Career Story: Site Reliability Engineer

Ruth, 24, is a software engineer at Pinterest based in San Francisco. Learn how her side projects helped jumpstart her career in programming.

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My name is Ruth Grace Wong.
I'm 24-years-old.
RUTH GRACE WONG, 24
SITE RELIABILITY ENGINEER, PINTEREST

I'm a Site Reliability Engineer
at Pinterest

on the Core Site Reliability
Engineering Team,

and my salary
is approximately $120,000.

Pinterest makes a website
and mobile apps,

and they allow people
to collect things

that they find on the internet,
ideas that they wanna put

into their own lives,
and save them all

in one place as inspiration.

Core Site Reliability
is responsible for the overall

reliability of Pinterest.

We're always trying
to be proactive to help improve

the experience for engineers.

We've got about 400 engineers
at Pinterest

and our goal is to help them

make their services more reliable.

And we also have
150 million users of Pinterest,

and so we want Pinterest
to work well for them.

For Site Reliability Engineering,

we have two categories
of responsibilities.

There's proactive
and there's reactive.

So, reactive work would be
looking at operations requests

if somebody needs help with something,

and then proactive
would be improving the system

so that they're more reliable
and easier for people to use.

I think there are two main skills
that are good to have.

The first one is learning to be okay

with not feeling
like you aren't the expert

and you might not ever be the expert,

but kind of diving in
and doing your best anyways.

And also, knowing
how to code is also really good

because then you can automate
what you're doing

and improve the system.

Problems are so complex
that it's important

to also persevere.

Sometimes I'll get stuck on something

and I'll try to work
on something else

and then come back to it.

It's also really important
to ask the people around you

for help, because often
there's that one senior engineer

who knows all these details
and they're not written down.

I guess the most frustrating thing,

or difficult thing about this job
is that sometimes

the problem that you're trying
to fix is just so deep,

so complicated, you try all
these things, they don't work,

and it turns out it something
that doesn't even make sense.

Sean, who works on Kafka
here at Pinterest,

he once had this problem
where certain machines

would run fine and then
other machines would not.

And he figured out
that it was because the way

they were named,
certain numbers on the end

of the machine name were not working
because it was being

converted to Octal.

And that's just an example
of a problem that's so crazy

that you would never
be able to figure out

unless you met somebody
that had figured it out before.

In my senior year of college,
RUTH GRACE WONG, 24
SITE RELIABILITY ENGINEER, PINTEREST

I went to my first hackathon.

I'd been doing programming
contests for fun before that,

but I hadn't really realized
that I could actually

do something with this, right?

So at the hackathon,
I didn't get anything to work,
HACKATHONS ARE
COLLABORATIVE EVENTS
WHERE PROGRAMMERS
COME TOGETHER TO WORK
ON PROJECTS. MANY
HACKATHONS ARE
COMPETITIONS.

but I was trying to make an app,

and I was seeing
all these people around me,

making apps, making websites,
making robots.

So, I kept going to hackathons,

and I decided, in my head,

that if I didn't get into med school,

maybe this would be
a good backup plan.

If you want a job
in software engineering,

you have to have projects
on your resume outside of school,

and a hackathon
is the best way to do that.

In one weekend, you have
a project on your resume,

it might not be working all the way,

but people aren't necessarily
looking for that.

They just want to see
that you have enough passion,

that you're going to work
on things outside of your school,

and also that you are curious

and passionate enough
about the field.

I went to my first hackathon
in senior year,

and I thought it was so cool,

so I kept going to more
and more hackathons.

And after that,
I did Google Summer of Code,

the summer after I graduated,

and the summer
before my master's degree,

and so that's...

Google Summer of Code is this program

where they give you, I think,

$5,500 to work
on an open source project

that's not associated with Google.

So, it's just a stipend,

and it's to encourage
open-source development.

I worked for a lab in Toronto.
It was the Bader Lab,

and they were working
on this software

called MedSavant for doctors
at SickKids Hospital to use.

So, a lot of the children
that come into the hospital

are sick with genetic diseases
and they get it young.

