally, convincing all the individual humans I know to email me at the new email is going to be an absolutely serious pain. I changed my email about eight years ago when my original gmail account,, just got so overflowed with other Rachel Kellys’ valid emails, that I set a permanent “vacation responder” on anything that comes in saying “you should try to contact me in other ways,” which applies to people who know me, AND to people who know the other Rachel Kellys. Then, I created a personal email, and a business(/junk) email, both in Google space. This separation has worked well. But I recall family giving me grief for changing my email and not Getting it entirely for some time – this shouldn’t be so hard on others, but a) companies like Google absolutely have a vested interest in it being so, and b) email is an old protocol, yo, and the evolutions that have happened with email are absolutely the result of an actual crapload of work and enhancement over existing supercomplexity.

So, I’m starting out. I want to get off Google’s grid, in so much as I can. I’ll let you know how it’s gone in a bit.

  • you shouldn’t need a ton of technical savvy to de-google, there are guides, but it probably doesn’t hurt


I am looking for work! If you’ve been browsing my blog long, or not, you’ll know that I’m primarily a backend-focused Python developer with config management, virtualization, and documentarian bents. My peopling & coworking is LEGIT and I love mentorship and thinking about information transmission. I’m also interested in tech writing, if it’s for something good and chewy that I personally want to see more documentation on (read: everything complicated), and I’d consider a dip into devops/SRE too.

Some of my musts include the following:

  • An established team of at least several years. It seems like between 5-10 years is a very good sweet spot for the kind of growth I’m looking for.
  • You use the Agile development strategy, or something similarly modern. Sprints, clear work assignment and tracking, post-mortems.
  • You use safe, modern Git practices.
  • You have other women in the company.
  • You have onboarded people before.
  • You, as an organization, have made an attempt at writing internal documentation.
  • I am happy to work remotely, but I do not want to be your only remote worker.
  • I am happiER to work in Portland, and require the flexibility to work from home a few times per month, once onboarded.
  • A semi-dedicated resource of whom I can ask friendly questions for the first several months.

Some of my wants:

  • To not be the first woman engineer you hire. This has been very difficult to find.
  • To primarily use Python, with the flexibility to learn new languages.
  • To have the time granted to write great documentation along with the features and fixes I write for you.
  • To be part of a rich code-reviewing team, where everyone’s commits are reviewed, even architects’.

Leave a comment or email me at rkellyalso aat gmail and I’ll shoot you my resume. Let’s doo thiiis.

Setting up my Fedora workstation

Please note that this post contains content not suitable for those who give no craps about the way a Linux box can be set up for an end-user. I do not blame you, those who give no craps.

So leaving Puppet after 18mo (on great terms! hi friends!) I find myself in need of my own real development machine. I begrudgingly find myself admiring macs after all, but after two minutes of looking at craigslist and finding $700 MBPs from five years ago, concluded that that Just Isn’t Going To Happen, much as I love iTerm2. I’ll buy myself a new computer soon but in the mean time a friend of mine had an Ubuntu 12.04 ThinkPad X220 she said I could borrow for a bit, and oh my god, I am in LOVE. This machine is great and zippy and POWERFUL. I might.. I might just buy a clone when I’ve got the bucks, even though you can pretty much only get them used at this point.

Rather than jump back into Ubuntu which is pretty familiar ground, I wanted something slightly different and my friend Amy has been extolling Fedora’s virtues for years. Further, at Puppet, we virtualized nearly all our testbeds in CentOS using the amazing, moooostly internal (but totally available!) Puppet Debug Kit created & maintained by my brilliant former coworker who is still doing phenomenal work over there. Ok, so I will definitely miss my buds there!

