How Boredom and Curiosity Drive This Software Developer’s Career

A recent episode of the Software Developers Journey podcast featured an interview with Alice Goldfuss, a senior SRE/Infra/Systems engineer, who describes herself as “a big believer in building tech that serves real user needs without burning out the engineers creating it.”

On the podcast, Goldfuss spoke of her own experiences going “from office assistance to tech support. Then from tech support to server management at New Relic. Then from server management to SRE and incident response. Finally, from SRE to containers and Kubernetes management at GitHub.”  

As podcast host Timothée (Tim) Bourguignon said, “Alice took us on a long slide” and explained how curiosity coupled with boredom pushed her to learn more and expand her career options. In this Life in Tech article, we’ll provide highlights of that conversation.

On Perspective and Privilege

Goldfuss: When you were talking about that kind of journey, and the kind of events that happened in someone's life and the steps they took, I feel you always have to put it in perspective and context of where that person was coming from, the resources available to them, the privileges they had, the experiences they had, and just sheer luck. And I think of that in a big web, like, it is impossible for someone else to replicate my journey. But I can sort of give broad strokes.

On Traits That Make a Good Software Developer

Goldfuss: When I think of the things that make me good at computers or being a good engineer, I think, well, I'm disciplined, and I'm detail oriented, and I am a self-starter when it comes to learning things. I am good at taking large amounts of information and drilling down into them. I can see the bigger picture. I asked the right questions, I can talk to people and build a narrative. And those skills have been extremely useful to me in my developer journey. But they would also make me a very good epic fantasy novelist or a good murder detective.

On Imposter Syndrome

Goldfuss: It was so wild that when they told me I got the job, I almost didn't take it. Because I was convinced that I didn't belong there. … And after three months, they were going to realize that I didn't know what the hell I was doing. And they were going to fire me, and then I was going to have no job. And I, seriously, I almost didn't take it; I was debating it. I was like, this is a risk; I should stay where it's safe. I'm not ready. I did take the job. And it was like the most money I had ever expected to make.

On Kernel Crashes

Goldfuss: I was like, oh man, I am the only person on this team in this entire company who doesn't know how kernels work or how to analyze a kernel crash. I need to figure this out. So I was teaching myself like, okay, these bits are flipped that map to this user. And like, this is what that register means. ... I learned all of that frantically, because I thought everyone else already knew. … I didn't know that it was something most people in programming don't encounter, and a lot of people don't know how to do.

On Being Self-Taught

Goldfuss: I was like, there is something more here that I want to understand. And I wanted to get further and further down the stack, “closer to the metal,” and I just wanted to understand how computers worked out how these machines worked. And I would have these jobs during the day where I was doing things that I was more or less proficient in and then at night, I would be trying to take the next step and continue learning.

“I guess the theme is just that I got bored,” Goldfuss added. “So I did other things in the evening. And then those other things in the evening became my job.”

You can listen to the complete interview on the Software Developers Journey podcast and hear more from Alice Goldfuss on Twitter and on Twitch, where her handle is bletchleypunk.