Chronicles From a 2021 Illumio Intern
From Rishab AbdulvahId, Software Engineering Intern, Summer 2021
“Let me test it one more time, just for good measure.” I’d done this countless times before, building a Virtual Enforcement Node (VEN), or agent, in my role as an Illumio Software Engineering Intern. After making some code changes, I checked that everything was working as expected. This time was no different. At least, it was up until that moment.
I looked in bewilderment at my screen. My most recent changes, which should have been innocuous, had caused my VEN to terminate its connection with my Policy Compute Engine (PCE), the “brain” in Illumio’s product that creates an application dependency map to show how workloads communicate with one another. To make a comparison, imagine a hotel room which locks upon closing the door. Now, imagine that every time you leave this room, your room card magically transports itself back onto your pillow. Each time you want to re-enter, you have to call a clerk for assistance, inclusive of a costly delay. Finally, imagine that the devious room card was made by an intern who thought he had created a handy tool for hotel inhabitants but, clearly, had not.
It’s a testament to the culture (and, ultimately, the oversight from senior staff and mentors) that Illumio interns are given the opportunities and freedom to manage impactful and meaningful projects like mine. Ones that, on a bad day, created my bug. Even the idea of this malicious behavior becoming customer-facing caused me to feel some pressure but, ultimately, served to reaffirm my desire to succeed and make my coworkers proud.
As such, I wasted no time and got straight to debugging. After a few days of tracking, gathering as much evidence as I could to build a strong case, I was ready to share my bug in our team’s weekly stand-up. Fridays were when this took place. We would go around the room and give our updates. The atmosphere was always welcoming, not intimidating, so I was excited to explain my exploits. I got many insights from these discussions and new suggestions on how to tackle my issue.
I began to view my bug in a different light. Whereas once, I’d viewed it adversarially, I was now thinking like an engineer, with curiosity and a desire to fully understand it. The collaborative culture at Illumio kept me headstrong and optimistic as I continued to delve deeper and deeper. Fast-forward to the following week.
It’s 11:30 AM on a Monday. For the past couple weeks, I had dug through the source code, finding the bug crop up at random times, which made it all the more difficult to pin down. However, with enough resilience comes resolution. As it happened, the bug was in an area that was not immediately connected to my summer work. To fix it, I’d have to replace a command with a whole new one, as well as write a parser to interpret the output of this command. I was initially torn about what direction to take as this would exceed the scope of my role. Then, I thought back to one of our “Meet-The-Exec” events. Our SVP had given us a lot of great advice, but the one he emphasized most was not to fear taking on new challenges as an intern, whether they were assigned or not. After all, it’s most meaningful for both the company and the intern when we can immerse ourselves completely in the work. With his words echoing, I put my reservations aside and took on this new task with all the confidence I could muster.
September 9th. It’s the date of my end-of-summer presentation. I’m nervous, but also excited to share everything I’ve been working on. I know my team will be supporting me the whole time from the sidelines. I’m even more enthusiastic to talk about my experience battling my bug.
I chose to share my experiences with the bug to the whole company because I felt it emphasized the best parts of Illumio’s culture, and how that culture helped to mold me into a better engineer. When I was confused, my mentors and team were there to answer all my questions, no matter what was asked. When I shared my unfiltered thoughts, my teammates would help me to filter them, organizing my streams of consciousness into actionable thoughts. When I realized what it would take to fix this bug, I was not stifled. On the contrary, I was encouraged, and my judgment was trusted. And finally, when I implemented the fix for this bug (with the help of my mentors and the advice of many coworkers), my work was valued and appreciated by everyone on the team.
After my presentation, it was no surprise seeing all the support in my Slack channels. From beginning to end, Illumio stood by me, making my first industry experience better than I ever could have imagined. Looking back, I’m glad that I found that bug. It was a great experience fixing it, but experiencing the unfettered support of my team is a memory I’ll never forget. As I leave Illumio for this summer, I feel like I hold a piece of the company within me -- no matter where I end up, I will cherish that piece forever.
Interested in joining the team as an Illumio intern in 2022? Learn more about the experience and check out the open roles.