So because I spent about half my time on the job in CentOS & Fedora is the closest end-user version of that with a UI (sorry I’m not hardcore enough to only run a server for my dev box haha!), I grabbed the instructions & made a Fedora-specific bootable usb drive with their (prev linked) docs. After formatting the drive, writing the .iso to it, and plugging it in, I had to fiddle with the BIOS, which on the x220 was incredibly easy – first, on bootup it tells you EXACTLY how to get into BIOS, and it gives you the option to do a one-time boot via USB, rather than having to muck around with boot order! Fabulous!! Then with a bit of wiggling (had to get into a babby command line rq to tell it to choose the Linux0 option which kicked off the install, please, friends, do not ask me why) the installation went off without a hitch, with LITERALLY NONE HITCHES.

It was after rebooting that I started to learn how powerful this little machine really is. It’s fast, despite having 1/4 the memory of my old work MBP (though I really don’t know how that scales), and the trackpad uses all the gestures I’m used to from working on macs.

Then I set up my prompt, and without wanting to get toooo too deep into the oogly bits of bash formatting, I had to try and test and try and test and finally settled from:

export PS1='\[\e[0;36m\]rk\[\e[m\] \[\e[1;37m\@ \w \[\e[m\] \n $ '

which threw a non-ASCII character, and when I fiddled, lost the ability to shut off the bold white text, haha, to:

export PS1='\[\e[0;36m\]rk\[\e[m\] \[\e[1;37m\@ \w \e[m\] \n $ '

Huh. That’s only one [ different. Just bless ya, monospace blog draft.

Anyway, then I got ambitious. I wanted to see if I could run Spotify outside a webapp, because that makes it IMMEDIATELY less likely to be used and I rely pretty heavily on it, during and outside the workday. Using these set of instructions which state a requirement of RPM Fusion as installable here, I got going. These are for Fedora 20 & I’m on 23, but I knew I could get it going. I was so excited for this, I LOVE a new Linux system’s first sudo yum(or whatever) update, so I ran that & a few minutes later tried to get RPM Fusion itself installed with the following command:

su -c ‘yum localinstall –nogpgcheck$(rpm -E %fedora).noarch.rpm$(rpm -E %fedora).noarch.rpm’

But it griped at me about there being no localinstall user – it was griping because we’d told it to perform a command with a specified user with the su command, but it had received no user. Usually this should result in its just using root, so it’s close to the same as just using sudo in front of important things you run in the terminal, but my bash version 4.3.42 was having none of it. So I peeled out the su -c (the -c just means you’re passing it a command to execute immediately, then return to the normal user after execution, rather than switching wholly into the specified user). The issue I ran into thereafter was still localinstall, which my machine still couldn’t find. I made a few attempts at installing localinstall (so meta) but it escaped me. I found this Stack Overflow-ish post asking about basically the same difficulty I was having, and more or less someone says that yum install and yum localinstall accomplish the same thing and the only reason the other still exists is for backwards compatibility. So I changed localinstall to install, removed the su -c ' ', added a sudo since the yum install would want it, and BAM, RPM Fusion on Fedora 23!

sudo yum install$(rpm -E %fedora).noarch.rpm$(rpm -E %fedora).noarch.rpm

Then, all there was to do was run the lil commands to actually get Spotify since RPM Fusion’s installed! The “dnf” of the Fedora package manager command cracks me up – sounds a lot like “do not f****ng” before “install blahblahpackage”, and I refuse to look up what it means because I laugh every time.

dnf config-manager --add-repo=
dnf install spotify-client

And that’s all it actually took, which, haha, looking back at what I’ve written, I guess is slightly more complicated than “that’s all it took” might warrant.

Next I need to find a terminal I’m happier with! I seriously miss iTerm2 so if you have any Fedora-flavored terminal loves let me know in the comments. I need tabs, man. I need ’em.

Employment and Education

Hello friends! TIME HAS PASSED. But here you are again! This day finds me employed, after a long struggle. Really, I’ve been job-seeking since January, though well in advance of when I needed to, as my graduation date was March of this year. Believe me, I am still fuzzily post-graduation, extremely happy to have no far less homework than while earning my degree (en français, bien sûr !).

