Platform Engineer Dorrin Poorkay came to Auth0 after working as an infrastructure engineer for a local startup facing rapid growth where she handled Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure. She also maintained the cloud infrastructure (OpenStack) at the University of Louisville, where she also earned her degree in computer science and engineering.
Sitting down with Dorrin was not your typical "let's meet in a conference room" because Auth0's a globally distributed company. We kept in touch via Slack, Google Docs, and Zoom. I learned more about her path to Auth0, what it’s really like to be a platform engineer, and her favorite programming language — all while being on the other side of the United States from each other.
On the daily life of a platform engineer at Auth0:
Platform engineers design and build the underlying infrastructure for applications to run on. Given that we’re responsible for the foundation of our entire product, a lot goes on in a typical day of platform engineers.
Some days I'm on-call and responding to incidents — those days are chaotic, but fun! Other days I work on building new infrastructure, automating our current one, and making improvements.
I always start my day with coffee and aim to be productive right from the start. Over the years, I’ve found I’m most productive after my first cup of coffee and again late at night. I try to structure my day by scheduling meetings during my "downtime" (when I’m least productive) and snoozing Slack and my phone to minimize distractions.
During my on-call week, things are a bit different as I have to be alert and respond to pages quickly, but I adjust by planning for the interruption beforehand and setting expectations. When I am on-call, each day is unique. The flow of my day depends on what happens. Sometimes you wake up at 3:00 a.m. to a page. Most of the time our incidents are short but if incidents are long (say a few hours) then your teammates will fill in for you to get some rest and sleep. It balances out nicely. While most of our incidents do not mean “widespread outage”, we proactively monitor all of our systems and can be paged preemptively before our customers can experience issues.
Whether on-call or not, a light lunch and an hour of exercise are also included in my daily routine. I also find time to learn about topics that I am passionate about. For example, these days I spend most of my time programming in Go which I enjoy immensely.
"On being a platform engineer at Auth0: Some days I'm on-call and responding to incidents - those days are chaotic, but fun! -Dorrin Poorkay"
On moving up to the challenge of scaling and maintaining a service that can’t have any downtime:
When I came to Auth0, I was really looking for a challenge.
I started my career with a few internships during college and a few weeks before finals I landed my first job at a local startup. It was extremely fast-paced and as chaotic as small startups can be. I thoroughly enjoyed it until it was time for me to move on to a more challenging job.
What attracted me to Auth0 was the engineering talent, specifically evident in the engineers I spoke to during the Auth0 interview process, the Auth0 blog, and, of course, the identity platform product, but the big attraction was the challenge of scaling and maintaining a service that can’t have any downtime.
Working at a startup at a much smaller scale had its own challenges but things like writing postmortems, doing root cause analysis, measuring SLAs of services were not part of my daily job. Auth0 has a unique challenge of "can't be down at all.". We serve billions of authentication requests and none of them can fail. Banks, airlines, news websites, or anyone using Auth0 expect a very high Service Level Agreement (SLA) because our service is critical to the success of theirs.
On keeping up with rapid changes in the engineering field:
Engineering changes quickly. I keep up by reading — lots and lots of reading. I try to read a few articles every day. The tech industry moves very quickly, you have to keep up. I also implement new technologies I’m curious about in my personal projects. Although when there is not a lot of time to do personal projects, reading is still the best substitute.
I get a lot of my exposure to the tech industry's ins and outs from Hacker News, my twitter feed and different Slack workspaces. In terms of books, I've been reading Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment. It might seem like it's not necessarily knowledge in the world of cloud, containers and serverless but it's a great read that continues to be helpful in my day-to-day job.
"The tech industry moves very quickly, you have to keep up. -Dorrin Poorkay, Platform Engineer for Auth0"
On her favorite project for Auth0 (so far):
We had another record growth year in 2018 and are on track to continue that rapid growth. That means we’re always looking at ways to scale our systems to meet customer needs while we improve our products and services. Our product and engineering teams are also continuing to expand — we have to develop more tooling and services around our platform and infrastructure to keep up with our growth. My favorite projects (so far) aim to solve many of these challenges with code by blending programming and infrastructure knowledge.
On what it’s like to work remotely from Louisville, KY and its great tech community:
Most people think of fried chicken and bourbon when they hear Kentucky. While it is true that Kentucky has great chicken and bourbon, it also has great coffee shops, micro-breweries, and co-working spaces. Those places are usually where you see remote workers hacking away at their laptops.
I was born and raised in a big city, so it took a while to adjust to life in Louisville. I’d describe it as a big city with a small city feel. We have a close-knit tech community which has its own Slack workspace. We also have a lot of tech meetups around town. So if you’re working remote and looking to socialize with other software engineers, there’s plenty to do here!
Check out two of our local meetup groups:
On the importance of calm leadership:
During my on-boarding, I joined an incident call (we collaborate via video chat on incidents to facilitate communication). My fellow colleagues were on the call, but I noticed our Chief Technology and Product Officer and co-founder, Matias Woloski was also on the call. Even though he was incident-commanding and aware of the urgency, he remained calm. To me, this shows how Auth0 leadership contributes to a culture of openness where engineers are not afraid to touch production, make mistakes, ask questions, and be confident in taking ownership.
On her favorite Auth0 value:
That would have to be: We are obsessed with delivering customer value.
Most of what we do is for customers. Even though as platform/infrastructure engineers we don’t write code directly for the product, we still put a lot of emphasis on how a tool we’re implementing, a change we’re making, or infrastructure improvements affect customers.
On being a woman in tech:
Growing up my mom highlighted the importance of a role model. Being a surgeon, my mom was already a strong woman in a male dominant field. Because of her, nothing felt unachievable to me. I was encouraged to take classes like math and physics in school; I was very good at it. My grandfather also highlighted the importance of "allies" to me. An ally is basically an advocate that boosts and draws attention to an oppressed group’s own voices. He encouraged us, especially his daughters and granddaughters, to be career and science driven. I'd like to extend this analogy and say I find that having such role models and allies is beneficial to women in tech.
I have been privileged to work with great people over the years and my exposure to negativity has been small. Unfortunately, that's not the same experience for everyone. We need more allies, education, awareness, support, and empathy as we still fight discrimination and bias. This year, UI Engineer Dasha Nikitina, R&D Content Engineer Kapehe Jorgenson, and I will be attending Women Who Code (WWC) this Saturday, April 13th, in San Francisco. Come meet us at the Auth0 booth!
On the advice Dorrin would give to someone interested in this field:
First is to try to understand the reason behind your task. Why are you typing this command or writing code this way? This thinking gives you a deeper understanding of the tech you’re using. It also helps you with troubleshooting problems that might arise in the future, and for me personally, it brings a lot of joy to know the ins and outs of what I’m doing.
Second is to keep looking if you haven’t found the right place! There are so many companies with different cultures, tech stacks and standards that you can find a company that matches all your values.
Join the Auth0 Team
As you've learned, we are growing rapidly at Auth0. We have multiple engineering job openings available in our career page. You can learn more about our hiring and interview process through our How We Hire Engineers post. If you have any questions or feedback, please let us know in the comments below!