And, so, the doctors
will get sequencing...

Genetic sequencing
information from them

and then use the software
to try to figure out

what could be causing the sickness.

After Google Summer of Code,
one of my mentors actually

worked part-time at Google
and then did his master's degree

part-time at the lab I was working on
and so, he referred me

for a Google internship.

So, the summer after that,
I did a Google internship

in New York.
And I was on the Site Reliability

Engineering Team for Persistent Disk.

The summer
that I was interning at Google,

I went to a hackathon that was here

and it was the Major League
Hacking Season Finale.

And Andreessen Horowitz,
the company, was there recruiting

for their talent pool.

So, somebody referred me
to Andreessen Horowitz talent pool

and I got in and they...

So, they started connecting me
to all these startups

and Pinterest was one of them

and that's how I got my job here.

Coming out of college,
I felt really insecure

about my technical ability
because I had

this biochemistry degree
and a bioinformatics

master's degree, which was mostly kind

of a do-it-yourself
programming thing.

And so, it was really important
for me to find a job

that had really good mentorship.

So, actually, when Andreessen
Horowitz called me up

and they said, "Reese,
do you want to work for a startup?"

I said, "No, I want to find
a place with mentorship

and I feel like startups
don't have that. "

But they found me a place
that fit me anyways,

and that worked out well.

Site reliability engineering
is kind of a new type of role.

I think it was developed by Google

and they wrote a textbook about it.

So, I get a lot of different advice

about where to go with my career.

Some people are saying
that I should specialize.

I should pick either
databases or traffic,

or something else
and I should specialize

and be really good at that.

Other people say
that it's okay to just kind

of be a generalist and be really good

at debugging any kind of problem.
And I guess there's also

sort of the managerial path,
but I'm not sure I want

to go down that way.

My name is Ruth Grace Wong,
RUTH GRACE WONG, 24
SITE RELIABILITY ENGINEER, PINTEREST

and I am a Site Reliability Engineer
at Pinterest.

My salary is approximately $120,000.

I live in the Mission
and I specifically picked a place

that's close to Noisebridge
which is the Makerspace

that I frequent.
So, I live in a community house.

There's five different floors,

five complexes I guess,
each complex has its own kitchen,

it has its own laundry
and there's about 10 people

on each one. And so
there's 50 people in total.

We share buy all our groceries,
and I share my room

with one person
and it costs me $1,350 per month

including groceries.

When I knew that I was
going to be moving here,

I joined a couple
Facebook groups for people,

new grads moving to the Bay Area,
Bay Area, housing,

and so somebody posted
about this community home there

and that's how I found it.

It's pretty expensive
to be living here.

When I was in college
with my boyfriend,

we had a room
and we split 550 Canadian dollars

for our room.
And so it's many, many times

more expensive here.

So I currently share my room
with one person

and I'm trying to get sort of
a cheaper living situation.

My boyfriend is still
in Toronto and so

when he makes his way over here,
then we can move out

in a place together,
but for now I'm kind of trying

to save money.

Annually I make about $120,000.
So my monthly gross income
RUTH’S BUDGET:

is about $10,000, and so for taxes
MONTHLY SALARY $10,000

and medical benefits and all that,
I pay about $3,500.
TAXES AND OTHER DEDUCTIONS ̴ $3,500

So, I take home about $6,500.
NET TAKE HOME INCOME $6,500

My rent is $1,350
and this includes groceries.
RENT, UTILITIES, AND SHARED FOOD $1,358

It also includes gas and electricity,

internet, and for my phone
I have a Canadian plan

with a U.S. roaming add-on,
and so that's

45 Canadian dollars
which is about $30 American dollars.
CELL PHONE $35

It's unlimited data
which is really nice.

I often take the bus to work
but if I'm running late

or something I'll take Lyft
and so for Lyft

plus public transportation
it's about $200 a month.
TRANSPORTATION $200

I don't have any student loans
and for other monthly

expenses, I pay an $80
membership fee for Noisebridge
MAKERSPACE MEMBERSHIP $80

each month.