Understanding that confirmation bias makes fools of us all, about two months ago I changed my resume (do I write résumé? seems soooo new yorker snobbish, though it is correct) in what may have been a crucial way. My tech recruiter friend gave me some terrific and honest (read: intense) feedback on my R/CL and told me to cut out the “References available upon request” line, because duh, everybody knows that and it just takes up space. For a few weeks, I had it removed entirely. Then, I did something rather bold, and added the following snake-oil-style pitch toward the bottom of my cover letter:

“But don’t take my word for it! Just ask person_1, the leader of the free world, or person_2, the founder of Mars, or even person_3, the inventor of Post-Its! Every one of these folks is happy to -brag about- be a reference for me, so please, contact them!”

And I got a call, from an awesome company that I have always been too afraid of applying to, thinking that the folks that work there are a special kind of brilliant & that I wouldn’t have a chance in hell at actually working there. One of the reasons, other than my qualifications, that they said they called, was because of one of those people who I’d listed in that section.

Typically, references are a very late game process in the hiring world. Why bother calling references, a time-consuming and very personal (and personalizing!) process, if your candidate hasn’t even made it through a phone screen and an interview or two? In other words – why call references unless everybody is serious? But the fact that I put a few folks on there who wanted to vouch for me made a huge difference. And Portland is really so small and the scene is so focused that the names are fairly well-known. That wasn’t an accident, but I met these great people naturally, by getting out, participating quite heavily (and earnestly!) in PyLadies, and making friends with the people around me.

After two phone interviews, a task, an all-day interview, and a few (totally transparent!) hiccups, I was offered the job at Puppet Labs as a support engineer, and I feel so lucky, I have to keep from gushing about it. I left my stable, lifer career nearly four years ago to do ambiguously Better, and yes, Virginia, this is Better.

SO! Now I am LEARNING, learning learning learning! I’m still having a hard time reading the tickets that come in, but what I am able to do is parse Puppet code, and explain what it is and does, and how it’s an enormous, Neil Armstrong-style leap over previous (and still very widely used!) server management technologies. I’m pretty sure I’m in the right industry, guys, as this is really cool to me. Puppet is a company I am extremely excited to work for, for many reasons, not the least of which is getting to know the complex, technical, and awesome product. I keep a notebook on what I’m learning, and I fill several pages a day. Future blog posts will probably just focus on Puppet stuff, unless I get a chance to work on some recreational stuff. Woo-hoo!

And one last thing: if you know me, you know my absolute most highly recommended piece of advice to those looking for jobs: start a blog. Start a blog, start a blog, start a blog. Don’t wait til you code every bit by hand, don’t wait til everything is Perfect, just go to wordpress or blogspot or whatever, and start a blog. Nearly everyone I’ve interviewed with has mentioned it. Fear not about seeming stupid, because you’re brilliant.

Ok – going to cut this off before I get weepy/proselytizey/we-are-the-world-y. GOOD THING.

Meal Planning

Ok, while deciding what recipes I would shop for now that I’m unemployed (because obviously when you’re unemployed it is time to COOK ALL THE TIME), I decided to make a lil Python program that will let me enter recipes, and at a point in the future, probably after I learn regex, make it fully searchable. I’m already separating things out for ease of searching – like lists both with and without quantity indications.

Problems I’ve solved: a) making a new file name out of whatever the user enters, and b) setting a var for the long combination of dir, name & .txt that I’ll use in a few different places throughout the program

global new_filename
new_filename = "recipes/" + new_recipe + ".txt"
open(new_filename, 'a') # 'a' for append

Iterating through a list which adds to another list with some clever while looping

def ingredient_input():
    ingredient = 0  # is it ok to set this var to a dummy value?  it gets redefined with each loop.
    while ingredient != 'DONE':
        print "what is the ingredient?  no measurements yet, please.  type DONE"
        print "in all-caps if no more."
        ingredient = raw_input("> ")
        if ingredient == 'DONE':

And there are plenty of problems I haven’t solved yet. Will write more soon! Unemployed coding is fun, ha ha! “Hmm, let me chew on this juuuust a bit more… oh my god how did 3pm get here” etc etc : )