I pay about $60 in sewing lessons,
SEWING LESSONS $60

about $185 for Mandarin lessons,
MANDARIN LESSONS $185

and then $15 for Patreon donation.

So, Patreon is a platform
where you can support people

who are creating content,
so $10 a month

I support With Wendy
which is a YouTube channel

for sewing tutorials.
And for five dollars a month

I support Nick's Craft
which is a Linux help website

that I use a lot.

And then I also donate
10% of my salary
56

to the Gates Malaria Foundation.
COMBINED DONATIONS ̴ $665

And I do that because it was rated

as the most effective
charity on Give Well.

And for other expenses,
I spend about $120

on groceries or candy
or butter for baking,
GROCERIES $120

I really like baking,
and I also spend about $100 a month
MAKER SUPPLIES $100

on maker supplies.
So, that includes fabric,

or wood, or tools.

One example for something
I've been working on lately

is this grow bucket project,
where I'm repurposing

plastic buckets
that people throw away

and adding in lights and a fan

and so I've been buying
supplies for that.

So in the end I'm saving
about $3,000 and I do this
SAVINGS $3,000

with an automatic investment
into Vanguard.

I don't have my own budget
so this was a really

good experience
because it forced me to really

look into what I was spending.

I try to automate as much as possible

so all my credit card payments
and my donations,

my savings, that's all automated.

So, I usually know approximately

what my bank account balance is

and so I know if I have
to be saving more

or spending less.
Because all my savings are automatic,

it gets taken out.

I think that I'm kind of
generally a cheap person.

I love seeing great deals
and I try to buy

only things that are great deals.

I do wanna have a family later
so I'm saving

for that, but I haven't really
done the math on that

to see what I need to be doing.

To be honest,
I didn't expect to be making

this much money, so it's been
kind of a learning experience

where I used to be really cheap

and I would wanna
walk places to save money.

But sometimes I feel like
now the bottleneck is time,

and sometimes it is worth it
to pay some money

to save time.

My name is Ruth Grace Wong.
I'm 24-years-old.
RUTH GRACE WONG, 24
SITE RELIABILITY ENGINEER, PINTEREST

I'm a Site Reliability Engineer
at Pinterest

on the Core Site Reliability
Engineering Team,

and my salary
is approximately $120,000.

Pinterest makes a website
and mobile apps,

and they allow people
to collect things

that they find on the internet,
ideas that they wanna put

into their own lives,
and save them all

in one place as inspiration.

Core Site Reliability
is responsible for the overall

reliability of Pinterest.

We're always trying
to be proactive to help improve

the experience for engineers.

We've got about 400 engineers
at Pinterest

and our goal is to help them

make their services more reliable.

And we also have
150 million users of Pinterest,

and so we want Pinterest
to work well for them.

For Site Reliability Engineering,

we have two categories
of responsibilities.

There's proactive
and there's reactive.

So, reactive work would be
looking at operations requests

if somebody needs help with something,

and then proactive
would be improving the system

so that they're more reliable
and easier for people to use.

I think there are two main skills
that are good to have.

The first one is learning to be okay

with not feeling
like you aren't the expert

and you might not ever be the expert,

but kind of diving in
and doing your best anyways.

And also, knowing
how to code is also really good

because then you can automate
what you're doing

and improve the system.

Problems are so complex
that it's important

to also persevere.

Sometimes I'll get stuck on something

and I'll try to work
on something else

and then come back to it.

It's also really important
to ask the people around you

for help, because often
there's that one senior engineer

who knows all these details
and they're not written down.

I guess the most frustrating thing,

or difficult thing about this job
is that sometimes

the problem that you're trying
to fix is just so deep,

so complicated, you try all
these things, they don't work,

and it turns out it something
that doesn't even make sense.

Sean, who works on Kafka
here at Pinterest,

he once had this problem
where certain machines

would run fine and then
other machines would not.

And he figured out
that it was because the way

they were named,
certain numbers on the end

of the machine name were not working
because it was being

converted to Octal.

And that's just an example
of a problem that's so crazy

that you would never
be able to figure out

unless you met somebody
that had figured it out before.